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UK Government Publishes Third Climate Change Risk Assessment January 17, 2022

Three months after hosting the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, and as required by the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK government published its third five-year risk assessment of climate change on the United Kingdom. This publication will underpin policymaking in the next few years and beyond.

The assessment considers 61 UK-wide climate risks across multiple economic sectors. Eight specific areas have been identified for immediate action in the next two years:

  • Risks to the viability and diversity of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards;
  • Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought;
  • Risks to natural carbon stores and sequestration from multiple hazards;
  • Risks to crops, livestock, and commercial trees from multiple climate hazards;
  • Risks to supply of food, goods, and vital services due to climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks;
  • Risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system;
  • Risks to human health, well-being, and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings; and
  • Multiple risks to the United Kingdom from climate change impacts overseas.

Just for these eight individual risks, the publication concludes that economic damages could exceed £1 billion per year each by 2050 with a temperature rise of 2°C, with the cost of climate change to the United Kingdom rising to at least 1% of GDP by 2045. The assessment identifies the following adaptation work streams undertaken by the UK government including:

  • Investing £5.2 billion to build 2,000 new flood defenses by 2027;
  • Continuing work on the Green Finance Strategy to align private sector financial flows with clean, environmentally sustainable, and resilient growth;
  • Increasing the total spend from the Nature for Climate Fund on peat restoration, woodland creation, and management to more than £750 million by 2025; and
  • Ensuring that climate science and research, such as the UK Climate Projections 2018, are fully integrated into planning and decision-making, including on major infrastructure.

The report considers that the evidence shows that the United Kingdom must do more to build climate change resilience into any decisions that have long-term effects, such as in new housing or infrastructure, to avoid often costly remedial actions in the future. In addition, the United Kingdom must consider low probability but high impact events arising from, "for example, high warming scenarios and interdependent or cascading risks."

The assessment also highlights the international nature of many climate risks that can cause cascading effects across borders and sectors with significant impacts on the United Kingdom. The UK government is building on the discussions and key messages from COP26, wherein adaptation was a focal point championed by the UK presidency as a core priority. 

The assessment concludes, "We will continue learning from others about how to adapt, while also building capacity and sharing knowledge as we progress towards our 'Global' goal of investing $100bn in climate finance by 2023."

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