Britain has one of the world’s best capabilities for dealing with the climate crisis but is failing to make use of it. That is the stark view of leading expert Baroness Brown, a member of the UK Committee on Climate Change. “We have the ingredients to do good things in response to climate change but are not making use of them,” she warned last week.
Brown, who chairs the CCC’s adaptation sub-committee, said little progress had been made in planning to protect farmland and wildlife from intense storms and changing weather systems, or tackle health threats from rising heat – with grim short-term political consequences.
The UK has pledged to persuade other governments at the UN climate change summit in New York this month to commit more to adaptation. But Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment said: “Britain’s failure to adapt to our changing climate could severely undermine efforts to persuade other countries to invest more in resilience. The UK may have a good track record of helping poor countries to become more resilient but we are not doing enough. The country needs to lead by example.”
The UK is bidding to host another international summit, that is to be held in December 2020, the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement. “If the UK wants to host that crucial summit, which will dictate the path we take to combating global warming, we will need to be seen to be doing a lot more about climate change,” added Ward.
The nation’s failure to adapt to changing conditions was underlined this summer when severe flooding crippled train schedules, temperatures reached record levels and residents of Whaley Bridge, in Derbyshire, were evacuated after heavy rain damaged a dam on a nearby reservoir.
Much worse is predicted for the next few decades but little is being done to protect the nation’s infrastructure - such as adapting care homes and hospitals so residents and patients do not suffer as temperatures soar or protecting coastal towns against rising sea levels.
“Yet we also possess powerful agencies like the Met Office,” said Brown. “It is developing detailed climate predictions for regions with an accuracy of a few kilometres. But we are not making use of these capabilities.”
In fact, the priority given to adaptation to these threats has been eroded over the past 10 years. “We have been distracted by Brexit,” Brown added. She pointed to pressures on the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is in charge of ensuring Britain adapts to the climate crisis but has been concentrating on finding replacements for the EU common agricultural policy and dealing with other Brexit-related issues.
In July, the CCC warned that the country was not prepared for even a 2C rise in temperatures, let alone more extreme warming. “Many policies still lack a basic acknowledgement of climate change, while others make a passing mention but have no associated actions to reduce risk.”
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