England receives climate change warning: 'Adapt or die'

A dire report released Wednesday by the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency warns that the ravages of climate change have already begun and will force the country to quickly adapt.

“It is adapt or die,” Emma Howard Boyd, the head of the agency, said in a statement. “While mitigation might save the planet, it is adaptation, preparing for climate shocks, that will save millions of lives.”

Rising global temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions are already triggering more severe drought and deadly flash flooding, the report says, and would result in sea level rise in coming decades that will threaten cities like London.

By the 2050s, the report states, sea level will rise by as much as 9 inches in London. Three decades later it will have risen by nearly 18 inches there, resulting in widespread, regular flooding.

Titled “Living Better With a Changing Climate,” the report, mandated by the British government, focuses on how the country will need to adapt to the impacts of global warming. With global carbon emissions continuing to reach new highs, the report does not downplay its grim findings or understate the importance of the forthcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

“Limiting carbon emissions is the most effective way to combat climate change, but while mitigation might save the planet, it is adaptation, preparing for climate shocks, that will save millions of lives,” the report states. “Choosing one over the other on the basis of a simple either/or calculation is like telling a bird it only needs one wing to fly, yet adaptation is in danger of being grievously undercooked at COP26.”

A girl cycles through flood waters in Stratford Upon-Avon, central England, July 21, 2007. Torrential rain caused flash floods and brought transport chaos, the Highways Agency said on Saturday. As many as 2,000 people had to be taken to emergency centres in the Cotswolds, one of England's most picturesque regions.    REUTERS/Darren Staples  (BRITAIN)
A girl cycles through floodwaters in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in 2007. (Darren Staples/Reuters)

The overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that the Glasgow conference represents the last best chance for securing commitments from world governments to try to keep global temperature rise from crossing the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold.

“Unfortunately, global land temperatures have already risen by about 1.1°C, and further increase is inevitable due to the carbon emissions of the past. Temperatures will soon be teetering on the edge of +1.5°C, which is the most optimistic international goal, with +2°C in sight,” the Environment Agency report states, adding, “As we look ahead to the COP26 summit in Glasgow later this year, we can be sure that this is the last chance to keep global temperature rise close to 1.5°C or even 2°C.”

On our current emissions trajectory, the world is on course to hit 3°C, the report states. Since carbon atoms remain in the atmosphere for roughly 100 years, humankind is baking in temperature rise for decades to come, whatever steps world leaders at Glasgow may agree to enact. With those facts in mind, the report urges England to begin planning how to adapt to a climate change future.

“The Environment Agency is calling for much stronger focus on adaptation from everyone, starting now,” it states. “We want to ensure no group is left behind by climate change in line with the government’s leveling up commitments. Adaptation is still in the country’s gift but time is desperately short.”


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