Caroline Spelman – 2012 Speech at Climate Change Risk Assessment Launch


Below is the text of the speech made by Caroline Spelman, the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, at the Climate Change Risk Assessment Launch on 30 January 2012.

Yesterday the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum began in Davos.

The theme this year is transformation; and the need for new conceptual models to understand and respond to the great changes we are witnessing.

Reshaping our global economy is a vital task. Leaders from government, business and civil society must work together to create – and realise – a vision for a strong, green global economy for the 21st century.

Action on climate change is integral to a robust and resilient economy.

And the climate change challenge is two-fold.

We must decouple economic growth from carbon, reducing our own emissions, and lobbying for international cooperation on this most urgent of issues.

But, because carbon stays in the atmosphere for decades, we are already locked in to some climate change. So we must also prepare our economy for big changes to our weather patterns.

We are already experiencing an increase in extreme weather events: and the knock-on economic effects.

– The 2007 floods cost the UK economy billions.

– The 2010 drought led to the doubling of global wheat prices. Meanwhile floods in Australia sent the price of coal and steel soaring.

– Last winter’s freeze-up cost London alone £600 million a day.

– This year, floods in Thailand led to a worldwide shortage of IT and car components.

The UK leads the world in climate science, and Government will ensure it continues to do so. Defra is protecting its funding of the Met Office Hadley Centre, because we know exactly how vital this work is.

No amount of science can predict the future. But what it does allow us to do is map the possibilities, assess the risks and take the actions needed, to ensure our future resilience and well-being.

Thanks to science, we know about rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels rise and so on – but so far we haven’t worked out what these changes mean for the economy, for society and for nature.

The Climate Change Risk Assessment takes this next step.

This analysis is the first of its kind. Its methods are groundbreaking. Again the UK is leading the way with this risk-based approach. I want to congratulate the consortium led by HR Wallingford on this monumental achievement. I also want to thank Lord Krebs and the Adaptation Sub-Committee, Professor Martin Parry and his international review panel, and Professor Sir John Beddington and his Chief Scientific Advisers across Government, and the many peer reviewers who gave their expert advice along the way.

Sir John and his Foresight team have been working on a parallel international project that is helping us understand how changing weather patterns across the world will affect us here in the UK. Published last July, their report identifies the key threats, from impacts on trade routes and infrastructure to global diseases and international migration. It provides a useful accompaniment to today’s Risk Assessment.

Annually we invest £30 to £50 billion on infrastructure: road, rail, energy, and water hardware, much of which will be here for many decades. To get the best return from this investment – to minimise the costs of maintenance, refurbishment, and replacement – we need to factor the need for long-term climate resilience into the decisions we’re making now. We’re particularly grateful to the Royal Academy of Engineering for helping us think through the infrastructure issues.

The CCRA shows us the range of challenges we face.

– Threats to infrastructure, and to supply chains.

– Threats to wildlife. Although some species could benefit, many more would struggle.

– The risk of flooding is likely to become greater.

– At the same time water could become scarce.

– The UK’s farmers could be tackling water scarcity while managing the higher risk of animal diseases, as well as new weeds and pests.

– Warmer winters may reduce cold-related deaths – but hotter summers would increase health risks.

– Hotter weather would also increase the risk of wildfires.The report also analyses the opportunities presented by climate change itself, and by the need to adapt. Taking up these opportunities is part of the challenge.

The Risk Assessment sets out the challenges – but not the solutions. It also doesn’t factor in changes in policy, plans, and behaviour – our ability to adapt.

This is important to remember. The analysis provides a baseline against which to assess the climate resilience of our plans and actions; so we can judge what more needs to be done.

Work to build climate change resilience is happening across government. My department’s activities include our Natural Environment White Paper and our National Ecosystems Assessment, both published last summer, which look at how climate change will affect species, habitats and eco-systems.

Our Water White Paper, published in December, sets out our vision for a climate-resilient water industry, for secure water supplies and healthy lakes and rivers throughout the century.

As the department for food and agriculture we are working to help farmers adapt to climate change. We have also published guidelines on forests and climate change. And we are lobbying internationally for climate change agriculture to be part of the climate change treaty.

This work is not for government alone. All sectors will be affected. All sectors need to act.

The Risk Assessment is the start of a conversation: a nationwide, sector-wide conversation about ensuring our climate resilience, our economic stability and our health and well-being, in the short and the long term.

This conversation is vital to the co-creation of the National Adaptation Programme for 2013. I want you be part of it. Please visit our National Adaptation Programme web pages to collaborate in this crucial work.

Because, with cross-sector engagement, with foresight, with planning, and with commitment, we can mitigate climate threats, as well as taking advantage of the opportunities – and ensure that our economy is resilient.

It’s inspiring to see what is already happening.

Climate resilient infrastructure is vital. We are keeping abreast of what infrastructure companies are doing, through the reports they are providing under the Adaptation Reporting Power.

But it’s not just about infrastructure. All businesses, from local retailers to big corporations, need to be climate resilient.

The Climate Resilience Toolkit we have developed with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants is an excellent tool for quickly and simply assessing how your business could be affected by climate change. We’re now working with the Environment Agency to create further ways of helping businesses, local authorities and other organisations adapt in practical ways.

Businesses should seize the opportunities: how to provide climate resilience to their customers, and how climate change might spark the need for new products and services.

Forward-thinking companies are already coming up with the solutions both innovative and simple, from Swiss Re’s weather hedge for drought-prone areas in India, to Hallmark Blinds’ design for a window cover that deflects heat while letting the light in.

Different areas in the UK face different risks. So most adaptation actions need to happen locally. Local government has a vital role to play.

Many local authorities are meeting this challenge, in partnership with public and private sector organisations.

Big cities are especially vulnerable to heat waves. The City of London has mapped places across the metropolis where residents and workers could escape the heat.

In east London, Barking and Dagenham council have reduced flood risk by creating a wetland – at the same time providing habitats for people to enjoy and wildlife to thrive.

Dorset County Council has worked with the Met Office to assess climate change impacts on the county’s roads and pathways over the next 40 years. The council will now use the assessment to make sure the county’s highways are resilient.

There are many other initiatives; and we need to spread best practice, helping more local adaptation action.

The most deprived and vulnerable individuals and communities face the highest risks of hardship from climate change.

We are currently working with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations to help charities and voluntary groups understand how climate change could affect the people they work with. We also have strong links with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is researching the social justice implications of climate change.

Wildlife conservation organisations are working on how to help species adapt to climate change, through land management and conservation work. The National Trust’s work to manage rising sea levels and other climate impacts on its properties is another example of civil society’s role.

It was Benjamin Franklin who said nothing in this world is certain, but death and taxes. We are used to dealing with uncertainty: and we’re good at it. We are constantly making risk-based decisions, from how we invest money to whether to carry an umbrella.

The more information we have, the easier and the better our decisions are.

We are a Government that understands the vital role of science. Science that gives a clear picture of the evidence where it exists, and science that describes the extent of the uncertainty where it doesn’t. This is why we protected the science budget in the spending review, and why we made more science investments in the autumn statement.

Today’s document is part of that science, and part of that mission. Please use the science, and work with us, to ensure prosperity and well-being, for ourselves and for future generations.