The Climate Change Committee have published a new advice report for the Government that provides an Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk for the UK’s thirs Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3). This article outlines the key risks and opportunities facing agriculture and food in the UK.
The Advice Report provides the Adaptation Committee’s statutory advice to the Government on priorities for the forthcoming national adaptation plans and wider action. It is informed by extensive new evidence gathered for the accompanying Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) Technical Report.
The headline finding from the report shows:
The gap between the level of risk we face and the level of adaptation underway has widened. Adaptation action has failed to keep pace with the worsening reality of climate risk.
The report draws on an extensive programme of analysis, consultation and consideration by the Committee involving over 450 people, 130 organisations and more than 1,500 pages of evidence and analysis. As part of the research to inform the underlying Technical Report, the CCC commissioned several research projects. ADAS were directly involved in two of these research projects:
- Climate-driven threshold effects in the natural environment;
- Interacting risks in infrastructure, the built and natural environments;
You can see more about these here: https://www.adas.co.uk/News/new-website-launched-to-showcase-uk-climate-risk.
The Committee reports on 61 risks and opportunities, fundamental to every aspect of life in the UK covering our natural environment, our health, our homes, the infrastructure on which we rely, and the economy, which must be considered in the next set of National Adaptation Plans (due from 2023) – country level plans that identify medium- and long-term adaptation needs.
Eight risk areas were identified that require the most urgent attention in the next two years, five of which relate to agriculture, food and the natural environment:
- Risks to the viability and diversity of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards.
- Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought.
- Risks to natural carbon stores and sequestration from multiple hazards leading to increased emissions.
- Risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees from multiple hazards.
- Risks to supply of food, goods and vital services due to climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks.
These risks were selected on the basis of the urgency of additional action, the gap in UK adaptation planning, the opportunity to integrate adaptation into forthcoming policy commitments (e.g. the new Environmental Land Management Scheme) and the need to avoid locking in poor planning.
Key messages for agriculture and food
The accompanying Agriculture and Food Briefing report highlights five key messages for the sector:
- Future climatic changes, especially wetter or drier conditions, could significantly impact on UK soil health leading to implications for agricultural productivity.
- Agricultural productivity could be at risk under future climate scenarios. This could be as a direct result of more extreme weather (namely extreme heat, flooding, drought, sea level rise or saline intrusion), or due to a greater number of pests, pathogens and invasive non-native invasive species.
- There could also be some opportunities for UK agriculture under a changing climate should new or alternative species become suitable for the UK, or due to longer growing seasons (if water is not a limiting factor).
- Agricultural land is an important contributor to parts of the UK’s landscape character, meaning that changes to the former could directly affect the latter.
- The future impacts of climate change in the UK and overseas could pose risks to food safety and food security.
Specific risks and opportunities assessed for agriculture and food
Risks to Agriculture and Food
- Risk to soils from changing climatic conditions, including seasonal aridity and wetness.
- Risks to aquifers and agricultural land from saltwater intrusion.
- Risks and opportunities for agricultural and forestry productivity from extreme events and changing climatic conditions.
- Risks to agriculture from pests, pathogens and invasive non-native species.
- Risks and opportunities from climate change to landscape character.
- Risks to food safety and food security from UK climate impacts.
- Risks to UK food availability, safety, and quality from climate change overseas.
Opportunities for Agriculture and Food
- Opportunities for agricultural and forestry productivity from new/alternative species becoming suitable.
- Opportunities for UK food imports or exports due to global climate change.
Adapting to climate risks
The Committee note that the UK has the capacity and the resources to respond effectively to climate risks and that acting now will be cheaper than waiting to deal with the consequences. Ten principles are recommended for good adaptation planning that should form the basis for the next round of national adaptation plans. These are intended to bring adaptation into mainstream consideration by the Government and businesses.
The agriculture and food sector have the opportunity to become more resilient and sustainable through both reducing emissions in line with 2050 Net Zero targets, and effectively adapting to climate and extreme weather threats.
Figure 1. Ten principles for good adaptation planning. Source: CCC Advice Report