Adaption as vital as mitigation, says Environment Agency

The Environment Agency has warned that the climate emergency can only be successfully tackled through greater focus on adapting to the inevitable climate impacts that we are already seeing.

With COP26 less than three weeks away, the agency has welcomed the government’s focus on adaptation as well as mitigation, and the fact that climate adaptation is one of the Summit’s four key goals, but urged that more action is needed at a global level to protect the billions of lives and livelihoods that are at risk.

In a report to government ministers, the agency has warned of more extreme weather leading to increased flooding and drought, sea level rises of up to 78cm by the 2080s, and public water supplies needing more than 3.4 billion extra litres of water per day by 2050. It has urged governments, businesses and society to embrace and invest in adaptation, rather than living with the costs of inaction.

The report also sets out five climate ‘reality checks’ to make the case for urgent action on adaptation. This includes helping communities learn to live with risk, minimise damage, and return to normal life quickly, as well as the need for a strategic approach to water management and faster progress on improvements.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “The climate crisis is global, but its impacts are in your village, your shop, your home. Adaptation action needs to be integral to government, businesses and communities too and people will soon question why it isn’t – especially when it is much cheaper to invest early in climate resilience than to live with the costs of inaction.

“While mitigation might save the planet, it is adaptation, preparing for climate shocks, that will save millions of lives. Choosing one over the other on the basis of a simple either/or calculation is like telling a bird it only needs one wing to fly. With that in mind, it is deeply worrying that adaptation is in danger of being grievously undercooked at COP26. Not by the UK government, but by the world at large.

“Significant climate impacts are inevitable. We can successfully tackle the climate emergency if we do the right things, but we are running out of time to implement effective adaptation measures. Our thinking must change faster than the climate. Some 200 people died in this summer’s flooding in Germany. That will happen in this country sooner or later, however high we build our flood defences, unless we also make the places where we live, work and travel resilient to the effects of the more violent weather the climate emergency is bringing. It is adapt or die. With the right approach we can be safer and more prosperous. So let’s prepare, act and survive.”

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