Climate change adaption
Climate change adaptation is “the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects.”
All communities globally will need to adapt at some level to cope with the challenges posed by the changing climate. We will also need to work hard to ensure that global ecosystems are able to adapt successfully to changes which, in terms of global ecology, are taking place extremely rapidly. The UK Government’s Committee on Climate Change publishes a climate change risk report every five years which provides information on the issues that the country is likely to face.
It is important to think about our exposure to climate change risks in how we look after our homes, businesses, and local countryside. We are fortunate in Chesterfield that we are not directly exposed to the risks that come from rising sea-levels, but we can expect to see an increase in the number and severity of droughts, floods, gales, and heatwaves. We also need to recognise that we may be exposed to a range of indirect effects in terms of the availability and cost of some foods, goods, and services as other world regions are likely to face more extreme challenges than us. At current rates of change, we can expect these effects to get more severe over the coming decades.
Adaptation measures are less well documented in the UK, but many other communities around the world already experience weather conditions that are more extreme than ours and have found ways to manage. Where helpful, we have included links to international information as well as that supplied by UK agencies, to give an indication of the sorts of things we can do to prepare.
Find out more about the UK’s exposure to climate risks.
Adaptation vs response
There is a difference between adaptation measures which reduce our vulnerability to climate risks and emergency response measures which help us to deal with the risks when they become reality. We have listed some things you can do to identify key risks, and prepare locally, but you should bear in mind that these are not intended to be substitutes for advice in specific emergency situations.
What can we do?
The risk of droughts, floods, gales, and heatwaves will increase over time, and we should build resilience into our buildings and open spaces now. There are some things you can do now to help reduce the potential impacts.
To handle droughts, we need to maximise the efficiency of water use, so we don’t waste what we have. Many systems already exist to save water, and we can learn from countries which are more arid than ours. Some ideas include:
Prevent and fix leaks. While most of us do not have any plumbing leaks in our homes, the water mains network loses a significant amount of water every day to leakage. If you see leaks, report them to your water company.
Use water saving measures such as tap aerators, cistern bags, and efficient appliances. These will help reduce your bills and also work towards climate change mitigation. Many of these are free and can be easily requested online.
Use a water butt to store water for the garden or washing the car. If every house in Chesterfield Borough was using a full-size water butt, we would be able to store about an hour and a quarter’s worth of average flow from the river Rother. There is more information on using rainwater for gardening on the RHS website and more information available online about general rainwater management. In larger buildings you could consider implementing rainwater storage devices for flushing toilets, which will also save money on water bills.
Lose the hose. Hoses are a well-known inefficient use of water. If you want to water the garden, why not look at drip irrigation, or plant more drought tolerant plants? To increase the water retention capacity of your soil, add more organic material as detailed in this helpful guide . To make a garden more friendly for wildlife, you could add a pond. The RHS has produced a guide on how to manage garden spaces in a changing climate.
Plant trees. Trees reduce the amount of evaporation from the land by casting shade and dropping leaves, they also store carbon, which helps our mitigation efforts.
You can check whether you’re in an area that is at risk of flooding on the Government’s flood warning information service website. It is good to check this even if you’re a long way from a watercourse, because it includes flooding from both surface water, and rivers.
Things you can do to reduce the risk of flooding include:
Avoid paving your garden. Surfaces which do not allow rain to soak into the ground increase the amount of runoff and increase the risk of flash flooding . Instead of paving, consider using a permeable aggregate or a grass reinforcement grid.
Drainage isn’t always the best response to flooding, but it has been the standard response for many years. Blocked drains can lead to unpredictable consequences in particularly heavy rainfall. You can report blocked drains using the form on the Derbyshire County Council website.
Tree canopies reduce the rate at which water drains from the land, so they can slow the effects of intense rain. Trees have also been planted for many years to cope with areas with a high water-table. If you can’t plant trees, you could try building a rain garden. There are guides on how to do this available from the RHS, and raingardens.info.
