Climate change risk to UK food, water and power supplies highlighted

Out-Law News | 19 Jan 2022 | 1:59 pm | 4 min. read

Urgent action is needed to address the risk of future food, water and power shortages in the UK caused by climate change, according to a new report.

The UK climate change risk assessment 2022 outlined a total of 61 risks associated with the predicted rise in global temperatures over the coming decades, including the risks of flooding to transport networks and other infrastructure, as well as the potential impact on international trade, business premises and access to capital, agriculture productivity and human health and wellbeing.

According to the report, however, there are eight urgent priority areas which require action in the next two years – many of which concern the risks climate change is creating for habitat and species viability and diversity, soil health and nature-based carbon stores. The government said that if those areas are not addressed urgently, there is a risk of locking in irreversible adverse changes and that the success of reaching ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050 would be under threat. The report makes clear the link between dealing effectively with the adaptation required to cope with the impacts of climate change and the ability to achieve net zero. If the natural carbon sinks on which any net zero target relies are not preserved, achieving that target is at risk.

Professor Colin Campbell

James Hutton Institute 

The science is clear, we urgently need to re-think our relationship with the natural world, if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change  

Other priority areas identified in the report include the global supply chain, which risks disruption from increasingly extreme weather, and energy security where the UK energy supply increasingly comes from weather-dependent renewables. The final priority area identified for urgent action is the risk to health and productivity of the overheating of UK buildings.

The report, published by the UK government, further identified the rising cost of climate change to the UK, with one projection being that climate-related costs could total 1% of UK GDP by 2045.

The government said: “The evidence shows that we must do more to build climate change into any decisions that have long-term effects, such as in new housing or infrastructure, to avoid often costly remedial actions in the future. And we must consider low probability but high impact events arising from, for example, high warming scenarios and interdependent or cascading risks.”

However, while the government acknowledged that its actions to date “have not been sufficient in meeting the increasing risks from climate change”, its report said there are still opportunities to address climate-related risks. The report flagged that many early adaptation investments, such as those in climate resilient infrastructure, and upland peatland restoration, had been shown to be “highly effective and deliver high value for money”.

Professor Colin Campbell, chief executive of the James Hutton Institute, leading research provider in environmental, crop and food science, said: “The science is clear, we urgently need to re-think our relationship with the natural world, if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.”

“Time is running out, we need new innovative ways of growing food that puts no further pressure on our land but instead preserves it for nature. Advances in agri-tech, particularly in vertical growth systems like those developed by IGS Limited and underpinned by the science at James Hutton Institute, provides us with such opportunities. Despite having a minimal footprint, we can grow a diverse range of food locally all year round, drastically reducing the need for imports, while providing a secure supply chain of fresh and nutritious source of food,” he said.

Fiona Ross, who specialises in environmental law issues at Pinsent Masons, including climate change and net zero, natural capital and climate solutions, said: “The Environment Act 2021 sets a legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030, and the UK has also made commitments in relation to biodiversity in the G7 Nature Compact, so investment in green infrastructure and natural capital solutions will be an important element in the UK’s response to the climate change related risks highlighted in the report. We are already seeing mechanisms for investment in and funding of natural capital solutions by the private sector in the UK and expect this market to continue to grow.”

Ayre Laura

Laura Ayre

Partner

There has never been a more important time for businesses to be prioritising the resilience of their supply chains

Laura Ayre, also of Pinsent Masons, who specialises in in supply chain logistics, including climate change and net zero, said the report also highlights that climate hazards are yet another issue having a hugely detrimental effect on both local and global supply chains.

“Along with the disruptions caused by both Brexit and the global pandemic, there has never been a more important time for businesses to be prioritising the resilience of their supply chains,” said Ayre. “Increasingly we are advising clients on ensuring diversification in their supply chains across multiple tiers, bringing data collection and reporting requirements to the fore, and negotiating robust contractual mechanisms to ultimately reduce the risks – including the huge costs – of supply chain disruption.”

Real estate expert Siobhan Cross of Pinsent Masons said: “The recent amendments to the building regulations begin to address the issue of overheating in new domestic property through increased passive cooling measures. We expect the planning system will increasingly require designs which include adequate passive cooling measures in all new build development. However, much remains to be done to address the overheating risks in existing residential and non-residential buildings and thus far there is no policy framework for retrofitting such adaptation measures to existing buildings.

Energy law expert Melanie Grimmitt of Pinsent Masons: “As the report notes, with our electricity increasingly supplied from intermittent and weather dependent renewable sources, the government and the regulator must ensure the UK’s power system is resilient to climate change and that consumers will continue to have access to secure energy supplies, without jeopardising our net zero targets. Work is well underway in this regard with the government consulting on proposals for increasing interconnector capacity and large-scale electricity storage. The UK has a strong heritage of deploying new energy technologies, and as a fertile ground for investment in innovative energy projects.”

The climate change risk assessment is a five-yearly report the UK government is obliged to prepare under the Climate Change Act 2008. It is the third iteration of the risk assessment, with earlier versions having been published in 2012 and 2017 respectively.

The government said that the next major milestone in terms of its statutory obligations to combat climate-related risk will be the publication of the third national adaptation plan (NAP3) for England in 2023. Equivalent reports will be prepared by the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Climate adaptation minister Jo Churchill said: “The scale and severity of the challenge posed by climate change means we cannot tackle it overnight, and although we’ve made good progress in recent years there is clearly much more that we need to do. By recognising the further progress that needs to be made, we’re committing to significantly increasing our efforts and setting a path towards the third National Adaptation Programme which will set ambitious and robust policies to make sure we are resilient to climate change into the future.”