UK faces annual climate damage bill of billions – Government analysis

·4 min read
Flooding is among the costly threats facing the UK (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)
Flooding is among the costly threats facing the UK (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)

The UK faces annual costs of billions from the likes of flooding and heatwaves by the mid-century, a Government risk assessment has found.

The cost of climate change to the UK is set to rise to at least one percent of the GDP by 2045, with economic damage exceeding £1 billion per year in each of eight key areas by 2050 even if temperature rises are limited to 2C, it warned.

They include the health risks of high temperatures, the impacts of river and flash flooding on communities, buildings and business sites, and damage to carbon locked up in peatlands and woodlands.

New and stronger government action is needed in the next five years to deal with risks in more than half the areas assessed, such as climate threats to water, energy and transport networks and impacts on crops, the analysis says.

The report, produced as part of the Government’s legal requirements on tackling climate change, prompted warnings that damage caused by rising temperatures will be greater than the investment needed to avoid harmful levels of warming.

The risk assessment, the first of its kind for five years, looks at 61 potential risks – and opportunities – across business, infrastructure, health, nature and international issues at 2C and 4C of warming this century.

Climate change will have costly damage on carbon stored in natural habitats (Tess De La Mare/PA) (PA Wire)
Climate change will have costly damage on carbon stored in natural habitats (Tess De La Mare/PA) (PA Wire)

As well as the eight areas where economic damage could run to £1 billion-plus annually, in many more areas the potential damage could run to tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds a year by 2050, with the situation worsening by the 2080s with greater warming.

The report also said early investment to make the UK more resilient to the impacts of climate change, from heatwave plans to restoring upland peat, was highly effective, delivered high value for money, and could generate other benefits.

For 34 areas that were assessed, including flooding, protecting carbon stored in peat and woods, agricultural productivity, risks to heritage sites and the threat of new diseases, stronger or different government action is needed in the next five years, over and above what is already planned.

The report also identifies eight areas that require the most urgent action, including the risks to soil health from more flooding and droughts, risks to crops, livestock and forestry plantations, and the impacts of climate-related power cuts.

The scale and severity of the challenge posed by climate change means we cannot tackle it overnight

Jo Churchill, Climate Adaptation Minister

And it warned climate change needed to be built in to decisions on new housing and infrastructure to avoid having to take costly remedial work in the future to make them resilient to rising temperatures.

Climate adaptation minister Jo Churchill said: “The scale and severity of the challenge posed by climate change means we cannot tackle it overnight and, although we’ve made good progress in recent years, there is clearly much more that we need to do.

“By recognising the further progress that needs to be made, we’re committing to significantly increasing our efforts and setting a path towards the third National Adaptation Programme, which will set ambitious and robust policies to make sure we are resilient to climate change into the future.”

Baroness Brown of Cambridge chairwoman of the advisory Climate Change Committee’s adaptation committee, said: “Building resilience to a cocktail of climate impacts facing our country, including flooding, drought, heat exposure and extreme weather events, is a mammoth task and we’re falling well behind.

For too long the trend has been for the Government to take too little action too slowly

Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK

“We look forward to seeing the Government’s action plan to shift the dial and deliver a well-adapted UK.”

Dr Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK said adapting to climate change could not be an afterthought, and had to be at the heart of of government policy – as even modest temperature rises would have profound impacts.

“For too long the trend has been for the Government to take too little action too slowly,” he said.

“Its own assessment here concludes more needs to be done across half the 61 climate risks identified, including food, water, energy and nature. Yet this analysis itself has identified that many actions can be good value for money.

“The costs of inaction will be huge to both the public and future governments. Turning away and hoping for the best is neither environmentally, socially or economically good sense.”

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