Government launches £5 million study to find cost of adapting to climate change

18th August 2021 by Emma Goring

The £5 million effort comes after experts told the Independent of the desperate need for such research.

The British government is, for the first time, trying to put a number on how much it will cost the country to adapt to climate change.

The business department announced Friday that it would launch a £5 million effort to “step up the UK’s resilience to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding, heatwaves and extreme weather storms”.

It comes two weeks after The Independent reported experts’ concerns over this missing number. They said there had never been sufficient funding to establish how expensive it will be for the UK to defend itself from climate-linked events from rising sea levels to extreme weather.

The potential economic toll could be considerable as the cost of launching emergency responses to extreme weather events such as floods and drought mount across developed and emerging economies. Estimates run as high as £9.9 billion a year for extreme heat events by 2050.

The government’s new research will “ensure the UK is able to respond to the impacts a warming planet will have on national infrastructure. This includes heat waves causing record temperatures in buildings, extreme weather damage to power stations and electricity networks, and flooding impacting our communities,” the government release said.

Kathryn Brown, head of climate adaptation at the Climate Change Committee, a statutory independent body set up under the powers of the 2008 Climate Change Act told The Independent last month said she could not put a number on how much such steps would cost.

“The reason we don’t have it is largely just because the government hasn’t funded a study with enough resources to find out what that number is,” says Ms Brown.

Asking not to be named, officials at the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs, and the Environment Agency shared Ms Brown’s concerns, and added that so far, climate adaptation work had been woefully underfunded.

Changes to the country’s critical infrastructure, from power stations to trainlines will be required whether or not global effort to keep warming below 2, or even 1.5 degrees centigrade is achieved, experts believe.

“From flooding to wildfires – the extreme weather events we’ve recently witnessed show how crucial it is for communities to build resilience and protect their futures,” COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma said in response to the new research effort.

The study will last four years and “help regional and national authorities understand and respond to [climate change’s] impacts”, according to Gill Wilkins, a programme director at environmental and engineering consultancy Ricardo. Ricardo will lead a consortium of institutions, including University College London and the British Antarctic Survey.

It follows the Met Office’s annual report on the UK’s climate which showed that the last 30 years in the country have been 6 per cent wetter and almost 1 degree centigrade hotter than the same period prior. The study also found that the UK’s 10 hottest years on record have all taken place since 2002.

Scientists have also issued fresh warnings over the fate of the Gulf Stream, an ocean current in the Atlantic. The study of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), which contains the Gulf Stream, found system which influences key weather patterns might be weakening.

This could have serious implications for the UK, as the Gulf Stream helps support milder temperatures in the country and across Europe. It is also an important trigger for the West African Monsoon, a critical weather pattern for avoiding drought and famine in the region.