The climate risks and impacts facing the UK
Credit: .Martin. / Coastal erosion in Newport, Norfolk
"Climate change has arrived. The world is now experiencing the dangerous impacts of a rapidly heating climate. And further warming is inevitable, even on the most ambitious pathways for the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the UK’s Met Office have announced that there is now a 40% chance of the average annual global temperature reaching 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels in at least one of the next 5 years. Only by preparing for the coming changes can the UK protect its people, its economy and its natural environment."
Strong words from the third independent assessment of the UK’s climate risks, coordinated by the Climate Change Committee. Their advice to Government sets out the impacts and risks the UK faces. You can read the full report here.
The comprehensive assessment is based on more than three years of work, involving hundreds of scientists, economists and stakeholders from across the United Kingdom. It highlights eight priority areas for urgent attention and identifies ten principles for good adaptation policy.
Crucially, it shows that overall the level of climate risk we face has increased. The pace of climate change is outstripping the actions taken to adapt to it.
What is the CCRA?
The UK Government is required to conduct a UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every five years, as set out in the 2008 UK Climate Change Act. The Climate Change Committee’s independent report published in June 2021 will inform the UK Government’s third CCRA (known as CCRA3), due in 2022. Following this, each UK nation must then prepare a National Adaptation Plan to address those risks and opportunities as soon as practicable.
What were the key findings?
More than 60 risks and opportunities have been identified, fundamental to every aspect of life in the UK, covering our natural environment, health, homes, infrastructure and the economy.
- The gap between the level of climate risk we face and the level of adaptation underway has widened.
- The UK has the capacity and the resources to respond effectively to these risks, but it has not yet done so. The longer action is delayed, the higher the costs and impacts on people, the economy and the environment.
- There are eight key areas (see image below) that require the most urgent action within the next two years.
- The Committee recommends ten principles for good adaptation planning that should bring adaptation into mainstream consideration by Government and businesses.
- Although climate change is mainly associated with risks, the report does discuss potential opportunities associated with warmer weather in the UK, such as longer growing seasons.
UK climate outlook
The assessment also provides an overview of how the UK’s climate has changed and may continue to change. Over recent decades the UK’s annual average temperature has warmed at nearly 0.3 ºC per decade. Heatwaves are now more common and intense. Sea levels are over 5 cm higher than in 1990 and are estimated to be rising at around 2.5 cm per decade.
By mid-century, the UK is more likely to experience warmer and wetter winters, along with hotter and drier summers. Rainfall and temperature extremes will become more intense and frequent. Sea levels will continue to rise around the UK.
Where can I find out more?
To accompany the independent assessment, a team led by Sustainability West Midlands prepared a series of themed and sector briefings. These include an excellent factsheet for children and young people, aimed to help them think about the difference between weather and climate, how and why the UK’s climate is changing, and what can be done to help.
There are more resources available on the Royal Meteorological Society's education website MetLink.org, including a new FREE classroom resource to support the teaching of Weather and Climate in secondary schools.