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Government response to climate change already hitting UK ‘severely lacking’

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The UK is even less prepared to deal with climate change already hitting the country than it was five years ago, thanks to a “failing” government response, its own independent advisers have warned.

In a damning report published today, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said government action to improve the nation’s resilience was failing to keep up with the impact of warming and worsening climate risks already hitting the UK.

In fact the threats the country is facing have actually worsened, chief executive of the CCC Chris Stark said, because the government’s response so far has been “severely lacking”.

Floods in York in January
Image: The CCC says while government has improved resilience to flooding, it has fallen short in other areas

“We’ve become more and more aware of the risks that we face,” he told Sky News. “And yet we haven’t seen a commensurate response from the government.”

The CCC is urging government and the devolved administrations to act urgently to stop more people from dying or losing their homes, starting with the eight most urgent climate risks to the UK.

The CCC's report identified eight 'priority risk areas which need immediate attention', at the latest in the next two years
Threat to human life from heatwaves is one of the most acute risks from climate change in the UK

One of the most acute is the threat from overheating in homes.

More than 4,000 people have died from heat-related reasons in England since 2018, and 7,000 could die every year by 2050, according to the assessment.

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Since the CCC’s last equivalent report five years ago, more than half a million (570,000+) new homes have been built without features to cope with higher temperatures, such as shutters or better ventilation.

“That’s an example of locking in a change which is then difficult to reverse from in the future,” said Mr Stark.

A UK government spokesperson “welcomed” the report, saying “the UK was the first major world economy to set a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Our plan to further reduce emissions in 2035 by at least 78% compared to 1990 levels is the highest reduction target by a major economy to date.”

They stressed that the government had been building resilience to flooding and coastal change and was consulting on proposals to mitigate overheating in new homes.

Existing climate change impacts will worsen by 2050, and the UK government already isn't adapting well, says advisors
Image: Existing climate change impacts will worsen by 2050, and the UK government already isn’t adapting well, says advisors

But Mr Stark said that while the government was willing to “make strong ambitions and set new targets” it was “less likely to set the kind of policies that will help us to actually manage those things and to tackle climate change effectively”.

“What we are seeing consistently now from the government is much less willingness to make difficult decisions about how we tackle both those targets and the climate risks themselves,” he said.The UK is already suffering widespread changes to its the climate; average land temperature has risen by around 1.2°C from pre-industrial levels, UK sea levels have risen by 16cm since 1900 and episodes of extreme heat are becoming more frequent.

“It is clear that climate change is already impacting the UK and […] that increasingly everyone will be affected by climate change in almost every aspect of their daily lives,” Professor Albert Klein Tank, director of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services said in a statement.

“Impacts will include increased summer temperatures, more frequent heatwaves, rising sea levels, longer and more frequent droughts and more extreme rainfall events,” said Prof Klein Tank.

The CCC’s Mr Stark also warned of changes in the growing season that affect the way that we produce food. “It’s those kind of things that do matter to people,” he said. “And the government has a role in preparing us for that.”

The assessment said measures such as building design and retrofit, habitat creation and improved access to information on climate impacts could make a difference within five years.

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs said the government’s response to the “accelerating impacts of the climate emergency” was “totally inadequate”.

“Ensuring that the nation’s housing stock is equipped for dealing with the climate challenges of the 21st century has to be a top priority. With more than one in five homes already at risk of overheating and with hotter summers on the way, a major retrofit programme is urgently required to keep our homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer.”

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The Daily Climate Show is broadcast at 6.30pm and 9.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

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The show also highlights solutions to the crisis and how small changes can make a big difference.