UK Government

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs: Caroline Spelman speech to the adaptation sub committee

Press Release   •   Sep 16, 2010 11:01 BST

Britain must prepare for the ‘unavoidable’ impacts of climate change as well as continuing to cut  carbon emissions, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman will say today (Thursday).

The Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) will publish today the first national assessment of how well the prepared the UK is for climate change. The report concludes that, with the impacts of climate change already being felt in the UK, people must start preparing now.

With UK Climate Projections predicting significantly warmer summers, wetter winters and more frequent extreme weather events over the coming years, Caroline Spelman will use a speech to the ASC to issue a ‘wake-up call’ to British society that urgent action is needed to protect our economy, our infrastructure and our way of life.

Caroline Spelman will say:

“Today’s report provides a wake- up call. It recognises that there is no part of our society which is immune from the effects of climate change. Which means that every part of our society must think about its resilience.

“While it is vital that we continue the task of drastically cutting our greenhouse gas emissions, we know that we are already facing levels of unavoidable climate change.

“Britain’s economy will only be as resilient and prepared as British firms, communities and infrastructure.

“Adapting to climate change may also offer some of its biggest opportunities. The transition to a low carbon, well-adapted global economy could create hundreds of thousands of sustainable green jobs. But we must – all of us – take steps now to recognise the problem, analyse the risk and plan ahead.”

The ASC report found that while progress is being made by Government in raising awareness, more action needs to be taken on the ground in five priority areas – land use planning, infrastructure, buildings, natural resources and emergency planning.  Defra has responded to the report by publishing a strategic statement outlining the way forward to adapt the UK to climate change risks and opportunities.

The statement will say:

·         The Government is committed to continuing to push for real progress on a global climate deal.

·         Because some change is now inevitable, we must act decisively to adapt to this. The sooner we do this, the less costly and dramatic these changes will need to be.

·         We have made good progress – such as national policy statements which mean climate impacts are considered in the planning and design of major roads, railways, airports and power stations

·         But the progress made on adaptation so far is, in truth, only the first step. The latest advice from the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change shows there is still a long way to go.

·         We will continue to improve our front line flood defences – the Prime Minister has already said that Defra is the Government’s emergency service.

·         Climate change is also a local issue – we will devolve more power and responsibility to local people, institutions and frontline professionals to decide what changes  are needed in their area.

·         Climate change will bring opportunities for forward thinking businesses – e.g. warmer summers will extend tourism season, different foods will be grown, boosts to construction industry as buildings adapt. Businesses that have properly planned will thrive.

Caroline Spelman will also say:

“This Government is pushing ahead with measures to ensure that climate change adaptation becomes an ingrained part of how we manage our natural environment – particularly in critical areas such as water efficiency, biodiversity and food production.

“But Government cannot do it alone. We need to shift control for action away from the state while ensuring Government maintains its role in providing world class evidence and co-ordinating the actions of the many players involved in adaptation on the ground.”


Notes to Editors

1.    A copy of the strategic statement Defra will publish on Thursday is below.

2.    Embargoed copies of Caroline Spelman’s speech to the ASC will be made available later today.

3.    Graphics showing examples of fully adapted cities, homes, farms, coastlines, infrastructure and countryside are available on request.

4.      The Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) is a sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), established under the Climate Change Act 2008. The ASC is an independent statutory body that provides advice to Government to ensure that their programme for adaptation enables the UK to prepare effectively for the impacts of climate change.


Climate change is one of the biggest challenges the world faces. Tackling and adapting to climate change is a top priority for this Government – at home and internationally.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming. Since the 1970s, average temperatures for Central England have risen by nearly 1.0C and the last decade was the warmest on record.. Average temperatures in the UK and Europe are likely to increase more than the global average through the 21st century. Our UK Climate Projections 2009 indicate that increases in total winter rainfall and more intense summer downpours will make the risk of flooding more severe in some places. In other places, the supply of fresh water will struggle to meet demand.

