28th report: Adapting Institutions to Climate Change

30 March 2010: Launch of the RCEP report Adapting Institutions to Climate Change

On the 30th March the Royal Commission launched its 28th report 'Adapting Institutions to Climate Change'.

The Commission chose this topic because it believes there is an urgent need to understand how UK institutions should adapt to climate change and initiate actions to build adaptive capacity. The report explores the challenges facing institutions in adapting to climate change by examining existing institutional arrangements for three exemplar areas: freshwater, biodiversity and nature conservation, and coastal zones.


During the courseof the study over 100 organisations and individuals submitted evidence or provided information on request. The Commission hosted seminars and commissioned reports to inform their study.

The Commission found that many UK institutions are poorly positioned to adapt to climate change and often have not yet started to think about how it will impact on them. Also that there are complex and multilayered governance arrangements in place for many areas which will be impacted by climate change. The process of developing adaptive capacity is complicated and will require difficult choices to be made by governments and society. Much of what will happen cannot be predicted.

The Commission set out a framework of key components which it believes must be considered in order to help organisations build resilience to climate change and hence adaptive capacity. One of the key recommendations is the use of an 'adaptation test' integrated into decision-making frameworks. Additionally, although there is no blueprint for adaptation and responses will need to be specific to local circumstances, the Commission suggest ten pertinent adaptation questions. These can be used by organisations who have not yet begun to think abut what adaptation means for them.

NB. On page 78 of the full report we omitted to reference Alexander Ballard Ltd, who developed PACT in collaboration with Hampshire County Council, we apologise for this error.


Written evidence was received from over 80 organisations. Additionally, the Commission held formal oral evidence sessions with a few key organisations.

Seminars and reports

As part of the evidence gathering phase the Commission ran several seminars and commissioned reports.

Seminars were held in September 2008 in Edinburgh and Reading to provide a forum for active discussion of the institutional capacity of the UK to adapt to climate change, and to use the discussion to inform the direction and areas of detailed enquiry for the RCEP study on Adapting the UK to Climate Change. The seminar in Reading examined the capacity of the UK to adapt to climate change, whilst the seminar held in Edinburgh looked at the same issue, from the perspective of the devolved administrations.

We commissioned a report from the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) on 'Helping to deliver Climate Change Adaptation Through the UK Planning System'. The aim of the report was to understand the powers and duties available through the planning system to enable and deliver adaptation to climate change. In addition the TCPA hosted a workshop in July 2009 between TCPA, the Commission and other parties to discuss the report's findings and identify the high level issues with respect to the planning system and adapting to climate change. The report and a short workshop report are available here for download.

John Gibson, Professor of Marine Law at the University of Cape Town prepared a report for the Commission analysing the legal liabilities for coastal erosion and flooding that will occur in the UK due to climate change and sea level rise. It compares the different principles that govern these issues in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and discusses the legal implication of the Government's current policy for managed realignment of sea defences.

Additionally, two Natural Environment Research Council PhD students joined the secretariat for three month placements and contributed to the study by preparing short reports.



Page last updated: 30 March 2010

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution