How might climate change impact on the UK?

Just as the weather and the effect it has on the natural environment and society varies across the country, the impacts of climate change will vary from place to place, business to business and organisation to organisation. There will be both positive and negative impacts on nearly every aspect of our economy, society and natural environment.

The UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) has undertaken a series of regional studies for each part of the UK, and identified a range of possible future impacts5.

The most widely anticipated impacts that UKCIP has identified are:

  • an increase in the risk of flooding and erosion;
  • greater pressure on drainage systems;
  • water supply shortages;
  • increased water demand;
  • increased summer cooling demands;
  • significant changes in weather paths affecting consumption and transport;
  • international supply chain effects on impacts and exports;
  • loss of many important habitats for wildlife;
  • summer water shortages and low stream flows;
  • increased risk of subsidence (in areas where subsidence is already a problem);
  • increased demand for summer cooling;
  • buildings becoming uncomfortably hot;
  • a range of health issues.


These impacts are very high level and the impacts at an organisational level will vary considerably depending on the organisation, its activities and location, dependencies on other systems affected by climate change, and planning timescales.

Why is it important that organisations adapt?

This chapter outlines the evidence that is available to reporting authorities on future climate, an explanation of the impacts of climate change, and a definition and benefits of adapting to climate change impacts.

The Earth's climate is changing. Rising global temperatures will bring increased temperatures, changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather across the globe.

We need to avoid making the problem worse, so mitigating climate change is a priority. But cutting greenhouse gas emissions now will not have any effect on the climate system for the next 30-40 years due to the time lag in the climate system. Additionally we already face some inevitable changes due to past emissions. All of us - individuals, businesses, Government and public authorities - will need to adapt our plans and behaviour to respond to the challenges of climate change.

Changing our plans and behaviour to respond to the impacts of climate change is known as 'adaptation'. Adapting to climate change should involve making decisions that are sustainable, made at the right time, which maximise the benefits and opportunities, and that minimise the potential costs that a changing climate presents.

Adaptation needs to be built into planning and business risk management now to build resilience and to ensure the continued and improved success of businesses, Government policies, and social and environmental operations.