31 JANUARY 2024
The first month of 2024 was dominated by extreme flooding across the country, hot on the heels of very wet weather and high water levels at the end of 2023. By the time the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released its must-read report Resilience to Flooding on 17 January, the UK had endured a sodden start to 2024. And only six days into the New Year, the Government announced thousands of pounds of support for communities impacted by Storm Henk to help them make their properties more resilient to flooding.
45,000 properties, the Government points out, have ‘already been protected from the worst impacts of Storm Henk thanks to flood defences put in place through previous government funding.’ However, with an estimated 5.7 million properties at risk of flooding in England alone – a figure expected to double by 2055 – an extremely ambitious effort would be needed to flood-proof the entire country.
What action there is is not happening fast enough. The Resilience to Flooding report raises a series of concerns, not least around the National Audit Office’s recent finding ‘that the Environment Agency will provide protection for at least 40% fewer properties than planned by 2027’ (200,000, down from 336,000). The PAC is calling on the government to explain this downgrading.
The PAC report is however light on the flooding risk to infrastructure, including the vulnerability of Britain’s railways (£). While £1bn has been allocated by Network Rail to adaptation, protecting all 20,000 miles of ageing track feels an impossible task. Rail chiefs will likely prioritise the most used, most vulnerable sections, thereby providing a real example of the trade-offs that will need to be made and foreshadowing the likelihood that innovative solutions will increasingly replace hard infrastructure approaches.
Farmers Against Flooding
The farming community continues to be hard hit by flooding as yet more food rots (£) in the fields. Alongside calling for greater investment in flood defences, farmers are implementing “natural ways” to manage their rivers and even providing valuable services to downstream properties by allowing their own fields to be inundated whilst not losing sight of their primary task of feeding the country. To deliver this nutrition, changes are inevitable across the board, including how we dairy farm, how we deal with food waste and what is offered up to the UK consumer.
The Mayor of London’s office released an (interim) report entitled the London Climate Resilience Review, lessons from which the authors are keen to stress are applicable across the country. Among its recommendations to the UK Government, the authors suggest appointing a Minister for Adaptation and Resilience, with responsibility for the National Adaptation Programme. We agree!
In a busy month for the public sector we saw the Ministry of Defence set out its adaptation response in a “biscuit book” (to be read with a cup of tea, apparently), the House of Lords turn its attention to infectious disease, the NHS issue its latest view on climate change impacts to public health and a growing popularity in local government of the climate adaptation pathways methodology.
Even potholes, having exhausted all other PR opportunities, are making an adaptation pitch. Climate change charged weather patterns are expected to increase the proliferation of these unpopular mini-climate-impacts. Perhaps this will be the thing that finally turns the public gaze on to adaptation…we live in hope.
- Climate-smart nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa (Food)
- Nepalese farmers revive climate-resilient millet (Food)
- Here Are The Foods Hit Hardest By Climate Change In 2023 (Food)
- Farmers in India switch to heat tolerant wheat (Food)
- Relentless rains wreak havoc across Australia’s east (Extreme weather)
- Quakes and storms cause $95 billion in insurance losses in 2023 -Munich Re (Extreme weather)
- US snowpack shrinking due to climate change (Drought)
- Kashmir residents waiting for snow (Drought)
Dates for the Diary
- 2024 Sniffer Flood Resilience Conference, 8-9 February, Edinburgh
- Adapt Your World 2024 venture conference, 25 April, Munich
- Adapt Unbound, 21 May, New York
- CIWEM Flood and Coast Conference, 4-6 June, Telford
- Groundswell, 26-2 June, Hertfordshire
Extreme weather events across multiple locations put into perspective the need for a global and co-ordinated approach to adaptation. We frequently see nations are pitted against one another as justification for mitigation inaction, but storms and droughts that cross borders help re-focus the mind on our shared future we all face regardless of passport. Crucially, they can act as a catalyst for policy makers to learn from nations that seem to be making headway on adaptation.
