The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment

The UK government produced its first Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) earlier this year. It looks at 100 priority impacts of climate change across 11 sectors in the UK including the agriculture and forestry sectors. The assessment categorises these sectors within five themes showing where the impacts will be most severe and how policy can intervene. Climate change is likely to have considerable impacts on food security, population growth and rising demand for energy. The purpose of the CCRA is to analyse the potential impacts in this wider context in order to facilitate risk management in the respective sectors.

In terms of the agricultural sector, the modelling used provides projections for climate change impacts, using a range of scenarios available for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s. A criterion was then applied to each impact to calculate the likelihood and the economic, social and environmental consequences of each risk. A series of risk categories have been produced, ranking risks from low to high. Even where the calculated likelihood for risk is high, a level of uncertainty is associated with all the findings, especially for those within longer timeframes such as for the 2050s and 2080s.

The findings for the agricultural sector can be summarised as:

  • Opportunities from climate change in the UK will have the greatest positive impact on crop productivity. For example, increased wheat, sugar beet and potato yields are anticipated due to warmer conditions and higher CO2 levels. According to the CCRA projections, wheat yield could increase from between 40 and 140 per cent by the 2050s and sugar beet yields have been projected to rise from between 20 and 70 per cent. It is also highly likely that there will be opportunity for new crops to be cultivated, such as blueberries, maize and energy and pharmaceutical crops (currently only grown in small quantities in the UK). However, the projections also show that such yield increases will be vulnerable to likely increases in extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and storms and as such there is a high degree of uncertainty in the projections made.

  • Threats from climate change are more varied and are expected to impact water availability, soil quality, flood risk, and dairy livestock. Heat stress is likely to be a particular issue for dairy livestock; although the impacts on water availability, soil quality and flood risk are expected to have the greatest effects. For example, high-quality horticultural and arable land is expected to flood at least once every three years according to their projections, resulting in an increase from approximately 30,000 ha (2011) to a possible 130,000 ha by the 2080s. Furthermore, water demand from the agricultural sector is expected to increase on average by 110 per cent by the 2080s.

The report notes a number of gaps in the research, including the capacity of rural communities to adapt to climate change and the associated implications for agriculture. Gaps were also noted for the potential impact of climate change on pests and diseases, extreme climate scenarios and livestock capacity to adapt to heat waves and droughts.

The assessment concludes that better investment in technology and land management will be necessary to manage climate change in agriculture, for example the strategic planting of trees to act as wind breaks and changes in crop varieties.

Although the need to manage climate change in agriculture is being addressed at an EU level, with projects like Climate Farmers making information on adaptive farming practice available to farmers via the internet and a greater focus on climate change in the CAP proposals, the UK is one of the few Member States to produce a sector specific risk assessment to date. The UK CCRA is therefore an important development that could be promoted as an example of good practice at the EU level.

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17 Apr 2012