Those on low income and elderly most vulnerable to UK climate change

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Climate change in the UK is hitting health and the most vulnerable members of society. That’s according to new data from CDP - the non-profit which runs the world’s environmental disclosure system for companies, cities, states and regions - showing the growing impact of the warming planet on the country. 

Building Local Resilience is based on the responses of 60 UK local authorities - comprising almost half the country’s population (45%) and a third of its greenhouse gas emissions (31%) - that disclosed their climate data through CDP-ICLEI Track in 2022 and shows the extent of their climate action. Read the report here.

 Almost every local authority (98%) reported a climate hazard in their area - a strong rise from 75% in 2018 - with extreme heat, flooding and heavy rainfall being the most common hazards. 

The report also examines the impact of climate change on the UK’s population, finding that low-income households (in 92% of local authorities), the elderly (85%), those with vulnerable health (77%), children (73%) and minority communities (65%) are the groups most affected by climate hazards. More than three quarters of local authorities (77%) also report health being affected by climate change, with heat-related illnesses, mental health impacts and injuries or deaths caused by extreme weather events being the most widespread consequences.

Local authorities have a strong focus on adapting to these impacts, alongside their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (98% have an emissions reduction target) and prevent climate change (90% have a mitigation plan). Three in four have an adaptation plan (77%) - jumping from just 33% in 2018 - and close to all (97%) are implementing adaptation actions, such as flood defences and reforestation. 

The value of adapting to climate change is clear for local authorities, with nearly all of them (98%) seeing wider benefits from their actions, including reduced health impacts and improved biodiversity. 

Examples of climate adaptation initiatives in UK local authorities include:

In 2019, Sheffield saw its wettest autumn on record, with widespread flooding and damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure. Alongside new and improved flood defences, the City Council’s flood protection schemes work with local partners to provide wider benefits, including conservation and enhancing biodiversity, supporting the local economy and transforming the city’s waterways for people to enjoy. 

In Northern Ireland, Derry City and Strabane District Council has a dedicated community resilience officer who engages with the most vulnerable members of the community and critical local agencies, like the emergency services, to develop effective community resilience plans.

Flooding is a major concern for the City of Manchester, which is using sustainable land management techniques, such as green infrastructure and nature-based solutions, to adapt to the problem. The West Gorton Community Park, or ‘Sponge Park’, allows rainwater from nearby roads to be channelled through natural drainage systems, reducing the burden on the main system. 

However, significant barriers remain for local authorities to adapt to climate change. The principal obstacle is budgetary capacity, with two thirds of local authorities (66%) saying this is holding back their ability to adapt to a warming planet. Indeed, of the 21 local authorities also disclosing how much additional funding they require for adaptation projects, the investment gap stands at £17.4 billion, giving a stark illustration of the huge investment needed in the transition to a net-zero future. Alongside public funding, private sector investment is also needed to close this funding gap. 

CDP recommends greater collaboration within and engagement from UK local authorities, both internally and externally, to drive climate action. Internally, removing silos and working in a joined-up way across departments will help prioritise climate action and leverage existing funding in areas that overlap with the council’s climate plan, such as emergency responses and public health. Externally, local authorities need to build strong relationships with businesses and engage closely with their communities - particularly vulnerable groups - to ensure their climate targets are met in an equitable way. Maia Kutner, CDP Global Director of Cities, States and Regions, said: 

“The ravaging effects of our warming planet spare few corners of the globe, and the UK is no longer immune from them. From the hottest year on record in 2022 to multiple floods, droughts and thousands of wildfires, the country is experiencing just how severe climate change really is - and, unfortunately, its knock-on impact on health and vulnerable communities. “Many local authorities are adapting to climate change with commitment and agility. Our latest report shows the encouraging numbers developing adaptation plans, alongside targets and plans to reduce their emissions, and what this looks like in practice.

“With their closeness to communities on the ground and ability to deliver tangible impact, local authorities are vital champions of climate action in the UK. A more holistic approach to tackling climate change, from joined up thinking on and funding for action within councils to listening to vulnerable groups, will help local authorities take greater strides in their climate action.” 

In a further sign of the ambitious climate action by the UK’s local authorities, 19 were awarded CDP’s highest rating for environmental action, transparency and leadership - an ‘A’ - in 2022. This was the highest number of UK local authorities seen on CDP’s A List, and nearly double the number awarded an A in 2021.

View the report in English

View the report in Welsh

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