The recent floods saw support offered in the form of pumps transported to neighbouring countries, just as community-led flood management approaches from the Netherlands and Japan highlight how collaboration is a powerful weapon. This last month has been horrendous for communities across northern Europe, but there’s hope for a more resilient, future proof system in the form of help given and lessons learnt from our global neighbours.
30 DECEMBER 2023
COP28 falls short on climate adaptation
Weak language and a lack of detail was how most news outlets summarised the COP28 final agreement on adaptation. There were positive inclusions in the text, such as clarification around 2030 adaptation targets on water security, ecosystem restoration and health. Plans for assessments and monitoring of adaptation were also welcomed. How targets will be implemented, and crucially where the funding will come from, was less clear. A bleak UN report on adaptation published last month, titled ‘Underfinanced, Underprepared’, seems to have fallen on deaf ears. While the final agreement calls for a doubling in adaptation finance, language was weakened around a commitment to close the total ‘finance gap’, estimated between USD 194 billion and USD 366 billion per year – much to the dismay of the most climate-vulnerable countries. These contentious debates are expected to be picked up at next year’s COP.
Another busy month in food supply chains
Lots of interesting news and research to report on the agriculture front, starting with this analysis into how the world has managed to feed its growing (human) population in the 20th century through improvements in yield and increased land use. It notes that “without large investments into more climate-resilient agriculture and productivity, this won’t continue forever.” Not only are the existing impacts on food supply chains becoming ever more evident – such as extreme weather events leading to a decline in the chocolate yield in Ghana, droughts constraining transport on the Panama canal (£) and slowing corn harvests in Brazil – but the prospect of future challenges look ever more concerning with renewed warnings of hellish temperature rises and megadroughts. Thankfully, action is being taken to start adapting, not just in respect of individual foodstuffs such as the mighty sweet potato, but on a broader scale too. The journal Nature provided us with a useful update on the state of global food systems, which is a good context when considering activity that took place at COP, in philanthropic circles and in design thinking.
Closer to home, in a month where a study reported that British households have spent an extra £600 on their food bills over the last two years due to the climate crisis and soaring energy prices, the launch of a new UK centre to tackle food security was a positive step, as indeed is the breakthrough baked bean designed for growth in the UK climate, thereby reducing reliance on imports.
On the key question of how the world will pay for the adaptation measures that are necessary, some huge challenges loom, including getting a real understanding of how much our existing financial systems are exposed to climate change risk (£) and how much money is going to be required to pay for adaptation. Recent reckonings conclude it is a lot more than models currently allow (£). Small steps in the right direction appear to reflect a growing acceptance that investment in adaptation is an opportunity, not a cost and apparent public support for the flow of money from rich to poor countries. How this might happen was widely covered with options ranging from climate damage funding, aid, debt relief, levies on oil states and/or innovative financial instruments.
Plenty to report from the UK, both in terms of existing impacts from climate change and future challenges, as well as action being taken to start adapting. On the former, it was reported that 30 new species have been recorded around Bath as a result of rising local temperatures, changes in UK wind patterns are affecting wind farm output and extreme weather events are already having such an impact on sporting events that 63% of UK adults polled think that the new football regulator should have a duty to consider the impact of climate change on sport. We saw a new flood defence scheme at a school in Calderdale (finally, having been flooded in 2015 and 2020), a global award going to a nature based flood defence in North London and perhaps most excitingly (and a precursor of things to come) the use of local democracy and community engagement approaches to determine the best way forward for a town in Cornwall whose residents have decided they “can’t afford to wait” and are taking their own initiative on adaptation.
The government released its latest version of a report on the public health impacts of climate change. One such impact – extreme high temperatures – was the focus of a report by the Fabian Society which argues that workers should get a day off if temperatures exceed 30C. Expect social justice to be a central feature of the adaptation debate. We also saw a number of companies launching innovations and initiatives relating to adaptation including the launch of digital tools designed to help mitigate against future urban heatwaves and Lidl scrapping some use-by dates and launching Too Good to Waste Boxes.
