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Is climate change happening?

There is widespread scientific and governmental consensus that some degree of climate change is due to the levels of greenhouse gas emissions that have already accumulated in the atmosphere from both ‘man-made’ and natural processes.

We are already experiencing changes to our climate today – particularly with occurrences of extreme weather events such as heatwaves and storms. Climate change is both a global and local issue. It will affect the lives of millions of people around the world, as well as in Hertfordshire, in terms of access to water, food production, health and climate related disasters, such as flooding and drought.

Climate change mitigation is the action to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases as a means of slowing the rate of ‘man-made’ climate change. However, it is now widely believed that our climate is significantly changing. We therefore need to ensure that communities are prepared for, and able to adapt to, the impacts of these changes.

Climate change adaptation is viewed as changes to our behaviour or practices to take into account and adjust to the risks and impacts of climate change. Adaptation may seek to take advantage of, or avoid the threat from, climate change impacts. 

What is the policy agenda?

The Climate Change Act 2008 is a key driver at the national and local level for action on climate change. It introduces the following two legal obligations:

  1. A rolling 5 year programme of national climate change risk assessments, with the first published in 2012. This is a responsibility for central government.
  2. The adaptation reporting power places an obligation on certain public sector bodies and statutory providers to report directly to the Secretary of State on their assessment of climate risk and their proposals to respond.

The current national strategy for climate change is presented in the UK low carbon transition plan which was published in July 2009 by the UK Government. The report sets out a five point plan to tackle climate change and plan for future adaptation.

The key planning policy guidance which addresses climate change adaptation in the built environment is the "Supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1: Planning and Climate Change". This was published in December 2007. It identifies planning as having a key role in tackling climate change and sets out how local planning can best support and bring forward adaptation options.

In March 2010, a consultation on a draft "Planning Policy Statement: Planning for a Low Carbon Future in a Changing Climate" was published. The draft document sets out a planning framework for securing planning strategies that help delivers adaptation, and to plan for climate change that is now inevitable. The draft planning policy statement consolidates and updates the existing planning policy statements on climate change (PPS1 cupplement) and renewable energy (PPS22). 

The county and St Albans city and district councils have carried out a strategic climate change risk assessment for their respective authorities to assess the potential risks and opportunities posed by climatic change to their functions. The authorities have developed a number of climate change strategies for its key departments and the services they provide.