New report on climate adaptation policy for the National Trust

As part of a new report for the National Trust, Public First found that 23% of the British public say that climate change has already had an impact on them personally and only 4% believe that the country is well prepared for the impacts of climate change.

The effects of climate change on the United Kingdom are becoming increasingly clear: 2022 was the UK’s warmest year ever. Winter rainfall and flooding have both increased; sea level has risen by 17 cm since 1900. Summer rainfall is more concentrated and sudden, making drought a regular event in the South East at the same time as flash flooding is on the rise. 

Being unprepared for these changes lays us open to extremely negative side effects.  Our native flora and fauna cannot adapt quickly enough to survive. Our homes aren’t built to withstand the heat and neither is our infrastructure. During recent hot summers (such as 2018 and 2022) we saw increases in the daily death count, violent crime, and transport problems due to melting road surfaces and buckling train rails.

This summer the UK government will publish their new National Adaptation Programme, which will set the agenda on adaptation for the next five years. Ahead of this important moment, Public First have written a report for the National Trust in which we describe the political and policy barriers that are holding back progress on climate adaptation and ask what lessons adaptation can learn from the success of mitigation and its Net Zero strategy.

Our key recommendations are:

  • The Government must equip itself with the data it will need for decision making in the decades ahead by investing now in excellent monitoring of key climate impacts.
  • A significant effort must be made both nationally and internationally to fill holes in the evidence base about what works in adaptation. An emphasis should be placed on quantifying return on investment and co-benefits in order to pave the way for much-needed investment. 
  • A genuine public conversation needs to happen about the changes that are required over the next 30 years in order to future-proof our country. This could take the form of a Citizens’ Assembly or official inquiry to draw up draft guidance of what represents intolerable harm and to begin to assess some of the trade-offs we are likely to face. 
  • Move responsibility for adaptation to the Cabinet Office, creating a cross-Cabinet Committee or a taskforce (possibly within the Resilience Directorate) that would include team members drawn from many departments – with a significant presence of Treasury civil servants. And create a clear ministerial responsibility for adaptation within the Cabinet Office.

If this change proves insufficient, or campaigners feel that a statutory tool is required, we would suggest:

  • An Environment Act-style piece of legislation, or Stewardship Act, that requires the Government to suggest targets within a sensible timeframe and creates a statutory target by which they can be held to account. Statutory targets are important for keeping adaptation front-of-mind for policymakers and civil servants. They can also create a clarity and vision which adaptation policy currently lacks.

Read the full report here and find the polling tables here. For press enquiries contact thais.portilho@publicfirst.co.uk 

Image: The Guardian, ‘I can’t go through this again’: Cumbrians struggle with floods aftermath,December 2015