Following the end of the G7 meeting on 11-13 June 2021 with upbeat declarations of action to tackle the effects of climate change, a more sombre message was revealed with the publication of the evidence report of the third UK Climate Risk Independent Assessment (or CCRA3, formerly called the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment) on 16 June. Under the Climate Change Act, this assessment of the risks and opportunities that the UK faces from climate change is required every five years. It forms the basis of the government’s risk assessment which, in turn, underpins the National Adaptation Programme. Sixty-one risks and opportunities have been identified in the report, fundamental to every aspect of life in the UK: our natural environment, our health, our homes, the infrastructure on which we rely, the economy. (See also our Knowledge Hub if you are a member of Resilience First.)

A widening gap

The 142-page report makes stark reading in part. The executive summary states: ‘Alarmingly, [this] new evidence shows that the gap between the level of risk we face and the level of adaptation underway has widened. Adaptation action has failed to keep pace with the worsening reality of climate risk. The UK has the capacity and the resources to respond effectively to these risks, yet it has not done so. Acting now will be cheaper than waiting to deal with the consequences. Government must lead that action.’ Appropriate actions ‘must be considered in the next set of National Adaptation Plans due from 2023’.

As the 50-page whitepaper published by Resilience First on 22 June identifies, technology has a major role to play in addressing climate change and achieving net-zero targets. The paper makes three recommendations: (i) more investment is made in innovation to drive technologies that will help speed up carbon-emission reductions; (ii) more investment is directed at job upskilling and employment transition; and (iii) more cross-silo working is encouraged, both top down and bottom up, in order to deploy faster, more resilient and more universal technological solutions. The paper is available here.

The value of technology

Looking at pathways by which the world can reach net zero by 2050, the International Energy Authority believes that a lot of what is needed in the short term could be achieved with existing technologies. Certainly, the deployment of renewable technologies, for instance, has been a remarkable success by the standards of the past: installed solar capacity in 2019 was almost 15 times higher than in 2010. However, the rate of change is still behind what is required to achieve net-zero targets. Over the next decade, urgent research and development to create new tools must take place alongside current technologies if we are to respond to the challenge set by the likes CCRA3.

This will not be easy for several reasons. One concerns the demand for key components as well as their supply chains. Batteries require lithium, turbines require copper, and electric vehicles (EVs) require cobalt, all minerals mined in unstable regions: more than 70% of cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example. Furthermore, by the second half of this decade the world’s lithium demand is expected to be twice the level of supply. Another concern is the scale and robustness of the power networks to distribute electricity generated (from dispersed and intermittent renewable sources) to centres of demand, down to sufficient EV charging points in the street. Last but not least, many emerging technologies are not cheap and can come with high capital costs.

Hence, it is not just a case of finding and deploying technologies: it is also about having the ability to install, connect and then distribute the power they can generate. The Resilience First whitepaper looks at how various sectors are overcoming the issues by utilising technologies in the areas of adaptation, renewable, energy efficiency and carbon capture. This story has a long way to run in tackling the climate emergency we all face.