Climate change could have a domino effect on key infrastructure in the UK, government advisers have warned.
In a 2,000-page report, the Climate Change Committee says flooding will destroy bridges – wrecking electricity, gas and IT connections carried on them.
The committee also warns that poor farming means the most fertile soils will be badly degraded by mid-century.
And heat-related deaths among the elderly will triple to 7,000 a year by the 2050s as summer temperatures rise.
The UK is not prepared, the committee says, for the risks posed by climate change from flooding and changing coasts, heatwaves, water shortages, ecosystem damage and shocks to the global food system.
The projections are based on the supposition that governments keep promises made at the Paris climate conference to cut emissions – a pledge that is in doubt.
The committee says if emissions are allowed to spiral, London summer temperatures could hit 48C (118F) in an extreme scenario, although the advisers say they don’t expect that to happen.
The report from 80 authors is the most comprehensive yet on the potential impact of climate change on the UK.
‘Cascade of risks’
It identifies 60 risks and opportunities – many of them happening already as the climate has warmed.
Its conclusions on the inter-linking nature of threats to infrastructure is based on recent research.
The chairman of the committee’s adaptation sub-committee, Prof Sir John Krebs, told BBC News: “Infrastructure could be affected in a way that interacts.
“So, if you take electricity supply, the delivery of fuel to power stations might be affected by flooding which would then affect electricity.
“Then look at flooding… if bridges are affected then they carry electricity cables and communications infrastructure, so we have to look not just at how each piece of infrastructure works but how they interact together.
“There could be a cascade of risks.”
Higher food prices
On food and farming, the committee warns that UK shoppers could face higher food bills as imported crops like soya are harmed by heat or drought.
It says farming in the UK might benefit from more warmth but warns that soils are likely to dry out quicker, and that rain is more likely to arrive in unhelpful downpours.
The committee also says some of the UK’s most fertile land – the peat fields of the East Anglia fens – are suffering badly from decades of intensive farming.
Prof Krebs said 85% of the peat had been washed or blown away, and the rest would follow in coming decades unless farmers were more careful.
Risks and opportunities
Among the other risks needing more action the committee mentions:
• Coastal change risks to communities, businesses and infrastructure
• Risk of shortages in public water supply with impacts on freshwater ecology, water for agriculture, energy generation and industry
Opportunities for the UK from climate change include:
• Economic opportunities for UK businesses from an increase in global demand for adaptation-related goods and services, such as engineering and insurance
• Milder winters should reduce the costs of heating, helping to cut winter cold deaths.
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Prime Minister Theresa May must get serious about climate change – now
By Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party
The status quo is not an option and demands urgent action, writes Natalie Bennett
Today the Committee on Climate Change released a deeply concerning report warning that the UK is ill-prepared for the effects of climate change set to hit this country in the coming decades – including fatally hot summers, new diseases and flooding here, and climate-stoked wars and rising migration overseas.
The report is a stark reminder that while political parties wrangle and cabinets reshuffle, the climate is burning, and it must decisively set the agenda for new Prime Minister Theresa May.
Under David Cameron, the Tories’ promise to be the ‘greenest government ever’ turned into a sad, sick joke as subsidies for solar power and onshore wind were slashed, plans to force all homes to be zero-carbon from 2016 were scrapped, fracking was given the green light and vital regulations were stripped away.
The vote to leave the EU has put our environment further at risk, as we stand to lose protections for clean air, wildlife, and water and targets on renewable energy and emissions.
Theresa May’s record on climate change and environmental issues does not look promising: she has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change, in favour of the disastrous badger cull, and against stronger regulation of fracking.
However, there is still room for her to show the leadership that the country – and the planet – needs. The environmental crisis we face is one which crosses party lines and requires tough decisions and urgent action.
Today’s report warned that deadly heatwaves like that of 2003 will become normal by 2040; by 2050 the number of homes at risk of flooding will double; and extreme weather will lead to lost crops and drive up food prices.
These are not fringe issues or distant concerns but serious threats to our health and security which will impact us within our lifetime.
This is only one of the crises facing our new prime minister.
…. and it continues on other matters ….