FAQs: Is the UK on track to adapt to climate change?

In the run up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in 2021, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, the SPF UK Climate Resilience Programme Champions at the University of Leeds, and the Committee on Climate Change will be jointly hosting a climate change adaptation conference on 13-14th October 2020.

Below are some frequently asked questions about the conference.

What are the aims of the “Is the UK on track to adapt to climate change?” conference?

The conference will assess what climate change means for the UK, and how current and planned adaptation efforts match the scale of risk. It will consider the latest scientific understanding of how climate change has already affected the UK, and what future impacts are likely ; what adaptation actions are already in place, what more needs to be done, and what the limits to adaptation are likely to be. In particular, the conference will focus on adaptation to higher levels of warming, over 3C from pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

We will bring together scientists and policymakers to tackle these questions from a wide range of perspectives, with expertise ranging from climate modelling and observations, to sectoral impacts, risk analysis and behaviour change. Understanding UK-specific risks at different levels of warming, and the implications for adaptation and resilience, will be an important component of the evidence leading into the UN COP26 negotiations in Glasgow, November 2021.

The findings of the conference will also inform preparations for the 2021 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report.

Who are the speakers and panellists?

A full list of the Conference speakers can be found on the UK Climate Risk website at this link.

Why does the UK care about adapting to climate change?

Rising greenhouse gas concentrations are already causing big changes to our climate, and there are serious consequences for our food security, water resources, health and biodiversity. As the global climate continues to change, the impacts of climate change in the UK will become more severe. We need to prepare and adapt, alongside efforts to slow the rate of warming.

Adaptation is one of the main response strategies that can reduce the risks of climate change and create a safer future for the UK. Adaptation measures can help to protect the lives and livelihoods of UK citizens from climate variability and change. For example, building infrastructure that can withstand stronger storms and developing climate-resilient food chains.

Policy-makers around the world have made initial pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but these commitments are insufficient to date to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement, to limit global temperature increase to 2°C or less. Temperature rises exceeding 3°C remain possible and it is important to consider what this might mean for the UK. A global temperature rise of 3°C+ could have severe adverse consequences for the UK. We are promoting dialogue about how the UK would cope if we reach that stage, and how to adapt and build resilience to ongoing climate change.

How much global warming are we expecting?

Based on current international pledges, the world is heading for average global temperature increases of 3°C or more in the next eighty years (with a range from around 2.5C up to over 4C). We’re asking whether the UK is on track to adapt to these changes.

The average temperature of the lower part of the atmosphere has already risen by around 1°C since the industrial revolution, and the last ten years was the warmest decade ever recorded. And, temperatures are rising even faster over land than over the ocean. In fact, temperatures over land have risen by around 1.5°C since the industrial revolution.

These temperature increases have already had a huge impact on our climate in the UK. To put these figures into perspective, for every 1°C above a daily average temperature in the summer months, the UK currently sees a 2% rise in the death rate. Still higher global temperatures will further increase the probability of extreme heatwaves, extreme rainfall and sea level rise leading to flooding and droughts, as well as other potentially large increases in hazards like wildfires.

Does undertaking adaptation measures mean we have failed or given up reducing emissions in the UK?

Adaptation is one aspect of the UK’s response to the climate crisis, and will be most effective when considered alongside mitigation strategies, such as reducing greenhouse emissions. Both options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself.

We are already facing the destructive impacts of climate change in the UK, and scientists have shown that some level of further global warming is inevitable. Adaptation measures can help to reduce the negative impacts of climate variability and change. For example, by using forest management techniques to control wildfires and building sea walls to protect low-lying coastal areas.

Mitigation, on the other hand, plays a vital role in reducing future global temperature rises. For example, by transitioning to greener forms of energy and increasing the energy efficiency of old buildings greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced, reducing future warming.

Adaptation measures do not reduce the UK’s commitments to mitigation. In fact, tackling climate change relies on policies and cooperation at all scales, and will be enhanced through integrated responses that link both mitigation and adaptation.