The need for Adaptation alongside the Sixth Carbon Budget

Summary of the Climate Change Committee’s webinar 18th March 2021

Session Chair: Baroness Brown (Chair of CCC Adaptation Committee)

Presentations: Mike Thompson (CCC Chief Economist) & Kathryn Brown (CCC Head of Adaptation)
Panellist: Indra Thillainathan (CCC Mitigation team Land Use Lead)

You can view a recording of the webinar here.

You can download the slides here.

This event, as part of their Path to Net Zero series, considers the Climate Change Committee’s advice on the Sixth Carbon Budget, and delves into the areas where action on adaptation can and should complement steps to reduce UK emissions, resulting in multiple benefits.


Key Messages

1. Net zero by 2050 is highly ambitious and we’re on track for a warmer world regardless.

“This is a seriously ambitious pathway that we are trying to deliver and It will need a huge amount of policy effort to get there.”

There are serious associated climate risks and uncertainties.

“As well as emissions lock-in, we need to worry about climate risk lock-in.”

“Let’s not forget we’re not yet on track to even the 2030 NDCs. (Nationally Determined Contributions). Given what is happening at the moment, given where we’re heading, we cannot rule out that temperature could rise as high as four degrees.”

“We will face more flooding, we will face more water stress, we will face more heat stress. We know that that will have implications for nature, for our homes, for our food security, for businesses, for the economy and for the world around us. These are changes we have some understanding of and that we should be preparing for.”

As is the norm for the CCC, the analysis concentrates on UK climate projections, and does not mention the context of global climate projections and the threat these pose to the UK’s security in an interconnected world (simultaneous crop failures, water wars, mass migration etc).

2. Mitigation is not enough. We need to consider adaptation alongside mitigation.

Examples of where the two levers can work effectively together:

“The big overlaps that we’ve identified are around land and buildings. There are huge changes needed in both of those to meet the carbon budgets and there are really important changes in the climate that’s coming.”

• Land/Nature

o Climate-resilient food crops
o Planting trees suitable for the future climate (to achieve net zero as well as trees that will survive to provide protection from severe flooding, shading etc)
o Restoration of peatlands will improve biodiversity resilience to the future climate, which will also positively impact on flood alleviation and water quality
• Buildings
o Switch to low-carbon heating is an opportunity to do other retrofits at the same time. E.g. passive ventilation measures to avoid overheating in better-insulated, air-tight, energy efficiency homes; water efficiency; flood resilience)

“It’s not just a net zero world that we need to prepare for. We also need to prepare for the changing climate that we know is coming. So, as well as emissions lock-in, we need to worry about climate risk lock-in and as we’re building this infrastructure, we need to make sure that it is ready not just for a net zero world but also ready for a warmer world. That is a key place where the adaptation needs and the mitigation needs come together.”

“Right trees in the right places for tomorrow’s climate.”

The forest research decision support tool (tree suitability model going out to 2050) is helpful here.

“We are going to have to go into homes across the country and improve efficiency and switch over heating systems to low-carbon systems. That is a huge change, it’s an updating of our entire housing stock. That could be an opportunity to make some of the other improvements that we know need to be made for adaptation. That’s overheating of course, but it’s also water efficiency and it’s flood resilience as well. So, there’s an opportunity there that policy can try and grab.”

“Need to consider buildings that are not overheating at the moment, but may overheat in the next ten or 20 years. This is the example of lock-in. There is no policy that addresses this. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have a consultation out at the moment, on addressing this issue.”

We need to consider asset lifetimes in net zero plans:

“We buy a lot of the things that we use on a daily basis. They last for over a decade. Our boilers, our cars, for example. A lot of the industrial stock actually lasts for multiple decades. Power plants, aircraft, factories etc. So, again we need to be preparing those assets for the future which we know has to be net zero and the future that we know will have a change in climate.”

“Given that we know where all this is heading, then we can prepare for it. By designing policy that recognizes that it’s coming. If we do that, then we can meet the challenges that are coming in a much better way.”

There is also the acknowledgement that there are some instances where there may be tensions between mitigation and adaptation: E.g. perhaps the need for water for cooling in the power system.

3. Where are we with planning and implementation of adaptation measures?

There are two reports coming out in June, as part of a five-yearly cycle of research and reporting.

The Evidence Report for the Third Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) and the next Progress Report on Adaptation.
From the last assessment of progress, in 2019, it is not a rosy picture.

No sector is prepared for four degrees and some are not even looking at the inevitable change of two degrees.

“There are a few sectors that have very good plans in place, particularly in the regulated infrastructure sector (water supply, energy, flood and coastal erosion risk management). But what we’re seeing is that no sector is yet showing good progress in reducing the risks across that range of uncertainty in future climate.”

4. Priorities for improving adaptation alongside mitigation.

The CCC would really like to see coming through:

Better understanding and planning for climate risk (CCRA)
• Appreciation of the real level of risk including uncertainty
• A national conversation about acceptable levels of risk and limits to adaptation
• Resilience standards and expectations

“Having a national conversation, potentially along the same sort of lines as the Citizens Assembly on net zero that happened last year.”

“Getting much more public engagement and understanding of inevitable change. Why we need to do adaptation alongside mitigation. Why adaptation is not a failure of mitigation. We need to see better engagement across both government and in the general public as well.”

Planning across all sectors (Progress Report)
• 2°C should be the minimum planning assumption
• 4°C should be on risk registers

A single narrative and vision for what a well-adapting UK looks like (COP+)
• Consistent language (Race for Resilience?)
• Measurable
• A single government climate action narrative, combined with mitigation

“We’d really like to see a better narrative coming out, which is something that DEFRA has been working very hard on. In particular on what a well-adapting UK looks like. Trying to visualize that and explain it and make that measurable so that we all know where we’re heading, but also we can measure progress more effectively.”

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