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Conducting climate science: Government responses to climate change

Updated Wednesday, 19th February 2014

Models feed into government policy. Here we look at mitigation and adaption, strategies used by the UK Government to respond to climate change.

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Now you have a better understanding of what climate science is and how it is done, the next question is what to do with the evidence it produces. Neil has told us how his models feed into policy made by governments. Governments effectively have two strategies to respond to climate change; mitigation and adaptation. These are not mutually exclusive, indeed most people researching or working on climate change policy assume that it is important that both are pursued.

  • Climate change mitigation involves addressing the causes of climate change, for example by looking at cutting carbon dioxide emissions
  • Climate change adaptation involves addressing the effects of climate change by making communities and businesses better able to cope with its consequences, in other words, making them more resilient

This is how the UK Government is mitigating climate change.

The 2008 Climate Change Act established the world’s first legally binding climate change target. We aim to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% (from the 1990 baseline) by 2050.

We are trying to achieve this reduction through action at home and abroad. Moving to a more energy efficient, low-carbon economy will help us meet this target. It will also help the UK become less reliant on imported fossil fuels and less exposed to higher energy prices in the future.’

This is how the UK Government describes adapting to climate change.

‘Adaptation’ involves changing the way we do things to prepare for the potential impacts of climate change. This means we will be better protected against negative impacts like flooding. It also means we’ll be better prepared for new opportunities, like the chance to grow different crops.

The earlier we plan for adaptation, the less it will cost and the better equipped we will be to cope with potential changes.

The risks that the UK faces are explored in the latest UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2012, Evidence Report. This is what it says:

What are the current climate risks for the UK?

The Government monitors the risks faced by UK citizens over a five year period through the National Risk Assessment (NRA). Severe weather, major coastal and inland flooding are recognised in the NRA as significant risks to the UK, alongside those related to human health (such as pandemic diseases) and terrorist and cyber attacks. The CCRA shows that the current NRA risks related to extreme weather, such as flooding and droughts, will continue to pose a threat as the climate changes.

Recent weather events have highlighted the vulnerability of some sectors and vulnerable groups to climate risks, including:

The 2007 summer floods in England and Northern Ireland cost the economy more than £3 billion. In August 2008, the Greater Belfast Area and parts of Antrim were affected by flooding again. More recently the Cumbria floods in 2009 resulted in £100s millions of damage, including the loss of twenty road bridges and long term disruption for local communities.

The prolonged cold periods in 2009 and 2010 caused wide ranging problems for UK transport and water infrastructure. In Northern Ireland, thousands of households experienced difficulties with water supplies in December 2009 because of the freezing conditions. In December 2010, heavy snow across Scotland’s Central Belt resulted in hundreds of motorists stranded overnight with the M8, M74 and A9 all badly affected. Hundreds of schools were closed across Scotland, Northern Ireland and north-east England.

In Spring 2011, parts of the UK experienced much drier than average conditions, which caused problems for farmers as there was insufficient rainfall for some crops. During the same period, the higher temperatures, static weather pattern and increased sunshine hours also contributed to a pollution warning across England and Wales over the Easter weekend5, much earlier in the year than normal. In Berkshire, forest fires were difficult to control due to the dry weather and led to the closure of businesses and schools and evacuation of homes.

Now let us look at what the UK Government are doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change. First we will look at mitigation actions.

This Learning Journey is part of the Creative Climate project on OpenLearn. You can return to the first page or move on to the next section: Mitigation





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