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Impacts of Climate Change

This page sets out an overview of the direct and indirect impacts of climate change.

Direct impacts of climate change

The major direct impacts of climate change on the environment will include:  

Flooding

Increased flooding is the greatest domestic risk from climate change with between 1.7 and 3.6 million people expected to be at risk of recurrent flooding by 2050. Research carried out by the Met Office in 2014 outlined the exceptional nature of storminess, rainfall, and wind in recent years; a trend that will have serious physical and economic consequences.

Coastal change

Currently, 28% of the English and Welsh coastline is experiencing erosion of greater than 10cm per annum. Sea-level rise is also predicted to increase throughout this century and beyond, affecting both coastal and low-lying (below the 1m contour) areas.

Temperature rise

There is an overall trend for increasing global average temperature since the late 19th century; temperatures have risen by just below 1⁰C. Though this might not sound very much, it is worth considering that a global average temperature rise of 2⁰C above preindustrial levels (a not unrealistic rise given current circumstances) has not existed for over 100,000 years.  

Water availability and extreme weather

Predicted changes in seasonal rainfall patterns suggest that whilst heavy winter rainfall may become more frequent, so too might drier summers in some areas. Extreme weather events are also likely to increase in frequency, with ever-increasing risks for the historic environment. Both sudden heavy rainfall as well as the cumulative impact from less intense, but repeated, events can be damaging.  

Biogeography: distribution of animals, plants and pathogens

By 2050, the impact of climate change may be significant for a range of species and habitats, with some expanding their ranges whilst others are lost or reduced.

An aerial photograph of a playing field under water, taken during floods in York in 2012.
Flood water inundation and saturation will damage historic buildings and designed landscapes, particularly if standing water conditions develop. © Historic England, image reference 28338_042

Indirect impacts of climate change

Actions designed to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change are also having an effect on the fabric and/or setting of heritage assets. These actions, which are influenced by people’s attitudes and values include:

Investment and commitment to implement these measures is highly variable, and at a national level is influenced by other factors, predominantly economics. It is hard to predict how trends in low-carbon solutions and environmental adaptation will develop, but we can identify the solutions proposed and examine their potential impact on the historic environment. Historic England’s priority, therefore, is to help owners and caretakers to manage change to their heritage.

A painting of wind turbines in the sea, Great Wall of Ramsgate Seaside Art Project.
Some indirect impacts will alter the character of the historic environment © Historic England image reference DP114404

Sources

Atkins, 2013. Assessment of Heritage at Risk From Environmental Threats. Summary report.

Defra, 2012. UK Climate Change Risk Assessment: Government Report. January 2012.

Defra, 2016. UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report.

Historic England, 2015. Facing the Future: Foresight and the Historic Environment

IPCC, 2014. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. 'Contribution of Working Groups I, II, and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change' [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland.

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