It’s time to take climate adaptation seriously

By Jo Wall | 26 July 2022

The extreme heat in July led London Mayor Sadiq Khan to declare an emergency in London.

Overstretched ambulance services elsewhere in the country expressed concerns about how they would cope with the additional calls inevitably received in the severe heat. Meanwhile, the Met Office has increased the criteria for an extreme hot weather event by 1°C, effectively normalising a warmer climate.

In our efforts to tackle climate change there is a heavy emphasis on greenhouse gas reduction, but less visible action on how we are going to deal with the consequences of a changing climate and adapt to its wider impacts over time.

In the preparation for COP27, adaptation is moving firmly up the agenda, with a growing global realisation that regardless of progress (or otherwise) on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our climate has changed and will continue to change.

In its 2022 progress report to Parliament, the Climate Change Committee sets out that the UK is falling short of its targets.

The impacts of climate change are devastating; from forest fires to floods, through to species loss and human deaths. However, the worst of this can appear to happen more vividly elsewhere and the UK must take action now to address the impacts that are likely within the next 50 years.

Several hundred thousand households in the UK are unaware their homes would be uninsurable without ‘Flood Re’ (a joint initiative between the Government and insurers to make the flood cover part of household insurance policies more affordable) owing to the unacceptable risk of flooding they already present.

Without affordable insurance, mortgages will not be advanced and house prices in affected areas will plummet. People expect that if their house obtained planning consent, is mortgageable and has insurance, that it is safe and their money is secure.

With Flood Re due to be abolished by 2039, this is a wake-up call that is overdue.

From April 2022, larger private sector companies are required to take account of climate risk in their annual reporting. In order to do this, they are going to need local data on climate risk to assess how this will impact their operations.

Local authorities have a unique role in place-shaping, supporting communities and dealing with climate-related incidents. But, how well developed is the sector’s thinking in this critical area?

In July 2021, the Climate Change Committee published the UK’s third Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk (CCRA3) and in response to this, the Government is preparing the UK’s third National Adaptation Programme, due to be published in 2023.

CCRA3 highlighted more than 60 different risks the UK faces. The eight risks of most concern are:

  • viability and diversity of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species
  • soil health from increased flooding and drought
  • natural carbon stores and sequestration
  • crops, livestock and commercial trees
  • supply of food, goods and vital services due to collapse of supply chains and distribution networks
  • people and the economy from failure of the power system
  • human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings
  • multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas.

Mapping these risks to the role and responsibilities of local authorities can be a complex task with some areas of consideration, such as flooding, more developed than others.

Over the last 18 months Local Partnerships has been helping local authorities to translate these risks directly into their service delivery plans. Local authorities sometimes shy away from adaptation planning, fearing significant unaffordable investment will be required or they are lacking the skills and resources to do it effectively.

The reality is that a changing climate is an absolute certainty and the need to plan for it now is essential. It is no longer sufficient for local authorities to focus solely on net zero with their climate emergency plans. Adaptation should be front and centre, and be embedded by whole-systems thinking across all operations.

Relationships with neighbouring authorities and partners will also need to improve, regardless of political affiliations, as climate risks are no respecters of administrative boundaries.

Local Partnerships has developed a Climate Adaptation Toolkit and risk generation tool to help local authorities understand their climate risks better and develop effective strategies to adapt. These tools are free to download from our website ( to help authorities make effective plans and support their communities through the worst of the changes.

Jo Wall is strategic director: climate response, Local Partnerships


Best practice: Reducing Hull's flood risk

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