Climate change advisers call for urgent government action

Urgent action is needed to deal with the already significant risks of flooding and heatwaves caused by climate change, UK government advisers have warned.

Risks that need to be addressed as a priority also include water shortages for homes, power plants and industry and the impacts of rising temperatures on agriculture at home and abroad, which could push up food prices for consumers.

More action is needed by government in the next five years to put in place measures which will help make sure the UK can cope with climate change in the coming decades, the Committee on Climate Change's adaptation sub-committee warned.

The warning follows the signing of the ‘Paris Agreement’ in December by the UK government which was touted as the world's first comprehensive climate accord, the core of which is legally binding and commits all countries to take action to address global warming. 

But climate change could also present opportunities for the UK, the committee said, including a potential boost to agriculture and forestry from warmer weather and a longer growing season and British businesses being able to sell products and services to help people worldwide adapt to climate change.

Impacts such as water shortages and overheating homes, schools, hospitals and businesses will not be limited to London and the south east of England, the committee said.

The analysis warns that floods and coastal erosion are already a significant risk, but ‘more ambitious approaches’ could offset growing flood damage if temperature rises were kept to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

However, while improving protection for some towns, cities and villages would be possible, others will face a significant increased risk, even putting the viability of some communities under threat.

A range of policies including keeping water further upriver and restoring rivers and peat soils, as well as traditional flood defences, will be needed.

Extreme heat also poses an urgent and growing risk, with the number of hot days a year on the rise since the 1960s and the heatwave in 2003 that killed 2,000 people across the UK likely to become the norm by the 2040s, the analysis warned.

Impacts will not be limited to southern England, the ageing population will be increasingly vulnerable and there is evidence new homes are at greater risk of overheating than older properties, the report said.

Building regulations are needed to make sure properties such as blocks of flats, which can be at particular risk of overheating with good insulation, large south-facing windows and only a single aspect, are able to cope with rising temperatures.

"We need to be building homes fit for the future," the committee's head of adaptation Daniel Johns warned.

The benefits of warmer winters in reducing deaths from cold may not be realised, as the population grows older and more vulnerable and in the absence of sufficient measures to improve the energy efficiency of the housing stock, he added.

The risk of water scarcity is also a growing one, with estimates that public water supplies will fall short of total demand by five to 16 per cent across Britain by the 2050s, the report said.

A government spokesman said: "We are committed to making sure the UK is prepared for the challenges of climate change.

"That is why we are investing record amounts in flood defences, developing a long-term plan for the environment and reviewing planning legislation so new construction projects are sustainable and resilient."

Yesterday, torrential rain brought a swift end to opening proceedings at Farnborough International Airshow as flood water forced event organisers to cut power to the site’s main exhibition halls. 

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