January brought news of record temperatures in the UK and across the world. Against this backdrop, the government has released a new report highlighting the risks and opportunities facing the country due to the climate crisis.

The 1st January 2022 was the UK’s warmest on record, with London seeing temperatures of 16.3oC. Although daily temperatures can vary quite significantly due to weather patterns, meteorological and climate research organisations have noted that the rate at which new temperature records are being set is connected to the fact that the average temperature of the planet has increased. 

For example, in the past 12 months more than 400 weather stations around the world recorded their highest ever temperatures. And then in January 2022, it was announced that 2021 was the sixth warmest year since records began, with 7 out of the top 10 warmest years occurring since 2015.  

How are global temperature changes affecting the UK? 

Even when average temperature increases seem relatively small, they have a significant impact on the weather patterns we experience. Looking back at 2021, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) explained that: 

“Climate change impacts and weather-related hazards had life-changing and devastating impacts on communities on every single continent.” 

WMO secretary-general, Professor Petteri Taalas 

The UK experienced less destructive weather than many countries. But even so, as winter began Storm Arwen killed at least three people and left tens of thousands of homes without power for over a week. As the climate crisis will make storms like Arwen more frequent, it’s clear that there’s work to be done to increase the UK’s resilience to the climate crisis.  

On 17th January, the government published the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2022, drawing on research and recommendations from the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The report identifies eight priority risks, which could individually cause over £1 billion in damage a year if not acted on urgently.  
These are the risks, along with some examples of what they mean:  

  • risks to the viability and diversity of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards 
    • Higher temperatures make rivers less able to hold oxygen, killing fish. 
  • risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought 
    • Reduced soil quality makes it more difficult to grow crops. 
  • risks to natural carbon stores and sequestration from multiple hazards 
    • Higher temperatures dry out environments like peat bogs, reducing their ability to store carbon. 
  • risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees from multiple climate hazards 
    • Changing weather patterns disrupt the growing seasons for traditional crop varieties, which may be less able to adapt to swings in temperature.  
  • risks to supply of food, goods and vital services due to climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks 
    • Transport networks could be disrupted by extreme weather. Food from countries affected by the climate crisis may become unavailable. 
  • risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system 
    • Heatwaves and storms can both cause power cuts. 
  • risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings.  
    • Young children, older people and those with certain health conditions are vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Many UK homes and buildings are not well adapted to hot (or cold) temperatures. 
  • multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas 
    • The climate crisis is recognised as a ‘threat multiplier’ which increases pre-existing risks such as poverty, conflict and disease.  

What does the UK need to do to adapt? 

Each of the eight risk areas needs to be acted on urgently, and will require significant investment from the government. Some of the mitigation measures mentioned in the risk assessment include: 

  • Extra funding for the Nature for Climate Fund to support farmers and landowners to protect biodiversity by changing land use, such as planting new woodlands. 
  • Promoting soil friendly farming practices and better monitoring of soil health. 
  • Exploring how to diversify international supply chains to make them more resilient. 
  • Working with the energy regulator Ofgem and National Grid to upgrade our electricity system to make it more flexible. 
  • Introducing new measures in Building Regulations to reduce the risk of overheating, and increase tree cover in cities to reduce the ‘urban heat island’ effect.
Electricity pylons, seen from below.

Organisations such as the Committee on Climate Change have welcomed the report, but highlight that the UK isn’t currently doing enough to counter the effects of climate breakdown that we’re already experiencing: 

“Building resilience to a cocktail of climate impacts facing our country, including flooding, drought, heat exposure and extreme weather events, is a mammoth task and we’re falling well behind. We look forward to seeing the Government’s action plan to shift the dial and deliver a well-adapted UK.” 

Baroness Brown, Chair of the CCC Adaptation Committee 

Naturally, Good Energy will be particularly interested in strategies to increase the proportion of renewable electricity on the grid and up the energy efficiency of UK buildings. You can read our research into how the UK can reach zero carbon emissions in our Renewable Nation report. Or, if you’re looking for ideas about how you can keep making a difference at home, check out our climate change and green energy pages.