The climate crisis will wipe out the UK economy by at least 1% a year until 2045, if global temperatures are allowed to rise by 2C, the government has said.
Further action is needed in key areas such as flood control, restoring natural protection areas such as bogs and wetlands and improving the built environment’s resilience to extreme weather conditions, the ministers said.
The government’s third five-year assessment of the risks of climate change was released on Monday. While the assessment proceeded from what many considered conservative assessments of future risks, it painted a future of drastic disruption and costly impacts from the climate crisis.
Damage to UK food production and infrastructure from extreme weather and flood risks is expected to cost more than £1billion a year each. Overall, at least eight risk areas were estimated to cost more than £1bn a year by 2050 – but some could cost much more as risks were assessed in ranges, with more than £1bn being the highest amount available .
Many other potential risk areas, such as risks to corporate supply chains and health service delivery, and the potential damage to culturally significant heritage sites, were deemed not fully assessable.
Jo Churchill, Secretary of State for Climate Adaptation, said: “The scale and severity of the climate change challenge means we cannot tackle it overnight and while we have made good progress in recent years, there is clearly much more to come to do do. Acknowledging the further progress that needs to be made, we commit to significantly increasing our efforts and paving a path towards the Third National Adaptation Program, which will set out ambitious and robust guidelines to ensure we remain resilient in the future against climate change.”
Green activists said the predictions show the government needs to do far more to prepare for the impact of the climate crisis. Doug Parr, Policy Director at Greenpeace UK said: “This report makes it clear that even a modest rise in global temperature will have a profound impact on every aspect of our lives. Adaptation can no longer be an afterthought, all kinds of action on climate change must be at the heart of government policies and programmes.”
The cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions – a renewed focus of political attention as some backbench Tory MPs have questioned the net-zero target amid rising energy prices – also looked modest compared to the cost of the impact of climate change, analysts said . Matt Williams, head of the climate and land program at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “The damage done to Britain by climate change will outweigh the investment needed to avoid harmful warming.”
Signe Norberg, from the Aldersgate Group of Companies, which campaigns for sustainability, said: “Investing in a healthier natural environment is key to making the UK more resilient to the impacts of climate change and it will be crucial that Government Ambitious and credible targets are presented by the Environment Act and a new and comprehensive environmental improvement plan later this year. The UK must also continue its efforts to rapidly reduce emissions across the economy and beyond the energy sector. Important policy gaps remain in crucial areas such as energy efficiency, agriculture and land use, and skills.”
Labor said the government had failed to cut emissions and prepare the country’s infrastructure for the impact of the climate crisis. Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, said: “After more than a decade in power, the Conservatives have failed to build the efficient homes, reinforced flood defenses and resilient natural habitats needed to tackle the climate crisis. Your inaction and empty promises endanger people, nature and our economy.”
The Government said it is investing £5.2bn to build 2,000 new flood defenses by 2027 and is increasing the Nature for Climate fund for peat restoration, forest creation and management to more than £750m by 2025 .