A wide range of building-level flood defences are now available. These include sealable air bricks and systems designed to seal doorways and other potential entry points for water. The HomeOwners Alliance have developed a guide for flood-proofing homes.
Water butts are great for storing water during a drought, but they can also store a proportion of heavy rain reducing the amount of water drains have to cope with, if there’s a long period of wet weather, you can leave the tap open slightly to allow the butt to drain, while storing the water for longer, which gives drainage systems more time to cope with the excess.
Bare soil is particularly at risk of eroding during floods. We can alter land management practices to store more water, and reduce risk of soil erosion, as well as slowing runoff and reducing the risk of severe floods. If you have a lawn, consider mowing less frequently, which will also reduce the impact of droughts on the grass. Increasing the amount of vegetation or mulch between plants has a similar effect. Further information on reducing the effect of flooding is available from the RHS.
If you are putting in a new shed or garden office, why not consider installing a green roof? There’s a guide on how to do it published by Slow the Flow. Green roofs can also help provide additional wildlife habitat and manage high temperatures in the structure during heatwaves.
We are used to gales in the UK, but we may see an increase in frequency and intensity of storms. Other countries regularly experience much worse conditions than we see here and have produced good guidance on how to prepare:
Proactively assess risk to properties. Since we expect the frequency of high winds to increase, you may find that you need to take action more promptly on repairs than you have in the past.
Increases in droughts and the spread of a range of tree pests and diseases is likely to result in large numbers of standing dead trees over the coming years. Dead or dying trees are particularly vulnerable to gales, and you may find that they need to be felled for safety reasons. The Government have developed a guide on tree health.
Trees can provide valuable windbreaks in exposed areas, and you may decide to plant more to shelter structures or your garden. The Forestry Commission have published guidance on using trees for shelter.
Secure loose objects. High winds frequently cause damage by flinging debris and garden objects around. This may be something as simple as a bin, sandpit lid, or fence panel. While you might not need to take action on this straight away, it may have an impact on how you choose to make any changes to your garden going forward.
It is becoming clearer that the summer temperatures we can expect over the coming years include a greater number of more intense heatwaves than we have been previously used to. These can have a severe impact on health, particularly in the very young and in the elderly. Cooling is typically categorised as passive and active depending on whether additional energy is required.
Passive cooling is principally about casting shade, evaporative cooling and increasing thermal mass. This can be designed into new buildings or retrofitted to existing structures . Alternatively, trees, shrubs, and green walls or roofs can also provide a number of these functions, and planting for shade may become more important as the climate changes.
Active cooling includes a range of different options which require energy to run, this essentially includes air conditioning technologies and fans. It is already widespread among offices and shops in the UK but may become more attractive to domestic uses as summer temperatures rise. It is possible for these technologies to be profoundly unsustainable leading to emissions of either CO2 (if the electricity used to run the unit is not sustainably sourced) or emissions caused by leaking refrigerants.
As a general principle, you should only look at active solutions if passive solutions are not possible, and if you are powering them with green electricity.
Wildlife everywhere is in decline. This is caused by a combination of climate change, pollution, habitat loss, over exploitation and fragmentation of ecosystems. We all depend on the natural world for our health and wellbeing, and we should all be doing what we can to help the natural world. Key actions include:
Managing your own space and garden in an environmentally friendly way. This may be the introduction of plant species which benefit wildlife, avoiding pesticide and herbicide use, installing of nesting or roosting space, or a digging a pond.
Avoid using peat-based composts, these result in habitat loss from bogs where they are sourced, and emit carbon, which would otherwise have been stored indefinitely
Locally, we are likely to lose a number of large ash trees to die-back (Hymenoscyphus Fraxineus) we should be thinking about what could replace these trees in the landscape (sycamore is often a good candidate) to make sure that we don’t lose habitat function as well.
We need to make sure that wildlife can access existing and new habitat, joining habitat to make wider networks is valuable and may be as simple as leaving small areas or verges to grow wild for part of the year.
There are plenty of environmental organisations which can offer detailed advice on this, including the wildlife trust, woodland trust, and RSPB.