By Barney Slater AMRSB, BBSRC PhD student at University of Cambridge and policy intern at the Royal Society of Biology.
Global climate change is an increasing threat for the UK. Research shows an average temperature increase of almost 1⁰C over the last 50 years in the UK, and climate projections predict that this could climb by 2.5-3⁰C by 2100. In 2008, the Climate Change Act was passed, part of which requires the Government to carry out a Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA), every 5 years. This takes recent research evidence and uses it to identify the most pressing risks to the UK made by climate change, along with a plan to prepare and adapt. The latest CCRA was published last month, highlighting six major risks to the UK, and setting out the Government’s plans to increase resilience.
1. Flooding and coastal damage
Studies show that the sea levels are rising by 3mm per year, and that annual precipitation will increase over the next century, leading to more floods and erosion of the coastline. To counter this, Government have developed a national plan, working with local communities to develop more flood management and sea defence, as well as working on building hardier homes that can handle flooding.
2. Health risks from higher temperature
Higher temperatures risk more deaths and illnesses from overheating, which will be exacerbated by population growth. Last year, Public Health England helped people to manage the temperature of their homes by providing information through leaflets, posters and easy to use checklists. This will be continued and expanded, with extra importance given to overheating in care homes and hospitals. The assessment also asks for research on how the quality of the air around us will change if the temperatures rise.
3. Water shortage
Future droughts from climate change risk damaging our water supply. Government will work with water companies to prepare for droughts, and ensure water is shared between the public, industry and agriculture; without hurting local ecosystems.
4. Risks for Natural Capital
Natural capital describes all of the valuable environmental resources provided to the UK from nature. The assessment sets out plans to reduce the risks to these from climate change; including restoring wetlands, expanding woodlands, and restoring protected conservation areas around Britain, with a particular focus on sea life.
5. Risks to food production
The foods we produce ourselves, as well as the food we import, will be affected by climate change. The assessment recommends reviewing how we analyse food security, and asks for more research to be done to protect this.The Government will also analyse the effect of climate change on the global market, and have agreed to work with other countries to improve the response to spikes in food price.
6. Pests, diseases and invasive species
Rising temperatures is causing ‘species shift‘, where non-native species may permanently migrate to the UK from warmer climates. The assessment asks for researchers to analyse how climate change may lead to pests, diseases and invasive species from overseas arriving in the UK and how we can identify and deal with them when they come, as well as to continue investigating how climate change may affect those pests and diseases already present in the UK.
The positive effects on agriculture from higher temperatures and increased rainfall were also mentioned in the CCRA; however, the risks far outnumber the potential benefits. Overall, the message of the 2017 CCRA is clear and serves as a stark reminder of the very real issue of climate change. The UK will need to adapt to increasing extreme weather from both ends of the spectrum: more heat waves in the summer, and more rain and flooding in colder seasons. But the CCRA also has a message of hope: by implementing these actions and reducing our carbon footprints we can fight the causes and effects of climate change for a better future.
Read the CCRA and more information about tackling climate change from the Committee on Climate Change.