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Why the UK government’s response to the CCC’s adaptation progress report falls short

09 November 2023

The UK government’s response to the Climate Change Committee’s report doesn’t provide the policy needed to ensure climate resilient infrastructure.

Why the UK government’s response to the CCC’s adaptation progress report falls short
It’s only with a complete picture of how the UK’s systems are linked that the government will be able to effectively plan for the coming challenges. Image credit: Shutterstock

Earlier this year, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published a progress report on the UK’s efforts to adapt to climate change in the last two years.

The report identified that the UK’s current approach to resilience and adaptation is unfit for purpose.

This reflects a wider global issue identified by the UN Environment Programme that progress on climate adaptation has been too little and too slow.

The UK government has now responded to the CCC report.

In its response, the government has highlighted steps it has taken to respond to the CCC’s recommendations.

These relate to areas including adapting transport, towns and cities, energy security, and finance.

How can the UK’s infrastructure system be made more climate resilient

The ICE published a policy paper earlier this year on climate resilience and adaptation.

This paper emphasised that without adaptation and improved emergency response to build in greater resilience, the UK’s infrastructure will lose its value.

Damage repairs will be costly and increasingly frequent, and infrastructure users will face high levels of disruption.

Learn more

The resilience and adaptation data gap

As highlighted in the ICE’s policy paper on resilience, there isn’t enough data available on climate risk.

The CCC recommended that the Department of Business and Trade (DBT) publish more accessible monitoring and data analysis of climate risks to support businesses to improve their resilience.

However, in its response, the government said there’s enough existing information it provides to businesses. This includes:

  • UK climate projections produced by the Met Office on behalf of the government;
  • the Adverse Weather and Health Plan; and
  • advice relating to flooding and coastal erosion, such as the Environment Agency’s flood alerts.

DBT is also working with the Met Office to review how accessible climate risk data will be provided to businesses by the end of 2023 and is committed to producing climate risk factsheets.

While these resources provide important guidance, they don’t fill the existing data gap relating to adaptation.

For nearly 40% of adaptation outcomes, a lack of relevant and up-to-date datasets prevents the CCC from making a proper judgement on progress.

The government’s response to the CCC report showed that the next round of the Adaptation Reporting Power (ARP4) will pilot climate adaptation reporting by local authorities. Reports will be due by the end of 2024.

However, reporting guidance is described as taking an “agnostic” or unbiased approach to the reports local authorities should provide in risk assessments, which isn’t rigorous enough.

Moreover, organisations such as those in the aviation and ports sector will only be invited to report individually.

The ICE’s view

Gaps in the adaptation reporting power (ARP) limit understanding of the scale of, and preparedness for, related risks across sectors such as energy, transport, and water.

The ICE recommended making the ARP mandatory under the Climate Change Act for all infrastructure owners and operators in our paper on resilience and adaptation.

While the government is keen to reduce reporting burdens, it’s only a complete picture of how the UK’s systems are linked that will enable the government to effectively plan for the coming challenges.

The need for further stress testing

Stress tests identify vulnerabilities in the infrastructure system.

Regular stress testing exercises can improve understanding of resilience and help us manage future risks.

DBT has committed to incorporating climate considerations into supply chain stress tests (including with international partners) by the end of 2024.

This will help the government understand the resilience of supply chains to potential climate-related disruptions.

This intervention by DBT is welcome, but must be implemented wider than the supply chain and should become standard practice for all infrastructure operators.

The ICE’s view

In the ICE’s report on resilience and adaptation, the implementation of digital twin technology was recommended.

This would help decision makers visualise climate risks and explore adaptation measures under different scenarios.

Stress testing the system against a set of climate change hazards (e.g. major flood, heatwave, drought) of different intensity could then pinpoint weak spots that cause cascading failures. And it would be able to measure their impact on the overall level of service.

Implementing more stress tests will prioritise infrastructure investments and build resilience more effectively.

The economics of resilience

In the latest CCC progress report, flooding was identified as the most significant economic climate risk in the UK.

The UK is heavily exposed to climate risks due to its central role in the global financial network.

The government’s response highlights that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is continuing to build on its analysis of the economic threats posed by climate change.

However, the response states that specific adaptation finance strategies for financial institutions aren’t needed.

This is because financial institutions are already embedding adaptation considerations into their work.

But the lack of willingness to go further shows that resilience is still not being taken seriously enough by the government.

This is also echoed in the response’s emphasis on ensuring the independence of regulators.

The government didn’t commit to develop mandates or priorities for regulators with a focus on the need for investment in adapting to climate change.

Governments and regulators need to work together to set stable policy frameworks and ensure the right economic, regulatory and policy platforms are in place.

These can ensure finance is available and the incentive is there to develop resilient infrastructure.

However, the response clearly cites the need for private sector investment to support adaptation action over the coming decades.

The ICE’s view

There’s a need to incentivise investment in resilience and adaptation measures now.

Despite the updated Green Finance Strategy and third National Adaptation Programme, more clarity is needed around adaptation funding than the response provides.

To incentivise investment in infrastructure climate resilience and adaptation, we must first understand the value it provides.

This requires an economic review of resilience and adaptation, led by HM Treasury.

This can then feed into developing resilience standards and allow investment to be targeted to where it will have the greatest impact.

The approach set out within the response is still too piecemeal.

It refers to previously announced documents that lack detail. It also doesn’t do enough to highlight how organisations can more easily secure the investment they need for climate mitigation and climate adaptation.

Find out more

The ICE and All-Party Parliamentary Group for Infrastructure (APPGI) has begun a programme of work on public engagement and net zero to better understand how to find solutions to public behaviour change.

Contact [email protected] to respond to our consultation.

You can also read the ICE’s response to the CCC’s net zero emissions progress report.

  • Laura Cunliffe-Hall, interim lead policy manager at ICE