Our changing climate will have impacts and consequences for people, organisations and wildlife.
Some impacts will happen gradually over time, for example sea level rise and the movement of ecosystems in response to increasing temperatures. Other impacts will be responses to extreme events, for example heavy rainfall causing flooding of communities, or infrastructure damage during a bad storm.
Flooding and coastal erosion
In 2004, the Foresight programme suggested that the risk of river flooding is likely to increase by four to six times over present levels by the 2080s, largely as a result of increases in rainfall.
This equates to an increase in flood frequency from once in a hundred years to once in 15 to 25 years. More recent work for the Defra and Environment Agency Long Term Investment Strategy suggests that flood risks could be greater than that.
Sea level rise will increase coastal flooding and erosion. Current projections indicate that the coastal floodplains of the south east and east coast are most likely to experience an increase in flooding. Other areas, such as North Norfolk, South Wales and along the outer Humber Estuary, also face significant increases.
Water resources and water quality
- The combination of increasing changes in seasonal rainfall (wetter winters and drier summers) and higher temperatures are expected to lead to changes in river flows. By the 2050s, changes in summer river flows are likely to range from a 20 per cent increase through to an 80 percent decrease.
- Groundwater levels show a general reduction which will be greatest further away from river valleys.
These impacts may affect the availability of water for use by industry, agriculture and public water supply, while plants and animals that depend on river and groundwater to maintain their habitats will also be affected.
- Water quality is likely to be affected by reduced river flows during the summer months.
- Increased water temperatures in rivers, estuaries and lakes could lead to higher concentrations of pollution and the growth of algal blooms.
- Animals and plants that depend on cool conditions will decline as the environment warms.
- Invasive non-native species may increase, competing with native breeds and leading to significant changes in the character of our rivers and streams, with loss of some important groups.
- In agriculture, plants and livestock species may become less suited to the local climate and therefore less productive.
- Domestic gardens and parkland will see a change in the mix of viable species of trees and plants.
Health and wellbeing
- Warmer temperatures may bring benefits in terms of UK tourism and leisure.
- Cold weather related deaths may decrease as temperatures warm.
- More frequent summer heatwaves will have significant implications for people’s health, particularly young children, the elderly and those with heart, respiratory and serious underlying health problems.
A hotter and drier climate will cause some soils, particularly clay, to shrink leading to increased subsidence affecting buildings, roads and other infrastructure.
In 2012, the Government published the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) − a review of evidence for the potential impacts of a changing climate in the UK.
- The CCRA reviewed evidence for over 700 potential impacts.
- Detailed analysis was undertaken for 100 of these impacts across 11 key sectors, on the basis of their: likelihood, scale of their potential consequences and the urgency with which action may be needed.
Impacts by region
We expect climate change impacts to vary from region to region across the UK.
This is due to:
- the landscape and physical features
- the way in which land is used
- the distribution of businesses and critical infrastructure
- the varying level of population and its demographic.
Regional differences in the natural environment will also mean that the local impact of a changing climate on plants, animals and habitats will vary.
Assessments of the local impacts of climate change have been made by each of the administrative regions in England, available through the Climate UK website.
The nine Climate Change Partnerships across England have produced information packs to highlight the key risks and opportunities for each area. The information comes from the Government’s Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) combined with local evidence.