View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

Is the UK up to speed on climate adaptation?

A new assessment by the Climate Change Committee finds the government is “falling far short” in preparing for climate change.

By Megan Kenyon

Last month was the warmest February on record. And in the UK – where it rains a lot – Brits suffered the fourth wettest February in history. Increased rainfall raises the likelihood and risk of flooding which can damage housing and infrastructure. With the planet likely to breach 1.5°C of warming (above pre-industrial levels) by the end of this decade, it’s vital we have a plan to deal with frequent extreme weather events.

The Climate Change Act – which was passed in 2008 with the help of the current shadow energy secretary – Ed Miliband – places a requirement on the government to post regular updates on how it is progressing with this challenge. National Adaptation Programmes must be published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) every five years, with the most recent plan published in July last year. But a recent assessment of the plan’s third iteration by the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) found it “falls far short of what is required”.

According to the CCC, “evidence of the UK’s inadequate response to worsening climate impacts continues to mount”. While the government’s most recent adaptation plan is an improvement on previous iterations, the committee said there remains an “absence of a credible vision for a well-adapted UK” which is “resilient to the climate risks now facing British people and businesses”.

The committee says this is apparent in three key areas of the plan. First, governance: the CCC said that across all three iterations of the adaptation plan, Defra “has failed to make adaptation a top priority” both within the department itself and across government. The CCC says Defra’s approach to adaptation is “still not sufficiently well understood or resourced” and added that this is particularly apparent in local government. “The present approach of coordination by Defra is not working,” the committee added.

[See also: Lord Deben: “Sunak will not reach net zero unless he changes policy”]

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Another area touched on by the committee is investment. According to the CCC, “adaptation is insufficiently funded to manage the scale of climate impacts we will experience”. By the committee’s own estimates, it will take between £50-60bn a year in investment to accelerate the UK’s green transition. The government’s most recent plan does not effectively tackle the barriers faced to investment in adaptation, the CCC said. These barriers include low perceived urgency of adaptation, a lack of clear targets, and limited understanding of adaptation actions.

Finally, the CCC is critical of the government’s approach to monitoring climate adaptation. The committee said it “cannot fully assess progress” from Defra on this issue without a better framework for “monitoring and evaluation”. It called on the government to instigate a “system of comprehensive indicators and data collection” which it describes as “vital”. The committee adds that in other countries this has improved nations’ “response to climate impacts”.

Other corners of the climate sector have also been critical of the government’s approach to adapting for warmer temperatures. Friends of the Earth is currently in the process of taking the government to court over what it describes as its “unlawful climate adaptation plans”. It is doing this alongside Kevin Jordan, who was left homeless after his house in Hemsby, Norfolk was demolished last year following coastal erosion, and Doug Paully, a man with several health issues that are being exacerbated by the UK’s increasingly regular scorching summers. Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said “Ministers must do more to face up to the reality of climate change.” This includes “faster action to end our reliance on costly fossil fuels” and a “robust plan to help safeguard people’s lives and livelihoods from the consequences of a rapidly warming planet”.

In response to the CCC’s assessment, a Defra spokesperson said: “The government’s third National Adaptation Programme sets out a robust five-year plan to strengthen infrastructure, promote a greener economy, and safeguard food production in the face of the climate challenges we face.”

They pointed out that the government is “investing billions in projects to improve the UK’s climate resilience” and that the government’s negotiators “played an important role at Cop28 to help bring an ambitious Global Goal on adaptation to life”. They added: “The UK is well placed to achieve these ambitions in full.”

[See also: Government short-termism may “jeopardise” net zero, MPs say]

Content from our partners
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International
Time for Labour to turn the tide on children’s health
How can we deliver better rail journeys for customers?

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU