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Report highlights new challenges to the UK from international climate change

Climate change impacts from abroad could affect the UK more than climate change at home according to a report, published today by Foresight, the Government’s futures think tank.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The report ‘International Dimensions of Climate Change’ shows that the UK will be vulnerable to adverse impacts from climate change abroad. More attention needs to be given to how climate change effects in other countries may have domestic impacts here.

Speaking at the international launch, FCO Minister for Climate Change Henry Bellingham said, “I welcome publication of this important report, which adds to our understanding of the potential far-reaching effects of climate change. As the Minister with responsibility for Africa, I know all too well how strategic a threat climate change is on a continent that is already seeing climate change impacts. Reports such as this, as well as high level forthcoming debates in the EU Foreign Affairs Committee and UN Security Council, have an important role to play in furthering analysis and awareness of the serious impacts of climate change”.

The report has identified a wide range of risks to the UK from climate change impacts in other parts of the world, which may have implications for:

  • **Foreign policy and security
    ** International instability could increase as a consequence of climate change, either directly through extreme weather events and water system stresses, or indirectly as social and political systems in vulnerable parts of the world come under increasing strain. Also, the UK has a moral, political and legal obligation to support certain regions that are particularly at risk from the effects of climate change, such as small island states which include many of the UK Overseas Territories.

  • **Resources and infrastructure
    ** Climate change could affect the overseas resources and infrastructure on which the UK depends. The impacts could arise from global temperature change, water stresses, sea level rise and extreme weather events. A wide range of potential threats are identified including disruption to essential infrastructure serving global markets and energy supplies, as well as the potential impact of extreme weather events on communications networks and data centres.

  • Financial sector and business
    The report argues that the financial sector and business more generally may fail to properly evaluate and take into account changes in the balance of risks associated with climate change overseas. UK firms managed worldwide assets of £1.2 trillion in 2008, and the failure to accurately assess their level of exposure to climate change effects may result in these assets being insufficiently insured or protected. The UK’s financial exposure to overseas climate change impacts may increase if international business and financial policy frameworks do not appropriately account for climate change, and institutions are exposed to additional risks and uncertainties as a result.

Other UK areas that could be affected from climate change impacts abroad include: health and the UK’s role on the global stage.

The report demonstrates how the UK is closely interconnected with the global economy, and has an important role in addressing risks internationally. It points to opportunities in business, finance and global leadership, for example:

  • Business and financial opportunities for key sectors of the UK economy, either where there are recognised strengths in engineering, in insurance and in climate forecasting or where new opportunities are generated because of the need to reduce emissions or adapt to climate change. They include a wide range of green technologies, particularly in the energy sector, such as carbon capture and storage, and new forms of financing for the green economy. The global environmental and low-carbon market was estimated to be £3.2 trillion in 2008/09 with a predicted 4% growth rate to 2013/14, with the UK forecast to achieve up to 3.9% growth in these areas by 2016

Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser and the project’s director said:

“Our world is getting warmer, and the UK’s extensive international economic, political and cultural ties mean that the UK is at increasing risk from impacts of climate change overseas. The UK must not respond by becoming insular but instead broaden its international reach to tackle climate change. This report is designed to help Government consider how these impacts will be felt here in the UK so we can better prepare and adapt for the future.”

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, said:

“As John Beddington’s report recognises, the effects of climate change extend beyond environmental concerns into geo-political considerations.

“For the international community to deal with these challenges we must adapt together to ensure sustainable economic growth, maintain global stability, and support developing nations and countries particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

This shorter type of Foresight project examined how climate change impacts in other parts of the world could affect the UK. It has identified a broad range of risks to the UK from international climate change, in the areas of: global governance; foreign policy and national security; financial services; physical resources and commodities; overseas infrastructure; health and behaviour.

The project’s evidence base will inform the UK’s first Climate Change Risk Assessment (as required by law through the 2008 Climate Change Act) to ensure that the Government’s policy on adaptation to climate change takes appropriate account of international impacts. The Assessment will be published in January 2012.

The project is co-sponsored by Defra and DECC, and FCO who will use the report to inform their wider international agenda on climate change.

Updates to this page

Published 11 July 2011