Guest blog: How will climate change impact Wales in the future?

The Future Trends Report 2021 will feature ‘Planetary Health and Limits’ as a key driver of change for Wales’ well-being. Within this, climate change has become an independent driver of changes to our economy, society and environment, exacerbating existing risks. We are therefore pleased that our first guest blog is written by Miriam Kennedy, Senior Analyst at the Climate Change Committee, on how climate change will impact Wales’ future.

In June 2021, the Climate Change Committee published its 3rd Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk (CCRA3), a comprehensive assessment of the priority risks and opportunities facing the UK from climate change. The report draws on an extensive programme of analysis, consultation and consideration by the Committee involving over 450 people, 130 organisations and more than 1,500 pages of evidence and analysis, compiled over three years.

How is the climate changing in Wales?

Climate change is already happening. Available evidence indicates summers in Wales are getting hotter with peak temperatures of 31°C in 2019, rainfall patterns are changing, and sea levels are rising – 16cm rise already since 1901.

These trends are projected to continue. Annual temperatures in Wales are expected to rise approximately 1.2°C by the 2050s and between 1.3 and 2.3°C by the 2080s (from a 1981-2000 baseline). More extreme heatwave events are likely to become increasingly prevalent as a result. Summer rainfall is expected to decrease by approximately 15% by the 2050s and winter rainfall is expected to increase by approximately 6% by the 2050s. This will likely lead to an increase in flooding of infrastructure, businesses and homes in the winter and potential water scarcity in the summer.

Sea level is expected to rise by between approximately 22 and 28cm by the 2050s which could lead to saltwater intrusion of agricultural land and flooding of coastal communities.

What are the key risks for Wales?

Out of 61 risks and opportunities identified in the Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk, the report found more action is needed immediately in Wales to address 32 of them (the full national summary for Wales is available on the UK Climate Risk website here). The assessment also shows that the risks in Wales have increased over time, with the urgency score for 26 risks increasing since the previous risk assessment in 2017.

Risks in Wales that were given the highest urgency score include:

  • The impacts of climate change on the natural environment, including terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine species, forests and agriculture.
  • An increase in the range, quantities and consequences of pests, pathogens and invasive species, negatively affecting terrestrial, freshwater and marine priority habitats species, forestry and agriculture.
  • The risk of climate change impacts, especially more frequent flooding and coastal erosion, causing damage to our infrastructure services, including energy, transport, water and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
  • The impact of extreme temperatures, high winds and lightning on the transport network.
  • The impact of increasing high temperatures on people’s health and wellbeing.
  • Increased severity and frequency of flooding of homes, communities and businesses.
  • The impact on coastal businesses due to sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion.
  • Disruption to the delivery of health and social care services due to a greater frequency of extreme weather.
  • Damage to cultural heritage assets as a result of temperature, precipitation, groundwater and landscape changes.
  • Impacts internationally that may affect the UK, such as risks to food availability, safety and security, risks to international law and governance from climate change that will affect the UK, international trade routes, public health and the multiplication of risks across systems and geographies.

Many of these risks also threaten the UK, but some of them will play out differently in Wales.

For example, there are over 2,000 coal tips in Wales, predominately in the South Wales Valleys, of which 294 have been identified as a high risk to transport and other infrastructure. In early 2021, there was severe flooding in the village of Skewen, following Storm Christoph, from a mine shaft which filled up with water and burst.

Wales also benefits from a significant coastline, but this also means more people living in Wales are exposed to coastal flooding and erosion. The risk to the viability of coastal communities rises to high in Wales by the end of the century, above the levels seen in other parts of the UK. 

Should we focus on reducing emissions to prevent further climate change?

Yes, it’s important that Wales works to achieve Net Zero emissions as soon as possible. Earlier this year the Government of Wales committed to doing this by 2050, based on the CCC’s advice.

Unfortunately, some future climate change is already unavoidable, and Wales will need to adapt to climate change alongside reducing its emissions. However, the latest Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk shows that the gap between adaptation actions and the growing climate risks, has widened. This in turn threatens Wales’ efforts to reach Net Zero, for example, if infrastructure services are not resilient to future climate change, newly electrified homes will be vulnerable to power outages.

There’s an important upside to remember here as well. Many adaptation actions offer co-benefits outside of climate change. For example, increasing urban green space will help with cooling in built up areas and provide access to nature and recreation spaces for residents. And there’s growing evidence of economic benefits too, with some adaptation measures providing benefits which outweigh the costs by five times.

Adapting to climate change can therefore drive a more sustainable, greener, cleaner society by bringing people together to create better places, through urban and rural green infrastructure; improved air quality; locally managed nature-based solutions; less wastage of resources; and citizen science and engagement in building community resilience.

The Welsh Government has recognised the need to take action to prepare for climate change in publishing Prosperity for all: A Climate conscious Wales in 2019, its five-year plan to adapt to climate change impacts. The Government has also said it will review this plan, in light of the evidence from the CCC’s assessment of UK climate risk, which is a positive and welcome response.

Under the Well-being of Future Generations Act, the Welsh Government is also considering climate change issues. Taken together, these steps can help to ensure a greener, more resilient future for the people of Wales.

The Shaping Wales’ Future consultation is live! Click here for more details.

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