Most of the attention on the latest Met Office report on the UK climate, in light of the recent extreme heatwave, is likely to be on the temperatures. The conclusion is that the “UK has warmed at a broadly consistent but slightly higher rate than the observed change in global mean temperature”. We can all understand that – after the weather we’ve just had. But it is important the government adopts a systems approach to our rapidly changing climate and looks beyond the headline into the depths of the report.
The report also shows an unseasonal outbreak of frost in April – “the highest on record” – the second-wettest May on record since 1836, and unprecedented bursts of rainfall:
“Two rain-gauges in Cumbria recorded daily totals exceeding 200 mm during some exceptionally wet weather across northern England and southern Scotland in late October. There has been a marked increase in such observations in recent years.”
Imminent threats call for urgent systemic change
That means our human and physical infrastructure needs to be strengthened, with resilience at the forefront of every government decision.
That’s a huge challenge, with the levels of poverty, the terrible quality of our housing stock, and the age and fragility of our transport systems. We start with a heavily privatised society, heavily indebted water companies, and a chaotic energy retail sector – all directed towards profit, not public service.
I’ve stood on many a demonstration chanting “system change not climate change”, but we also need huge systemic changes to deliver climate resilience.
Promoting resilience over growth and vision over chaos
We keep hearing the word ‘growth’ as an endlessly repeated mantra, from both the Conservatives and the Labour Party. Nadhim Zahawi tells Tory party members selecting our next prime minister that Liz Truss will “turbocharge growth” and Rishi Sunak is going to fund tax cuts through economic growth.
Yet with Greens in power what you’d be hearing with similar frequency is ‘resilience’, ensure security and stability in people’s lives – the ground beneath their feet, the food supply they depend on.
That would be wrapped in systems thinking driven by a vision for the future, rather than departmental silos being jerked in different directions by regularly shuffled ministers reacting to the political imperative of the day.
The National Drought Group should be meeting regularly and planning for the droughts we know will be coming in five, ten and 20 years’ time, working out what water management systems we need, what crops we need, mapping out what building regulations will be fit for the future, for droughts and floods and everything in between.
Our society is profoundly fragile and kneejerk reactions to each crisis that arises, whether it is drought or hunger or labour shortages, fail to address the underlying issues.
Allowing corporate profits to soar – be it for water companies, or oil and gas companies – while they fail to invest in essential infrastructure demonstrates that we cannot afford the current model of privatisation and financialisation.
Government must move faster to ensure sustainable land use
The House of Lords was ahead of the government in setting up a land use select committee (credit to Labour’s Baroness Young of Old Scone for driving that forward), and the government has now, belatedly, acknowledged that it needs to have what it is calling a land use framework that was due for publication about now, but has been delayed by Boris Johnson’s resignation.
England needs to follow Scotland and Wales in ensuring that serious, joined up thought and planning ensures this scant resource is used sustainably for the many social, environmental and economic demands we need to meet.
Many campaign groups are doing the work the government needs to draw on – I’d single out the Sustainable Food Trust report Feeding Britain from the Land Up as just one example – but only government leadership can take us in a direction that conserves our water, air and soils.
It is particularly disappointing that after my amendment making soils a priority area in the now Environment Act (joining air and water), it was knocked out by the government in the Commons. The quality of our soils is of course absolutely crucial in the prevention of both droughts, flooding, and of course, food security at this critical time.
As the realities of the climate emergency become glaringly apparent, the necessity to secure a sustainable environmental roadmap regarding land use – one that is grounded in adaptive resilience and propelled by deeper systemic change – has never been more critical. And far better, faster decision-making on environmental support for farmers has never been more critical.