Local councils are losing momentum in preparing to protect vulnerable people from the effects of climate change, a new report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) warns at a seminar today with the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), asking: 'Can England adapt to climate change?'.
Socially just adaption to climate change, written by a team from SQW and the University of Leeds, found that local authorities are only just beginning to consider vulnerable communities and involve them in their climate change adaptation plans.
Of 35 adaptation plans identified and reviewed in 2011, there was large variation in content, detail and progress made by local authorities. Social vulnerability was not a priority for most, and where this was identified the report found the focus was more on places vulnerable to climate change, rather than people.
There were many examples of work to build capacity, but less direct action to adapt to climate change: where plans were in place these tended to focus on water and drain management, reflecting flooding concerns.
Dr Hugh Ellis, TCPA Chief Planner, said: "Adaptation is as much about securing the welfare of our communities as it is about tackling climate change. Extreme weather events such as the floods and droughts experienced in the UK are set to increase.
"Local authorities have a responsibility to protect their people, property, and resources. The findings of this JRF report are extremely important in highlighting the need to consider people as well as places in our responses to tackling climate change."
According to the report, there was a lack of priority given to working with vulnerable communities to help them prepare, respond to and recover from the impacts of climate change, such as flooding and heat waves.
The report urges the Government to help set the agenda to ensure social justice is considered in climate change adaptation through its National Adaptation Programme. JRF is also asking Whitehall to ensure vulnerable households at high risk of flooding have access to affordable insurance in wake of the uncertainty over this policy area from 2013. It follows the report this week by the Committee on Climate Change’s Adaptation Sub-Committee, which called on the Government to ensure we are prepared for flooding and droughts.
Katharine Knox, Programme Manager for Place at JRF, said: "The recent floods highlight the vulnerability of key groups such as older people and newcomers to an area (such as residents who have recently moved or holidaymakers with young children). With flooding only likely to increase due to climate change we need to ensure vulnerable people are protected through preventative work at a local level and in responding to extreme weather.
"Climate change adaptation policies are not a statutory requirement and scarce resources mean this issue is being given less priority in some local authorities. But planning for the long-run and acting now means there is potential for town halls to make savings, while protecting those who need help the most."
The report identifies a number of new mechanisms that local authorities could use to help implement and resource socially just adaption policies, including Local Nature Partnerships, neighbourhood planning and the Community Infrastructure Levy. The transfer of health responsibilities to councils also provides an opportunity to bring health and wellbeing concerns centre stage, while Local Enterprise Partnerships may provide a route to support economic development that addresses climate change.
Rachel Brisley, co-author of the report, said: "Adapting to climate change must go beyond dealing with the immediate perils of bad weather - long-term strategies are needed. Identifying vulnerable communities will help councils draw up the tailored responses which are vital to dealing with climate change.
"Sharing information, working with partners (such as health, housing and civil society groups), and joint planning are among the ways councils can prepare despite the squeeze on public spending. This should help to embed socially just adaptation across all services and build resilient communities which are well-prepared and can cope with climate change."