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Climate Change Committee – Key organisations failing to tackle threat of cascading climate risks

Many of the UK’s critical energy, water, digital and transport providers are struggling to take account of the climate-related risks to connected infrastructure systems which could lead to cascading failures in service provision if not addressed, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) says. That’s one of the findings of a new independent report by the CCC for the UK Government, assessing submissions from 90 organisations on the actions they are taking to tackle climate-related risks to their operations. The submissions are provided under the Adaptation Reporting Power (ARP), a key provision of the Climate Change Act which enables Government to request reports on climate preparedness from key infrastructure providers. Respondents included National Grid, Network Rail, Highways England, the Environment Agency, London Heathrow Airport, UK Power Networks and Thames Water, amongst others. Baroness Brown, Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee said:

“Climate change poses a catalogue of risks to UK infrastructure. In this report we’ve uncovered a key gap in the country’s national adaptation planning: to varying degrees the organisations we have assessed are not prepared for cascading infrastructure failures. For example, a flood might damage an electricity substation which has a knock-on effect on the transport network due to a power outage. These dependencies, if disrupted, have potentially devastating consequences. The Government needs to help reporting organisations better understand and manage these risks. Prudent planning today can help avoid a domino-effect of failures in the future.”

Overall, the CCC’s assessment of the third round of submissions under the Adaptation Reporting Power (ARP) finds that:

  • The quality of organisations’ reporting has generally improved since the last round in 2016 but significant opportunities remain. Many sectors are producing high quality reports that provide useful information on their climate risks and adaptation actions; most risk assessments are based on the latest UK climate projections; many follow best practice by considering a range of future warming scenarios and timeframes; and progress has been made in adapting infrastructure since the last reporting round in 2016. However, information gaps exist due to inconsistent reporting on adaptation plans across organisations and there are areas for improvement, including more consistent linking of adaptation action to risks with clear ownership and timescales for action.
  • The Government has largely achieved its objectives for this reporting cycle, but gaps in coverage and unhelpful timings are undermining the value of the process. The Adaptation Reporting Power (ARP) is driving action on adaptation and reports show evidence of improved climate preparedness and senior-level ownership of climate risk management across all sectors. However, 20% of invited organisations did not submit a (voluntary) return, creating gaps in risk coverage. Less than 5% of ARP reports were available in time to inform two key statutory assessments in 2021 – the third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, and the CCC’s 2021 Progress Report to Parliament on adaptation, undermining their value for improving UK climate risk policy.
  • The next reporting cycle must be strengthened to maximise its effectiveness in managing climate risk. A mandatory requirement for organisations to report would drive improved action on adaptation. Canals and reservoirs, wider aspects of the health and social care sector, relevant local authority functions and food supply chains should be included in the reporting cycle to provide a more complete picture of UK climate resilience. The timeline for the next ARP reporting round should be set to 2024 to inform the next (fourth) UK Climate Change Risk Assessment and associated National Adaptation Programme.

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