Differential Social Impacts of
Climate Change in the UK
BACKGROUND TO THE RESEARCH
The Stern Review highlighted that ‘the impacts of climate
change are not evenly distributed – the poorest countries and
people will suffer earliest and most’. Evidence shows
that not only are the poorest people often more exposed to
specific climate change impacts, they are also more vulnerable to those
impacts, and find it harder to recover when they occur. Climate change
will widen existing inequalities, globally and locally, unless social
impacts are actively addressed across the range of adaptation1
and mitigation2 measures.
To inform UK climate change adaptation responses, the Scotland and
Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER)
commissioned CAG Consultants to identify how climate change affects
different people within the UK, and how adaptation measures should
consider social impacts to help build the capacity of vulnerable groups
to adapt to climate change.
Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustment in natural or human
systems in response to actual or expected changes in the
climate or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial
opportunities (IPCC, 2007).
2 Mitigation is an anthropogenic intervention to reduce the sources or enhance
the sinks of greenhouse gases (IPCC, 2007).
OBJECTIVES FOR THE
The specific objectives of the research were to:
The research involved a literature review to identify the differential
social impacts of climate change, analysis, a workshop and research
into adaptation responses.
- identify the social impacts in the UK which are forecast to
increase under climate change projections;
- identify the differential impacts, for example, based on
exposure and sensitivity and the capacity to adapt; and
- identify adaptation measures that will need to consider
these differential social impacts.
KEY FINDINGS AND
The climate is changing and is expected to result in warmer
temperatures, with hotter, drier summers, milder and wetter winters,
more extreme weather events, such as heat waves, and rising sea levels.
Different parts of the four regions of the UK are likely to be affected
differently, and more detailed UK Climate Projections will provide
smaller-scale data projections and insight into localised climatic
Changes in the weather, and more extreme conditions, such as heat
waves, heavy rainfall, flooding and storms will have significant social
impacts on UK society. In particular, climate change will affect
physical, as well as mental health and wider quality of life. It will
also affect people’s access to, and the quality of, basic
goods and services such as water, shelter and food, as well as other
key priorities for human wellbeing such as education, employment and
crime, therefore worsening social deprivation.
The people who are likely to be most vulnerable to the impacts of
climate change are those:
Deprivation often increases vulnerability to climate change, and
climate change increases deprivation.
- living in places at risk;
- people who are already deprived by the health, level of
income, the quality of their homes and mobility; as well as
- people who lack awareness of the risks of climate change,
the capacity to adapt, and who are less well supported by family,
friends and agencies.
Action is needed at all levels: international, national, within
devolved administrations and within regions; at a local level by
councils and local agencies; but also at a community level, through
voluntary and community groups, and with individuals.
There are two distinct ways to consider the differential social impacts
of climate change – existing climate change adaptation
measures should be tailored to the needs of vulnerable people; and work
building the capacity of vulnerable people should consider the impacts
of climate change.
This final project report identifies three types of strategic
adaptation responses: (i) policy, (ii) management and operational, and
(ii) community-led adaptation. It concludes that action is
needed at 3 levels within the UK: nationally and regionally (e.g. by
government, agencies, regional bodies etc.), locally (including by
local authorities), and, most importantly, by and with
communities. The Social
Vulnerability to Climate Change Adaptation Framework sets
out the adaptation measures that might be adopted to address specific
social impacts of climate change, such as the impacts on health, crime
or access to water and the natural environment, with a focus on
The report finds that climate change adaptation policy within the UK
recognises the social justice implications of climate change but offers
little in terms of action. There is a myriad of mechanisms and tools
which can be used to examine the differential social impacts of climate
change within policy and practice. Sector-specific plans, such as in
the health sector, are starting to consider these issues but more work
is needed to ensure that adaptation responses involve, engage, empower
and ultimately build the adaptive capacity of vulnerable people.
The report identifies a number of gaps for further exploration and
action. In particular, more work is needed to understand the impact of
global climate change on immigration to the UK and greater focus is
needed to promote community-led adaptation.
In line with the principles of the UK Adaptation Programme, socially
responsive climate change adaptation policy needs to be delivered
within the context of sustainable
development; action should be proportionate, and integrated with
climate change mitigation; and involve collaboration with
the people who are most vulnerable to climate change.
Key words: climate change, social impacts, differential, exposure,
Outputs from the Project:
Workshop Annex: Details of small group sessions
are available from the Foundation in electronic format on CDRom at
£20.00 + VAT or hard copy set at £50.00,
less 20% to FWR members
The reports are available for download from the SNIFFER Website