UK estimates climate change adaptation costs

"World first" cost-benefit study concludes action needed to avoid impacts in five key areas

The UK environment ministry today released a study predicting the national costs of adapting to climate change over the next 50 years, claiming it to be the first of its kind in the world. The report concludes that in almost all cases it will be cheaper to invest now to avoid future impacts rather than not to act.

Prepared for the ministry under the UK's draft climate protection programme (ENDS Daily 9 March), the report presents cost-benefit analyses of adapting or not adapting to predicted climate change. It focuses on five key areas where impacts are expected to be highest: flooding, water supply, planning, infrastructure, and natural habitats.

It puts the costs of responding to higher sea levels by strengthening and adapting coastal and river flood defences at UK£1.2bn (euros 716m) over 50 years. Without such action, it predicts that costs would rise to UK£3.8bn over the same period due to a predicted doubling or tripling of flood damage.

To respond to growing freshwater shortages, it concludes that the best option would be to reduce demand through more efficient equipment and changed consumer behaviour rather than by attempting to increase supply.

For buildings and other infrastructure, which are expected to suffer from increased temperatures and weather extremes, it recommends introducing "climate headroom" into design processes. For buildings, the result would be that construction costs could rise by 1-5%, adding up to UK£15bn for new houses in England and Wales and UK£26bn over the entire building stock.

Reacting to serious climate-related threats to one quarter of coastal areas designated for nature protection, the report recommends responses which it calculates could cost up to UK£1.4bn over 30 years. It says it was not possible to put monetary values on the costs of doing nothing.

Turning to planning, the report predicts "major implications" for public spending and costs to business and others. It recommends building potential spending requirements into existing budget processes, spreading investments over the next 30 years and taking climate change into account in all new development.

* In a related development, the environment ministry today unveiled regional surveys of vulnerability to climate change for Scotland, Wales, and the north-west, south-west, and south-east of England. Outlining the results, environment minister Michael Meacher admitted that nuclear power stations in coastal areas had not been included under the scenarios and that this was "a significant problem".

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 20 79 44 30 00 and press release.

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