It’s taken a while to read through the latest report from Committee on Climate Change, the government’s official climate change advisers, which forms the most recent assessment of progress in preparing for climate change in England, but here is an overview from a built environment perspective.
The report warns of a failure in cutting emissions fast enough, and adapting to rising temperatures, recommending that the UK Government raise the profile, and strengthen the governance, of preparations for the impacts of climate change. Actions over the next 18 months will determine the success of climate change ambitions. (See infograph below)
It also comes after a raft of Climate Emergency declarations from the UK Government, over 100 councils, Architects, RIBA, Landscape Institute and others that acknowledge the climate and biodiversity emergency with pledges to act on a raft of regenerative approaches.
The priority given to adaptation, including through the institutional and support framework in England, has been eroded over the past ten years.
England is still not prepared for even a 2°C rise in global temperature, let alone more extreme levels of warming. Only a handful of sectors have plans that consider a minimum of 2°C global warming – water supply, road and rail, flood defences and flood risk planning for infrastructure.
Many national plans and policies still lack a basic acknowledgement of long-term climate change, or make a passing mention but have no associated actions to reduce risk. This includes aspects of agriculture, the natural environment, health, other infrastructure sectors and business.
None of the sectors assessed has yet been given top scores for reducing the risks from climate change through appropriate action.
The UK Government must raise the profile, and strengthen the governance, of preparations for the impacts of climate change. It should ramp up resources and action on all of the urgent risks set out in the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, continue to take appropriate action for those classed as less urgent (but still relevant), and monitor the effects on climate risk over the next five year period.
Headlines (relating to the built environment)
Built environment and health, in respect of homes and hospital overheating, flooding % water, impact on biodiversity and air quality are singled out for lack of progress,
New policies must be found to help people lead healthy lives without fuelling global warming.
The report gives a low score to planning …. “short-term plans exist to provide guidance during hot and cold weather. However, longer-term adaptation plans to mitigate the long- term risks of climate change are missing, despite CCRA2 highlighting the risks to health from heat as an urgent priority. Plans are in place to review the Building Regulations, but as yet, there are no significant shifts in policy to ensure that new buildings are being designed with the future climate in mind and no strategies exist to help to adapt existing buildings.
It warns that the UK is failing to insulate itself from the knock-on effects of climate change overseas, such as colonisations by new species, changes in the suitability of land for agriculture or forestry, and risks to health from changes in air quality driven by rising temperatures.
Green space in parks and gardens, cools cities and helps reduce flood risks. But as more homes are crammed into cities, green spaces had shrunk from 63% of urban area in 2001 to 55% in 2018.
Heat magnifies the production of pollutants, so more people are expected to suffer breathing problems. Meanwhile, the proportion of hard surfaces in towns has risen by 22% since 2001, even though they make floods worse.