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Climate change blog – a progress update on adaptation

This month’s Climate Change blog comes from ADEPT Policy Officer David Dale, who gives a progress update on adaptation, focusing on government and local authority engagement, departmental initiatives and events.

As we are acutely aware, the impacts of climate change are already being felt here in the UK and around the world - this will only intensify over the coming decades. While mitigation efforts and achieving net zero emissions receive significant attention and investment, adaptation measures are often overlooked.

Without better and more urgent resilience planning and preparation, the UK will struggle to deal with flooding, coastal erosion, heatwaves, water scarcity and the other impacts we are seeing. It was therefore encouraging to see that the profile of adaptation has been much higher during March, with some important events taking place and key reports published.

Government and local authority engagement

The Local Adaptation Advisory Panel (LAAP) is the main forum for engagement between government officials and local authority officers. Defra is the lead government department and currently provides secretariat support. The local authority side provides the Chair, currently Andy Gutherson (Chair of ADEPT Midlands Board and Lincolnshire County Council). Unlike the Local Net Zero Forum, there is no equivalent meeting between Ministers and local authority leaders.

The most recent meeting of the LAAP took place on 11th March. Defra gave updates on the delivery of the third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3), which was said to be broadly on course. They also provided an update on the work of the Planning task and finish group, which has been looking at water scarcity and overheating. Defra also talked about adaptation reporting pilots (still voluntary for local authorities) and the forthcoming launch of the Met Office Local Authority Climate Service in the summer. Future agenda items are likely to include devolution, health impacts, the role of Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) and good practice case studies. 

While LAAP remains a valuable platform for adaptation practitioners to share information and talk to Defra officials, it doesn’t provide for more senior, strategic engagement. ADEPT will be in discussions with the LGA and other partners to explore how to progress this.

Department for Transport’s Climate Adaptation webinar

In terms of getting other departments to think about adaptation, it was pleasing to see that the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Climate Adaptation team hosted an introductory webinar on 19th March for transport organisations. This covered climate projection information looking at how this can help organisations to assess climate risk and adapt to climate change. 

The webinar was led by Dr Erika Palin (Met Office & DfT) and covered the DfT’s forthcoming consultation on the transport adaptation strategy. The webinar also provided an outline of the available climate information in the UK Climate Projections (UKCP) that can support risk assessment and decision making and gave signposting to further resources and training. 

Adaptation events and initiatives

Other events in March were organised by the Local Government Association and the climate innovation charity Ashden. Ashden launched its Adaptation Network for local authorities back in November. They ran a second session on 5th March that focused on getting senior buy-in for adaptation – ‘how to persuade staff and leaders at your council to take action’. 

The  presentations from LB WestminsterLocal PartnershipsClimate Change Committee, and Adaptation Scotland are all available online. The LGA’s virtual event on 14th March was on building adaptation capacity, with presentations from LB Newham, the Met Office and Local Partnerships (presentations here).

National Adaptation Programme 

Government policy is set out in the third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3) published in July 2023. As we have said previously, this is a disappointing strategy, and although there is a short section on working with local government, this is largely a restatement of existing activities and wider policies such as devolution and nature recovery. 

It sets out further work to be done on local climate data and strengthening of Local Resilience Forums, but does not provide a framework and funding for local authorities to deliver local adaptation programmes. 

Recommendations for action: calls for urgency and vision in climate adaptation

The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) new report Independent assessment of NAP3 was published on 13th March. The verdict on it is damning. It concludes that NAP3: “falls far short of what is required. Evidence of the UK’s inadequate response to worsening climate impacts continues to mount.” 

The CCC says that NAP3 does not address many of the urgent risks identified in the Climate Change Risk Assessment, that Defra has failed to make adaptation a top priority within the department or in other government departments, and that effective cross-government collaboration is lacking. It states that adaptation is still not sufficiently well understood or resourced in local government. It is insufficiently funded by public and private sectors to manage the scale of the climate impacts we will experience and better monitoring and evaluation are needed. Strong stuff indeed.

Alongside the CCC assessment, the Institute for Government (IfG) published Adapting to climate change which also says that NAP3 lacks urgency and vision. The IfG calls for reforming governance, including a cross-cutting adaptation minister, a joint unit to support adaptation and further embedding adaptation and resilience into core financial control mechanisms. It also states that parliament should scrutinise departmental activity on adaptation properly.

Future challenges: advocating for increased focus on adaptation in government policies 

This leaves us with a big challenge. The CCC and IfG note that the next government will have an opportunity to try to push adaptation up the agenda. ADEPT’s policy position Climate Change and Green Growth says that “adaptation is equally important. Net zero cannot be achieved without adaptation – making places more resilient to the impacts of a changing climate.” 

In our submission to the LGA’s Local Government White Paper in January we argued that action on climate change needs a greater focus on resilience and adaptation, stating: 

“Many parts of the country started 2024 with serious flooding, and homes, businesses, transport infrastructure and agricultural land under water again. Government has so far failed to provide proper leadership on adaptation, the third National Adaptation Programme is inadequate in its recognition of and support for the role of local authorities. We need a new relationship with central government that will provide strategic and cross-departmental leadership to help build resilience in our critical infrastructure, local services, and communities.”

Partnership and action: collaborative efforts to prioritise adaptation and resilience

Over the coming months we will be working with the LGA, Local Partnerships and other partners in the sector to strengthen this new relationship and secure the priority for adaptation that it needs. 

In more operational terms we will be continuing our work with the Environment Agency on Adaptation Pathways (see also the article in the Environment Journal) and rolling out the Rapid Adaptation Pathways Assessment with the Environment Agency and Climate Sense. It promises to be a busy and important period ahead.

Further information


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