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What's the national adaptation plan?

Find out what climate adaptation is, whether the UK is prepared for climate change, and why we're taking government to court over its national adaptation plan.
  Published:  23 Nov 2023    |      Last updated:  18 Jun 2024    |      4 minute read

What's the UK's adaptation plan?

Every 5 years, the government is required to produce a National Adaptation Programme, setting out how it aims to protect against existing and predicted climate impacts. It published its most recent plan in July 2023, but we think it’s seriously inadequate, so we’re taking the government to court. 

Alongside our co-claimants Kevin Jordan and Doug Paulley, we'll present our case to the High Court via a judicial review on 23-24 July 2024 (this was due to take place on 18-19 June but has been adjourned). We’re arguing that the plan is unlawful under the Climate Change Act 2008, while Mr Jordan and Mr Paulley are alleging that it breaches their human rights to life, home, possessions and freedom from discrimination. 

My home and others like it don’t fall under the government’s narrow definition of a ‘standard property’ deemed worthy of saving... Our village and coastal community has been met with almost no meaningful support.

Kevin Jordan

Portrait of Kevin Jordan standing by the sea
Kevin Jordan in Hembsy, Norfolk, where his home has been demolished
Credit: Steph Beeston/ Kevin Jordan

Our case will hold government’s feet to the fire over its inaction. We hope it will lead to a robust new plan that helps safeguard people, especially those most at risk, as well as property and infrastructure from the consequences of a rapidly warming planet.

Read our legal briefing for more information.

Why’s climate adaptation important?

Climate change has many dangerous impacts such as extreme heat, flooding, droughts and wildfires. Climate adaptation is about putting plans and actions in place to deal with these impacts.

Common examples of climate adaptation methods include:

The Thames Barrier is a famous example of flood defences, closing when needed to protect London against high tides and storm surges. 

A line of silver flood defence barriers on the River Thames
Thames Barrier
Credit: Chris Mansfield via Getty Images

So, why’s climate adaptation important? Because the climate crisis is already wreaking havoc around the world, and its impacts, for example on people’s health and food security, are only getting worse. The UK’s scorching summer of 2022 resulted in 2,803 excess deaths due to extreme heat, with that July being the hottest on record, reaching a high of 40.3°C. Meanwhile in Sri Lanka, drought since May 2023 has obliterated the country’s rice harvest, potentially destroying up to 75,000 acres of rice fields. 

What’s more, it’s often the most vulnerable people who are worst affected. For example, older people, young children and those with health conditions may struggle more with extreme temperatures. Similarly, poorer communities, such as UK coastal areas experiencing economic decline or poorer islands in the Global South like the Solomon Islands, have fewer financial resources to recover from flooding. 

Climate adaptation versus climate mitigation

While adaptation is about protecting against climate impacts, mitigation is about preventing them in the first place. This means cutting emissions, for example by switching to renewable energy, prioritising public transport over cars, and reducing the amount we consume. But industries like transport and aviation aren't making the cuts to emissions so urgently needed, and the UK government is ramping up its focus on oil and gas instead of ditching fossil fuels once and for all. 

Is the UK prepared for climate change?

According to the Climate Change Committee (the government’s own climate advisers), the UK is “strikingly unprepared”. You need only look at recent weather events to see what they mean. In October 2023 Storm Babet tragically claimed 7 lives, while hundreds of homes were evacuated and tens of thousands lost power. 

People across the country are facing a perilous future. In Norfolk, Kevin Jordan’s seaside home had to be demolished in December 2023 due to coastal erosion. Part of the nearby road had already collapsed, and many other homes in the area have also been swept away or demolished. Kevin has had to move into emergency accommodation and has received no compensation. 

A group of people stand on a beach holding signs calling for the coastline to be protected
Save Hemsby Coastline group
Credit: Friends of the Earth

Meanwhile in West Yorkshire, care home resident and disability rights activist Doug Paulley is struggling with heatwaves due to long-term health conditions and has to stay indoors during high temperatures.

Extreme heat is just one example of how the most marginalised communities are disproportionately threatened by climate change.

Doug Paulley

While some in government may try to blame “rain coming from the other way,” our lack of climate resilience is actually due to decades of inaction from politicians and business leaders. Successive governments have fallen foul of short-termism, passing the buck for climate action onto future decision-makers. According to public opinion research, the government's response to extreme weather events is “too little, too late”. 

Politicians are also propping up the fossil fuel industry and other polluters such as airlines with public funds and tax breaks, despite these sectors locking us into climate breakdown. The UK is already spending £24 billion a year on climate damages, and this is projected to rise to £73 billion by 2100. But the cost, whether financial or societal, isn’t felt by those causing the harm, who reap massive profits while sacrificing a safe and stable climate for everyone else.  

How should the UK adapt to climate change?

We need urgent, bold and inclusive action to adapt to the climate crisis and protect vulnerable communities. Key solutions include:

  • Homes. The UK’s housing stock requires major retrofits to make homes warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, protecting those at risk of fuel poverty and overheating. We’re calling for a government-funded, street-by-street insulation programme. New homes also need to be built away from flood plains.
  • Water. The UK needs to spend £1 billion a year on flood defences by 2025. To protect against drought, water companies need to fix leaks and government needs to incentivise householders to adopt more water-saving measures and behaviours, which could save homes up to 40 litres a day on average.
  • Farming. We need more diverse agriculture systems, ones which can grow resilient crops as well as support nature and wildlife. These provide important co-benefits like protecting against soil erosion and floods, and absorbing carbon emissions. 
A field with rows of newly planted trees protected by green tree tubes
Credit: A-Shropshire-Lad via Getty Images
  • Nature. We need abundant and interconnected nature everywhere so that species can adapt, for example through more accessible food sources. We also need to double tree cover, particularly in cities where they provide much-needed urban cooling.
  • Infrastructure and services. We need to invest in resilient infrastructure and services, for example transport, councils and the NHS, so that they can withstand increased demand and are readily available to all, especially those most reliant on them.  
  • International action. Given our wealth and historic emissions, the UK must do its fair share to support climate adaptation around the world. We need to provide developing countries with far greater financial support. 

Most of all, we need to do our bit to prevent the climate crisis in the first place, by cutting emissions and building a greener, fairer future.