The Government "cannot hide" from the risks posed by a warming climate but yet there is "a substantial gap between current plans and future requirements and an even greater shortfall in action". Those are the conclusions of the UK's Committee on Climate Change in its 2019 Progress Report to Parliament. On 19 November 2019 I joined a panel of experts at the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum to look at what more government and business needs to do to address climate adaptation in the UK.
My address, on the subject of 'enabling climate change preparedness - environmental governance reform, protecting public goods and the Green Finance Strategy', picked up on the theme that it is not possible to hide from the risks with a 'head in the sand' approach. The themes I put forward, and that we discussed as a panel, included:
- The Government has a statutory obligation to plan for climate change: failure to do so leaves the Government at risk of legal action.
- Governance and oversight is essential and the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) play a vital role: if the new Environment Bill passes into law in the next Parliament then it is really important that the interaction between these two bodies is worked through together under the provisions of what is currently clause 20(5) in the Bill.
- Good business governance is essential too: businesses are on notice that there are significant financial risks from climate change and directors and officers who fail to plan for such risks expose their businesses and themselves to potential liabilities.
- The Green Finance Strategy is a step forward in the process of driving private money into adaptation as well as mitigation: it recognises that both financing green (private capital for funding the net zero transition) and greening finance (making sure finance goes to sustainable businesses that have robust planning for a warmer future) are equally important.
- Expect further obligations of transparency around climate preparedness and adaptation in the form of mandatory reporting: the Financial Stability Board's Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) appears to be the government's preferred model but, whatever precise requirements emerge from the current review into mandatory reporting, the direction of travel is clear.
The spotlight is shining on both government and business: will the scrutiny drive action on climate resilience?
Climate change adaptation is a defining challenge for every government, yet there is only limited evidence of the present UK Government taking it sufficiently seriously