Does The UK Government Need A Climate Change Reality Check Like Switzerland?

The government is under fire yet again for its inaction over climate change, with a new report finding it was inadequately prepared for the crisis “across the board”.

The news came just as it was revealed that more than 2,000 women are pursuing a lawsuit against the Swiss government over its climate change policy.

Here’s what you need to know.

What did the report find?

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) an independent group of experts meant to offer the government advice over the climate crisis.

Its new report, published on Wednesday, found that the UK has achieved none of the 45 adaptation outcomes the government set out to, with only five having credible plans.

Chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee, Baroness Brown, even said: “The last decade has been a lost decade in terms of preparing for and adapting to the risks – the risks we already have and those that we know are coming.”

It’s worth noting that the Conservatives have been in power since 2010.

She continued: “Whilst we’ve seen some progress in planning for climate change, in fact there is still very little evidence of impact on the ground.”

Brown also condemned the government’s “lack of urgency on climate resilience” while “nature and infrastructure face damaging impacts as climate change takes hold”.

In response, a UK government spokesperson told the BBC: “We have taken decisive action to improve the UK’s climate change resilience – including investing a record £5.2 billion into flood defences.”

Why is this report so important?

In this aerial view Firefighters contain a wildfire that encroached on nearby homes in Sheffield on July 20, 2022 during a heatwave

Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

In the last year alone, the UK has been seriously impacted by changes to the climate the 40C heatwave in the summer led to 1,000 heat-related deaths, and 20% of hospital operations had to be cancelled.

There was major disruption to transport too, suggesting that the country just cannot deal with such extreme temperatures, especially when wildfires, droughts and then flash floods followed.

Even now, after months of cold weather, we’re still impacted by climate change. Unusually warm temperatures left the Alps with so little snow that ski resorts closed, while droughts in Spain meant lower yields from vegetable crops and empty supermarket shelves in the UK.

These climate extremes are only expect to worsen over the decades too, according to the latest shocking report from the UN-backed intergovernmental panel on climate change.

Even if the international goal of net zero carbon emissions is met by 2050, the CCC’s chief executive Chris Stark warned that the climate will continue to warm up for another 30 years.

The UK must prepare for hotter and more unstable conditions – but, as the CCC suggests, we’re nowhere near ready for more extreme temperatures.

And what’s that got to do with Switzerland?

Meanwhile, as frustration at the UK’s inaction grows, more than 2,000 women are taking Switzerland’s government to court over climate change.

This matters because it’s the first time the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will listen to a case about the impact inaction over climate change can have on people’s right to life and health.

The members of the claimants in the self-named Club of Climate Seniors (with an average age of 73) will be putting their own medical records forward as part of their court evidence in their case against the Swiss government.

Their goal is for the ECHR to push Switzerland – where temperatures are rising faster than the global average – to make more effort to reach net zero.

The European Climate and Health Observatory has already noted that projected temperatures are expected to have an especially detrimental impact on the elderly.

It’s found that in just the last two decades, heat-related mortality in those over 65 in Europe has increased by more than 30%.

The Swiss government doesn’t deny that climate change can impact health but said it cannot be clearly linked to the Club of Climate Seniors’ health.

But, if the claimants win their case, it could set a precedent for all of the member states in the ECHR – including the UK.

Is there an international shift coming?

There just might be a significant change on the horizon. The world’s top court, the International Court of Justice, is about to be asked to decide on a country’s obligation to fight climate change, after students in Fiji suggested the idea back in 2019.

The Fiji islands have been especially affected by the change climate, which only strengthen the case.

Although the UN has to approve the request, it is expected to succeed because around 120 countries back it.

The legal opinion of the ICJ is non-binding but could then help build climate court cases everywhere.

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