This is welcome activity in a month when the National Audit Office reported that the Cabinet Office does not have a strategy to ensure resilience to extreme weather, which follows hot on the heels of a Friends of the Earth legal challenge to the UK government over its failure to protect frontline communities and newly released data from the ONS valuing the economic benefits from UK ecosystems. TLDR; this value is not embedded in policymaking decisions by the government, despite amounting to at least £1.5trn. Other reports this month give cause for concern including that only 10% of UK companies believe they have the skills needed to be resilient to climate change.
One story particularly caught our attention this month. The humble French pansy has, in a mere 20-30 years, responded to the scarcity of insects by shrinking its flower size and reducing the amount of nectar it produces. They effectively appear to have given up on insect pollination and are evolving to self-pollinate. This is a stunning and unnerving example of extremely rapid evolution as nature adapts to the changing climate and biodiversity crisis. Quite aside from the genetic concentration dangers that self-pollination engender, we cannot and should not expect all of the natural world to be able to evolve so fast. But on the other hand, it is an inspirational example from nature of what we as a species ought to be doing to protect not only our own species but the planet on which we depend.
28 NOVEMBER 2023
UN – world ‘unprepared’ for climate change impact
The 2023 UN Annual Adaptation Gap Report was published this month which declared global progress on adaptation as inadequate: “Underfinanced. Underprepared. Inadequate investment and planning on climate adaptation leaves world exposed.”
CCC – Scotland making headway, but still big gaps
Closer to home, Scotland received some recognition for its progress on adaptation in the latest report by the Climate Change Committee. It concluded that Scotland was making progress in measures including resilience planning, overheating in buildings, NHS and transport. But major gaps remain and more needs to be done in respect to water supply, planning for droughts and interdependent infrastructure risks.
Growing body of research shows case for adaptation
These reports, along with other key research released this month add to the growing picture of a world which needs to address adaptation, and fast, as the impacts of climate change increase in severity and frequency, the likelihood that the world will be successful in limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C diminishes, and the UK’s own stark lack of preparedness becomes more apparent, whether in tackling wildfires, defending against floods, protecting our heritage sites, protecting public health or preventing civil unrest as a result of food shortages.
Extreme weather events in the UK
The reality on the ground was brought home by Storms Babet and Ciarán, occurring less then a fortnight apart. Both hit the British Isles hard and left significant damage in their wake, to retailers and farmers amongst others. These groups called on the government to do more to increase resilience and support, once again raising the question of who will bear the direct cost and indirect cost of climate change damage, with a recent example of homeowners being asked to pay into a local levy (£) for the reconstruction of homes destroyed by wildfire during last year’s heatwave. We can expect much more discussion in the future as to where the role of the state ends and individual responsibility begins.
Lloyds models $5trn of economic loss
On the subject of money, a new data tool from Lloyds of London and the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies warns of $5trn of economic damage over 5 years from climate change (range from $3-17trn). Perhaps this research is one of the things behind the anticipated surge in “catastrophe bond” issuance (£), with China already revealing its plans in this area, ironically at the same time as inflationary pressure is blamed for reduction by 40% in planned flood protection for English homes.
Steps in the right direction
It’s not all bad news. Last month saw numerous examples of adaptation activity whether through much needed progress on loss and damage finance, in flood defence schemes – concrete and nature based – raising the prominence of nature and climate action in the planning process, tree type selection to improve resilience of British forests (£) in a warming world, or the announcement of a new nature financing platform for the Lake District. Outside the UK, businesses are continuing their efforts to increase the resilience of their supply chains, whether through coffee bean genetics or piloting weather insurance and regenerative agriculture schemes for Indonesian smallholder farmers. At a macro level we are starting to see real momentum building for a much-needed “food systems approach” as we head into COP28.
In a busy period, one story stood out above all others though, when Australia announced it was offering “refuge” (visas) to citizens of Tuvalu that face catastrophic rising sea levels. The EU correctly recognised this as a sign of things to come with human migrations on a much more massive scale if we fail to reduce our emissions sufficiently, and called for a re-doubling of climate mitigation efforts. Sobering stuff indeed.
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