Ingenuity Insight: State of the Nation #2 graphic Climate change in the Covid era 

Elizabeth Smith, Ingenuity Producer

“The UK is facing its biggest economic shock for a generation. Meanwhile, the global crisis of climate change is accelerating. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address these urgent challenges together; it’s there for the taking. The steps that the UK takes to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic can accelerate the transition to a successful and low-carbon economy and improve our climate resilience. Choices that lock in emissions or climate risks are unacceptable.” – Lord Debden, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change.


The Committee on Climate Change have just published their brand-new report on how we can deliver an economic recovery that accelerates our transition to a cleaner, net-zero emissions economy and strengthens the country’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.


As I read and digest their latest advice to Government, and work out what role enterprise and business can take in supporting their goals, the temperatures in my local town soar to 33.3 degrees Celsius, topping the unbearable heat of the previous day, and claiming the title of hottest day of the year. The headlines and forecasts from the Met Office tell me that this long, hot summer is here to stay, and will only get worse.


It seems bizarre that a nation once resigned to complaining about wet summers is now desperate for some cooler weather. However, seeing as the UK’s 10 warmest years have all occurred since 2002, and our national penchant for complaining about the weather, you can see why our hotter summer climates isn’t all we once wished it would be.


There are also far more serious implications related to climate change and our changing weathers. I see my own allotment plot, a half-plot squeezed in between the local tip and primary school, as a microcosm for the impact climate change and warmer temperatures are having on our environment. This year, most of our spring crops have been taken over by blackfly. Barbara, the matriarch of the allotment, and regular winner of the council’s ‘Allotment Plot of the Year’ tells me it’s because we didn’t get as much frost as usual years, and the warmer temperatures aren’t killing off the pests as it has done naturally in the past 35 years she’s been there. For us, an increasing amount of pests on our carrots and beans is frustrating, but at least we have the option, and can afford, to buy vegetables in our local supermarkets if needed.


But if my small allotment plot, nestled in a corner of south London, is a microcosm of how climate change is affecting the UK’s crop yields, what is happening on the much larger scale of the agricultural industry? How are these warmer temperatures affecting the crops of British farmers, and the individuals and communities whose livelihoods depend on high yields and successful crops?


British farmers, having just come out of the driest May on record, and dealing with the coronavirus-caused disruption to our food system, are looking at a 30-40% reduction on their crop yields this harvest. You may not care about corn, wheat or potato yields, but those crop failures translate into families and individuals, already struggling with the financial impact of coronavirus and the impending mass unemployment the virus has triggered, now with a serious loss of income, increased financial vulnerability, and a struggle to provide the basic necessities their family needs.


At the other end of the food system, consumers living on low-incomes or in poverty will also need to grapple with imbalanced supply and demand, leading to higher food prices and the risk of needing to turn to high-cost credit and food banks to access basic necessities.


The global crisis of climate change is accelerating. We have a once-in-a-life opportunity to address these urgent challenges together.
Lord Debden, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change

The impact of climate change on agriculture, our food system and the people and communities affected is just one of the issues that will worsen as climate change progresses and accelerates. As Lord Debden argued in this week’s advice to Government, it is no longer acceptable to continue making choices that lock-in high emissions or climate risks. As we move forward, working towards a recovery from the health, social and economic implications of coronavirus, we need to embed a greener way of living and working into every solution. However, this is not the sole responsibility of Government. As social innovators, actively playing a part in establishing a greener recovery, we must look to the CCC’s advice and work out how we can use enterprise and business as a tool to address their recommendations:


  • Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future
  • Tree planting, peatland restoration and green infrastructure
  • Energy networks must be strengthened
  • Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely
  • Moving towards a circular economy


We all have the ability to innovate and find new adaptations to how we live, work and operate as a society. The ideas we come up with today will ensure that the livelihoods of communities tomorrow can be sustained.
If you would like to collaborate with people in your region and find local solutions for a greener economy, please join us.


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