International threats and opportunities of climate change for the UK

As part of the Government’s National Adaptation Programme, we undertook an assessment of the impacts of climate change overseas on UK trade and investment, food, health and well-being, energy, and foreign policy. Our report found that climate change overseas could have impacts on the UK, greater than that from climate change at home. This is based on a medium emissions scenario consistent with 2°C warming.

The main threats identified were:

  • damages to physical and financial assets from extreme weather
  • increased frequency and urgency of humanitarian assistance
  • increased volatility in food prices; political or policy reactions affecting availability of food supplies, and
  • increased demand for UK Government services by overseas territories and citizens abroad.

The main potential opportunities were: increased potential to export UK adaptation goods and services; reduced shipping costs from Arctic opening; and greater international diplomatic cooperation.

Discussing the report with key experts highlighted the need for greater cooperation between the public and private sectors to understand and respond to international climate impacts. A message which reinforced the study’s findings. Other key recommendations included the need to:

  • consider domestic and international threats and opportunities together as there are linkages between them
  • develop indicators and monitoring systems in order to better assess and track changes
  • improve strategic planning and understanding of supply chains, and
  • to do work to understand systemic risk and resilience.

We derived our findings by looking at the coincidence of UK interests, projected climate impacts and resilience to climate change in order to map potential ‘hot spots’ and identify priority countries. And we developed a series of indicators to assess a range of interests, using the criteria from the UK’s national Climate Change Risk Assessment in order to quantify potential threats and opportunities.

Whilst progress has been made in many countries, including the UK, to understand the impact of climate change within national borders, little progress has been made to understand the international dimensions. And yet in an increasingly inter-connected world, it is more important than ever that governments, businesses and other organisations understand and are able to adapt to changes in other countries. Our study is a high level assessment but nonetheless provides a framework for analysis that businesses, governments and other organisations can use to assess their own threats and opportunities.

Although the report was commissioned to improve understanding of climate impacts the findings reinforce the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as the global costs of doing so are expected to be significantly less than the costs of inaction.