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UK’s latest climate plan lacks vision and urgency, says CCC

Date
13 March 2024

What does the Climate Change Committee’s assessment of the UK’s third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3) mean for infrastructure?

UK’s latest climate plan lacks vision and urgency, says CCC
The Climate Change Committee has called the lack of urgency in the UK’s climate adaptation programme “deeply concerning”. Image credit: Shutterstock

In July 2023, the UK government published its third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3).

Eight months on, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has published its initial assessment of NAP3.

The importance of climate adaptation

Even with progress towards carbon targets, climate change is happening and will continue to develop.

Climate adaptation – creating infrastructure that's resilient to its effects – is as important as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The UK’s infrastructure is facing pressures that, for the most part, it wasn’t designed to withstand. Adapting it to withstand rising temperatures, floods, and other effects of climate change is crucial.

NAP3 sets out the government's strategic response to the threat of climate change over the 2023-28 period.

The assessment is short but scathing

The CCC's assessment concludes that NAP3 lacks a credible vision and falls far short of what’s needed to respond to the threat of climate change.

The CCC says that NAP3 needs strengthening, and reinforcing quickly – the government can't wait another five years.

Governance, investment, and monitoring, it says, are the three areas in greatest need of addressing.

Governance

Adaptation isn't integrated into policymaking across government departments. It's neither viewed as a priority nor given enough resources.

The CCC calls for a refresh of NAP3 alongside the next multi-year spending review, which is due to happen after the next general election, to engage all departments in understanding and valuing adaptation.

In an infrastructure sense, new price control periods for energy, water, and rail – which outline what companies must deliver and how much revenue they can earn over a set timeframe – will occur over the course of NAP3.

To drive action on climate adaptation, the UK needs minimum resilience standards for these sectors, as well as a clearer climate resilience remit for their regulators.

Investment

The CCC highlights that NAP3 is heavily focused on bringing together existing initiatives.

This means it offers little in terms of new commitments – and investment – to support climate adaptation.

The CCC calls for greater urgency, clearer targets, and a better understanding of the value of adaptation to drive investment.

As the ICE has emphasised, to encourage investment in infrastructure climate resilience and adaptation, policymakers need to understand the value it provides. An economic review of resilience and adaptation can provide this understanding.

By failing to invest in adaptation now, the government is kicking the can down the road for future generations to deal with.

Monitoring

The CCC can't fully assess progress without better monitoring and evaluation.

NAP3 contains no measurable goals or specific outcomes for any sector. This lack of an overarching framework to guide businesses, regulators, and local government is holding back action.

The CCC highlights global examples of best practice the UK can learn from. Germany has built a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework for adaptation, while Canada’s adaptation programme is underpinned by measurable, time-bound targets.

Are there any positives?

The CCC calls NAP3 an "overall improvement" over NAP2.

The programme acknowledges a wider range of climate risks and makes improvements for the fourth round of the Adaptation Reporting Power.

The CCC also welcomes the government’s new cross-departmental Climate Resilience Board to oversee climate adaptation issues.

This is something the ICE acknowledged as a positive last year. Responsibility for climate resilience and adaptation needs to extend beyond the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) and across the whole government.

Finally, the CCC says the government’s commitment to continually evolve NAP3 over its five-year lifetime is essential and welcome – and provides the platform for much-needed improvements.

The ICE’s view

At NAP3’s publication last year, the ICE urged the UK government to ramp up its infrastructure climate adaptation measures.

The CCC’s assessment upholds this, calling the overall lack of urgency in NAP3 “deeply concerning”.

Quick action gives the UK the opportunity to develop world-leading infrastructure that's fit for the future. Delay, and the problems will become worse and more expensive to solve.

The CCC is right to identity governance, investment, and monitoring as critical issues holding back the UK’s climate adaptation goals – and these strongly align with the ICE’s recommendations last year:

  • Make the Adaptation Reporting Power mandatory. This would provide better, more detailed information for the government and infrastructure owners to make and enact further plans.
  • Conduct a national review of the economics of adaptation. Investment in resilience and adaptation is essential to protect the UK from climate risks. But policymakers don't currently understand or recognise its value.
  • Use technology to unlock future resilience. Data-driven technologies provide a huge opportunity to strengthen the climate resilience of UK infrastructure. Digital twin technologies can highlight how infrastructure assets work together in a system to become more resilient.
  • Include a list of climate hazards and desired standards of protection for selected climate scenarios in National Policy Statements. In general, nationally significant infrastructure projects take account of flood risk. But other climate hazards are clearly missing.

In case you missed it

  • David Hawkes, head of policy at ICE