UK built environment is woefully under-prepared for climate change

New analysis published by UKGBC during the COP28 talks concludes that the UK’s built environment is severely under-equipped to adapt to our changing climate.New analysis published by UKGBC during the COP28 talks concludes that the UK’s built environment is severely under-equipped to adapt to our changing climate. On five out of seven critical climate resilience priorities, UKGBC’s scorecard finds that the Government policies in its Third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3) are insufficient, flawed, or missing, placing millions of homes and buildings – and the lives of people occupying them – at serious risk of damage from climate-related disaster.

The scorecard analyses policies affecting both existing buildings and new builds and their adaptation to the most serious climate risks including water scarcity, overheating, flooding, and coastal erosion, awarding each a rating of green (progress in line with UKGBC recommendations) amber (positive or partial but insufficient progress) or red (failing to deliver or actively hindering progress). No areas received a green rating, indicating that the UK built environment is not sufficiently adapted to the present and future risks posed by any of the threats assessed by UKGBC.

The full UKGBC scorecard can be downloaded here. UKGBC’s analysis follows the most recent assessment of risks the UK faces from climate-related hazards by the Climate Change Committee, in which over 60% were given the highest urgency score. Modelling has found that over 500,000 residential and commercial properties in the UK could be at high risk by 2050. UKGBC’s Climate Resilience Roadmap project, launched earlier this year, will set metrics to help measure climate resilience, establish urgent priorities and industry-wide targets, as well as pinpoint essential actions and policies to achieve them.

Key findings from the analysis include:

  • Without a credible, robust, fully-funded retrofit programme, the Government is failing to adapt buildings to much more frequent and severe overheating and address critical gaps in technical skills, industry delivery, and public understanding of risks and mitigation
  • Current efforts to manage overheating rely on mechanical ventilation and cooling, which fuels energy demand and puts the UK’s net zero goals in jeopardy
  • The UK lacks consistent standards and certification relating to the full range of flood risk management
  • There is a lack of resources dedicated to driving public or shared infrastructure for critical adaptation solutions, such as nature-based flood strategies, at scale across the UK

Alongside the policy gaps is a catastrophic financial shortfall, according to the UKGBC. The UK’s Climate Change Committee estimates that a well-adapted UK will require nearly. £700 billion of investment by 2030, yet with no dedicated Government fund to address climate resilience and no clarity about how a range of complex, smaller initiatives will contribute, it appears that considerably less than half of the CCC’s total is currently committed.

UKGBC’s detailed assessment follows the National Audit Office’s report which concluded that the Government is underprepared for extreme weather and lacks an effective strategy for investing in resilience.

Launching the scorecard, Hannah Giddings, Head of Resilience & Nature at UKGBC said: “Our analysis reveals dangerously slow progress on adapting the UK to the new normal of more extreme and frequent disasters caused by our rapidly changing climate. The vast majority of critical policies needed to face the most severe climate threats are stalled or delayed exactly when they should be expanding and accelerating. While the Government has delayed critical policies like Biodiversity Net Gain and shrunk its ambition on net zero, the financing gap for climate adaptation has stretched to a chasm of hundreds of billions needed to manage serious floods, heat waves, and storms that are becoming routinely more devastating every year.

“The issues we’ve examined in this scorecard are a small dimension of a much larger and starker picture. UKGBC’s Resilience Roadmap will be the first comprehensive pathway to a climate-resilient future that will shine a light on how our built environment can drive the systemic change needed to prevent devastating impact on investment, public health, infrastructure and wellbeing caused by climate hazards. As the world’s climate leaders work to focus minds on these issues at COP28, we urge the UK Government to bring forward ambitious plans and policies to adapt our built environment that would enable us to lead by example and pioneer a path to a climate resilient built environment.”

Emma Hoskyn, UK Head of Sustainability at JLL said: “UKGBC has provided an excellent assessment of the Government’s Third National Adaptation Programme. Once again it highlights the need for an extensive and comprehensive programme of retrofit that addresses water efficiency, overheating and adaptation, as well as energy efficiency. We welcome this approach and our recent report launched this week at COP28 The Commercial Case for making Buildings more Sustainable supports this; citing the need for investing in resilience alongside decarbonisation as a priority to ensure longer-term commercial resilience.

“Clearer, consistent policy is also needed to provide businesses with the stable environment that will drive investment into resilience, alongside decarbonisation, as a priority to ensure long-term performance. Our work with UKGBC through the Resilience & Nature Programme, alongside our own research, aims to highlight the need for climate adaptation and ensure UK businesses and buildings are ready for a changing climate.”