Urgent action needed to prepare UK for effects of climate change

Climate change is already having an impact on the UK and urgent action is required to address climate-related risks, according to a new report conducted by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC).

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report outlines the most urgent risks and opportunities for the UK from climate change. Hundreds of leading scientists and experts were involved in the report, including Dr Sari Kovats from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

UK climate change is likely to involve periods of too much or too little water, sea level rises, an increase in the average temperature and increase in the incidences of extreme temperature. As a result, the report states that the most urgent risk associated with these changes are:

  • an increased flooding risk to communities, businesses and infrastructure
  • risks to health and wellbeing from high temperatures
  • shortages in public water supply and water for agriculture and industry
  • risks of new and emerging diseases including the introduction of invasive non-native species to the UK

Dr Sari Kovats, from the School's Department of Social and Environmental Health Research, was a co-lead contributor on Chapter 5 of the report. The chapter analyses the effect of climate change on people and the built environment, and identifies the challenges for those working in planning, community development and the healthcare systems.

Flooding and high temperatures are the greatest risk to people and require the greatest need for action in the next five years. Flooding already poses a severe threat to people, communities and buildings with 1.8 million people living in areas of the UK at significant risk of river, coastal or surface water flooding.

Under a climate change scenario where the average temperature increases by 2°C, this figure could rise to 3.3 million. As well as risks to infrastructure, there is a threat posed to wellbeing, livelihood and social cohesion.

Dr Kovats said: "Climate change is expected to increase the frequency, severity and extent of flooding in the UK. The devastation that followed the prolonged heavy rain and series of storms during the winter of 2013/2014 showed that we are far from prepared to deal with these changes. We also know that flooding has severe and long-term impacts on families and communities. 

"More heatwaves in the UK are also likely yet there are no comprehensive policies in place aimed at reducing the risk of overheating in new and existing homes.

"The climate is changing. Those working in emergency response and the health and social care system, need to respond, and respond quickly to reduce the vulnerability of our health system to extreme weather events."

The report concludes that the UK may also see some perceived benefits from climate change including increased production in agriculture and forestry, should associated water-related risks be managed. People's health and wellbeing could also benefit through being more active outdoors, either recreationally or choosing to adopt more active transport, such as cycling.

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