Treasury must be ‘the year of climate adaptation’, warning that ‘worryingly few’ infrastructure investors consider impacts of climate change

Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd has called on the Treasury to launch a review into the cost of climate impacts and the value of investing in resilience measures, noting that current levels of funding for flood and coastal defenses are nowhere near where they should be.

In an address to the Coastal Futures conference this week, Howard Boyd said far more investment was needed to create and maintain coastal infrastructure that would be resilient to escalating climate impacts, noting that the long term prosperity of a maritime nation such as the UK depended on these projects.  

She said the £3bn allocated to flood and coastal defences by 2024/2024 represented a “thin green line of defence” against climate change, noting that the figure is just a slither of the total £200bn allocated to national infrastructure each year.

“Its size, compared to other areas of the infrastructure and construction pipeline, highlights that worryingly few people are considering the impacts of climate change in their investments,” she warned.

The government’s climate change risk assessment report, which was published on Tuesday, highlighted that just 2C of global heating by 2050 could wipe billions of pounds from the UK’s economy annually. It warned that climate change considerations needed to be built into all long-term infrastructure plans.

Howard Boyd said investments in climate resilience would not only prepare the UK for future shocks, but it would create jobs, reduce regional inequalities, and reverse the decline in nature.

“Climate change should obliterate any sense of complacency,” she said. “We must adapt to the present storm as well as those in the offing. We need to plan, adapt and thrive to save lives and livelihoods. To ensure the success of the UK’s COP26 presidency and and drive the ambition of the [Prime Minister’s policy programme] green industrial revolution, 2022 must become the year of climate adaptation.”

Howard Boyd urged the government to develop more thorough economic projections that better take into account climate impacts so as to spur leadership, legislation, and “achievable and ambitious” resilience and adaptation goals.

“The Treasury commissioned the Dasgupta Review to look at the economics of biodiversity,” she said. “We need a similar review to assess the true cost of climate impacts and the value of investing in resilience.”

Howard Boyd said the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, the private sector initiative she chairs that aims to find ways of better pricing physical climate risks into investment decisions, would be able to help the government deliver such a review.

The Treasury was considering a comment at the time of going to press. However, the Net Zero Review published in the autumn concluded that the costs of inaction on climate change would ultimately far outweigh the costs of action. 

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