A make-or-break moment for adaptation: Open letter to Minister Trudy Harrison

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In today’s blog, Beth Chamberlain, Senior Policy Officer – Climate Change Adaptation, presents an open letter signed by multiple NGOs focussed on climate change risk in the UK and what we now need to see in Defra’s upcoming National Adaptation Programme. 

Environmental NGOs, including the RSPB, have sent an open letter to the Government emphasising that we are ‘strikingly unprepared’ for the effects of climate change and calling on the Government to make the most of the upcoming third National Adaptation Programme.  

The Government’s advisors on climate change, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), recently published their report on the progress in England to adapt to climate change. Their report issued an alarming warning - ‘climate change has arrived, yet the country is still strikingly unprepared. Now there is a chance for the UK Government to turn things around with the upcoming third National Adaptation Programme due to be published for England in summer 2023 

The RSPB  has joined forces with NGOs including the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts to call on the UK Government to take heed of these stark warnings and set high ambitions in the Adaptation Programme to avoid another ‘lost decade’ of action.  

Sea levels have risen by 16cm since 1900 in the UK; all ten of the UK’s warmest years have occurred since 2002 including record breaking temperatures in 2022 with 40°C hit in the UK. We have also experienced widespread drought and record numbers of associated wildfires. Our country is not set up to deal with these conditions and they have major impacts on public health, infrastructure and the economy. For example, the heatwaves in 2022 led to a record number of heat related deaths, as well as issues such as power cuts and blackouts across the network.  

Climate change is also greatly impacting the natural world. Changes in average temperature, rainfall and weather patterns all affect the viability of ecosystems across the UK. The UK is already one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth - the 2019 State of Nature Report showed that 41% of UK species have decreased in abundance since 1970. Nature of course has incredible intrinsic value but it also delivers a huge range of benefits for us. These range from positive effects on health and wellbeing to benefits for the economy through services like pollination. In terms of climate change adaptation, peatlands in good condition can help reduce flooding by slowing the flow of water during storms; urban trees provide shade and retain moisture which helps cool our towns and cities during extreme heat; saltmarshes help buffer our coastlines and provide flood protection from sea-level rise. Conversely, if nature continues to decline, we will also be increasingly vulnerable to climate change impacts. 

The third National Adaptation Programme 

The Climate Change Act dictates that each UK nation is responsible for preparing a National Adaptation Programme which details how the respective governments will address the risks identified in the Climate Change Risk Assessment. In England the third National Adaptation Programme is due for refresh this summer and will last up to 2028 – essentially outlining how England will adapt to climate risks this decade.  

The previous National Adaptation Programme was insufficient in preparing England and UK for the climate risks we are currently experiencing. The second Climate Change Risk Assessment (2016) identified 56 risks and opportunities of climate change in the UK. Whilst some main risks were highlighted, 27 were missing from the list of National Adaptation Programme actions, including 16 urgent risks.  

Recently, the CCC’s Progress Report on Adaptation stated “The current National Adaptation Programme fails to match the scale of the challenge now facing the country. It lacks a clear vision. It is not underpinned by tangible outcomes or targets. It has not driven policy and implementation across Government.” 

Without a strong National Adaptation Programme for the next five years, climate change impacts in the UK will get progressively worse and it will be harder to manage future risks. It is important the UK Government recognises this and produces an adaptation programme that is suitable for the challenges ahead.  

The RSPB and our partner NGOs have written a joint open letter to Trudy Harrison, the Minister responsible, outlining key measures we need from the next National Adaptation Programme. The country’s current vulnerability can be turned around, but the Government must listen to the evidence and greatly improve the UK’s ability to be ready for future climate changes. Now is the time to make a difference.  

NGO joint open letter 

Read our joint open letter below to see our key recommendations and why we all need to care about this:

NGO Open Letter Minister Trudy Harrison NAP3.pdf
  • Thanks for campaigning for urgent action to address climate change. This is so crucial to ensure government knows that there are significant numbers of people behind your proposals backed by strong scientific research.  As well as writing to local MPs people can also attend parish/Town Council meetings to ask probing questions on climate action. All parish / Town councils have been asked to declare a climate emergency and instigate local appropriate action. The more people demand change the stronger our collective voice will be.   Anne Hudson,  Parish Councillor,  Ovington,  Northumberland