It is absolutely essential that we mitigate climate change, so we can limit the severity of its impacts. This Government is committed to achieving an ambitious global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions consistent with limiting global temperature increases. Domestically, our Green Deal will combine growth in the economy with a greener and more efficient way of using energy, reducing energy demand and carbon emissions while insulating homes, saving consumers money and stimulating green recovery in jobs.

But we have to accept that some climate change is now inevitable. We must act decisively and adapt to this by improving resilience in our natural resource base and our economy, across all sectors. The sooner we start to plan and take action, the less severe and costly the changes we will have to make. And for forward thinking businesses, early action can open up real opportunities to take advantage of climate change and help others to adapt.

We have already made important progress in the UK in dealing with the consequences and potential benefits of climate change. In the Hadley Centre, the UK has one of the world’s leading climate change research centres. Embedding sustainability into our system of National Policy Statements will ensure that climate impacts are considered in the planning and design of major roads, railways, airports and power stations.

But the progress made on adaptation so far is, in truth, only the first step. The latest advice from the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change shows there is still a long way to go. It is excellent that some local authorities and businesses are really starting to understand the challenges and potential opportunities ahead. But many are not, and ‘business as usual’ will not be enough. One in three UK companies have been “significantly affected” by extreme weather such as flooding or drought in the past three years, but fewer than one in four have taken action to protect themselves. We need now a step change.

This Government is determined to play its part and give the necessary lead. We intend to be the greenest government ever, working to support a strong and sustainable green economy resilient to climate change.

In spring 2011 we will publish a bold and ambitious Natural Environment White Paper – outlining the Government’s priorities for the natural environment, and setting out a framework for practical action by Government, communities, businesses and civil society organisations. This will address the impacts of climate change and emphasise the value of natural resources – such as the restoration of wetlands as a key flood management measure. We are developing a Water White Paper, in which the challenge of providing secure and sustainable supplies to a growing population and to support economic growth will be a central theme. We intend to create a presumption in favour of sustainable development at the heart of the planning system. And our evaluation of the Building Regulations will give the opportunity to consider evidence on how future buildings can be more sustainable.

Managing how we deal with floods and improving our climate resilience as a country is incredibly important. The Prime Minister has already made clear that my Department, Defra, is a key emergency service within government. We will show leadership and action and continue to improve our frontline flood defences.

But the challenges are not for central Government alone to address. Adapting to climate change is also a local issue. The impacts will vary from place to place, depending on circumstances. Buildings, streets and local infrastructure that support our businesses and communities – from major cities and conurbations to the smallest village – have been designed to cope with certain types of weather that have been the norm in the past but may be very different in future. The Government will take forward the quality work of the UK Climate Impacts Programme and continue to provide specialist information and advice on adaptation, so people and institutions at all levels can plan ahead and take the steps that are needed. We will devolve more power and responsibility to local people as we believe that individuals, frontline professionals, communities and local institutions are best placed to decide what changes are appropriate in their local area.

The changing climate also brings opportunities for forward-thinking British businesses. Different weather patterns can allow UK farmers to grow new crops or take advantage of an extended growing season. Warmer summers could extend the UK tourist season and make tourist resorts more attractive. The construction industry may be boosted as people and businesses look to change their premises as a result of climate change. And the transition to a low carbon, well-adapted global economy could create hundreds of thousands of new sustainable ‘green’ jobs to supply markets here and overseas. Those companies and organisations which have properly planned for the risks and identified the benefits of climate change will thrive.

Further progress is essential. The Adaptation Sub-Committee will continue to play an important role in independently and transparently assessing how the country is gearing up to cope with a climate that may be considerably different. And if we take steps now to plan ahead and address the need, there is time for the UK to be well-positioned and prepared.

Dealing with climate change and seizing the opportunities requires leadership and action, by government and by all parts of society. There is much more to be done. But we all have a chance to come up with the solutions – as communities, businesses and individuals. Together we must rise to the challenge.



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