Carbon Trust: U.K. public sector “largely unprepared” for climate change risks

by Brianna Crandall — March 30, 2016—Public sector organizations in the United Kingdom may not be adequately prepared to deal with the likely impacts of climate change, according to research undertaken by the Carbon Trust. The study reveals that only a quarter (25%) of public sector organizations have undertaken an assessment of their potential climate change risks and put plans in place to adapt to them, although 70% have taken action to reduce carbon emissions and resource use.

The survey of public sector professionals also revealed that a further 15% of public sector organizations have undertaken a risk assessment but not made any plans to mitigate identified risks yet.

flooding sign

Research reveals only 25% of U.K. public sector organizations have plans to adapt services and operations to the impacts of climate change, such as more frequent flooding or higher temperatures.

Tim Pryce, head of Public Sector at the Carbon Trust, explained:

This research suggests that public sector organizations are making some progress on mitigating climate change – although not at the rate that scientists tell us is necessary to avoid the worst impacts. However, they remain largely unprepared for taking action to reduce the risks of impacts such as flooding on public services, transport and healthcare.

This fits with our own experience working with the public sector, who are only now starting to get to grips with what will be need to be done to create stronger and more resilient communities in the U.K. Practically this means undertaking a full risk assessment, then intelligently using their powers as planners and service providers to minimize future disruption and costs, while showing leadership in their local areas.

The expected results of climate change in the U.K. are: rising temperatures, more extreme weather events, and particularly a shift towards generally wetter winters with heavier incidents of rainfall. The temperatures in central England have already risen by about one degree Celsius since the early twentieth century, and are likely to rise by a further three to five degrees by the end of this century in the absence of mitigation measures, according to figures cited by the Carbon Trust.

Building resilience to the impacts of climate change will be important over the coming decades. If left unmanaged, these could have a number of negative consequences, causing disruption or damage in areas such as the built environment, infrastructure, the natural environment, public healthy and the economy, reminds the Carbon Trust.

The Climate Change Act 2008 empowers the government to require organizations to report on their adaptation to the impacts of climate change. However, it is currently voluntary, and only a limited number of public sector organizations are specifically invited to report, along with a number of companies involved in managing critical national infrastructure.

The Carbon Trust reminds that local authorities play a particularly important role in climate change adaptation, with their powers to directly affect land use planning, flood risk management, local infrastructure and biodiversity protection, as well as an influence over public health and emergency planning. But the issue has been deprioritized due to competing economic and spending pressures, and the current lack of statutory requirements.

According to the report:

  • Positive progress is being made on addressing climate change mitigation, with over half of respondents (56%) reporting an improvement in performance. Four in ten (44%) also claim increased levels of commitment to action.
  • Finance remains one of the greatest current obstacles to action, with lack of budget (49%), lack of financing options (26%) and internal budget holders not signing off on invest-to-save projects (20%) selected as some of most significant barriers.
  • To help public sector organizations take more effective action on climate change over the longer term, respondents indicated high levels of demand for more support from central government (72%). More budget or available finance (64%) and stronger internal resources or expertise (35%) were also highlighted as important ways to improve progress.

The Carbon Trust’s survey also investigated the public sector’s progress in taking action on sustainability and climate change within their own operational boundaries. The picture here was far more positive, with over half of the respondents reporting an improvement in performance. Similarly, more than four in ten suggested that levels of commitment had increased.

The Carbon Trust concludes that meeting the U.K.’s science-based targets on climate change is going to require a “huge effort,” with a greater level of investment into high quality projects, and public bodies considering the impacts of climate change on their buildings, workforce and services “far more seriously.”