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The University of Southampton

Climate change risks to UK

Published: 12 July 2016
Flooding risk
The reported highlighted flooding risks to communities and infrastructure.

Researchers from the University of Southampton have contributed to a major new report that provides authoritative scientific assessment of climate change risks to UK.

Globally, 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. The impacts of climate change are already being felt in the UK, and urgent action is required to address climate-related risks, the CCC’s Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) says today.

Professor William Powrie and Geoff Watson from Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton contributed research findings to the ASC’s new independent report to Government, ‘UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report’ , which sets out the most urgent risks and opportunities arising for the UK from climate change.

Their contribution was based on a research paper published last year, which looked at the impact of climate-related environmental change on the UK solid waste sector and highlighted the need for further work and the gaps in current knowledge.

Geoff Watson said: “It is important that impacts of climate change on all aspects of UK infrastructure are identified. We are very pleased to have contributed to a better understanding of the climate-related risks to the UK waste sector.”

The report is the result of more than three years of work involving hundreds of leading scientists and experts from the public and private sectors and civil society. The risk assessment has been peer reviewed by UK and international specialists.

Changes to the UK climate are likely to include periods of too much or too little water, increasing average and extreme temperatures, and sea level rise. The report concludes that the most urgent risks for the UK resulting from these changes are:

• Flooding and coastal change risks to communities, businesses and infrastructure.

• Risks to health, wellbeing and productivity from high temperatures.

• Risk of shortages in the public water supply, and water for agriculture, energy generation and industry, with impacts on freshwater ecology.

• Risks to natural capital, including terrestrial, coastal, marine and freshwater ecosystems, soils and biodiversity.

• Risks to domestic and international food production and trade.

• Risks of new and emerging pests and diseases, and invasive non-native species, affecting people, plants and animals.

The opportunities for the UK from climate change include:

• UK agriculture and forestry may be able to increase production with warmer weather and longer growing seasons, if constraints such as water availability and soil fertility are managed.

• There may be economic opportunities for UK businesses from an increase in global demand for adaptation-related goods and services, such as engineering and insurance.

The impact of the recent vote to leave the European Union does not change the overall conclusions of the risk assessment. However, some individual risks may change if EU-derived policies and legislation are withdrawn and not replaced by equivalent or better UK measures. The Adaptation Sub-Committee will assess the implications of the EU referendum in its next statutory report to Parliament on the UK National Adaptation Programme, due to be published in June 2017.

Lord Krebs, Chairman of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “The impacts of climate change are becoming ever clearer, both in the United Kingdom and around the world. We must take action now to prepare for the further, inevitable changes we can expect. Our independent assessment today, supported by the work of hundreds of scientists and other experts, identifies the most urgent climate change risks and opportunities which need to be addressed. Delaying or failing to take appropriate steps will increase the costs and risks for all UK nations arising from the changing climate.”

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