UK wildfires and their climate challenges: Expert Led Report Prepared for the third Climate Change Risk Assessment

Claire Belcher, Iain Brown, Gareth Clay, Stefan Doerr, Andy Elliott, Rob Gazzard, Nicholas Kettridge, James Morison, Matthew Perry, Cristina Santin, Thomas Smith

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


Climate change is recognised as a defining issue for the future of the planet and humanity, requiring co-ordinated actions both internationally and nationally. The UK is distinctive amongst nations in having formalised a statutory framework for climate change action (Climate Change Act, 2008). In addition to providing the basis for greenhouse gas reductions (climate change mitigation), this framework places an obligation on the UK government to conduct a Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every 5 years in order to inform climate change adaptation planning through risk management. The cycle has now reached the 3rd CCRA with previous CCRA evidence reports having identified wildfire risk as an important cross-cutting issue but also identifying gaps in knowledge which may be impeding action. In terms of urgency of action, the CCRA2 evidence report therefore categorised wildfire risk under ‘Sustain Current Actions’, but recognised knowledge limitations in making this assessment. The UK Government Adaptation Programme therefore followed this recommendation.
The CCRA takes place alongside other government risk management processes. Emergency and contingency planning has usually had a focus on identifying near-term threats to UK security as formalised through the national risk register and its link to local planning. In addition, the Climate Change Act (2008) included provisions for an Adaptation Reporting Powers (ARP) component through which key agencies, businesses and other organisations would report on their progress on adaptation risk management. This was originally required as mandatory for a series of essential services and businesses but after CCRA the procedure was made a voluntary opt-in process. The evolving dimensions of these governance arrangements and also the co-ordination between national policy and actions at local level or by other stakeholders therefore remain a key issue for adaptation risk management.
With the 3rd UK CCRA now underway it was identified that a more comprehensive assessment of wildfire risk was required, engaging a wide range of scientific expertise to assess current knowledge and the role of current procedures in managing risk. This recognised that considerable new knowledge was available, not just in the UK but with the prospect of learning from broader international research activities and lessons learnt from countries that have, so far, experienced more severe wildfire impacts.
The aim of this CCRA report is to assess the magnitude of present and future wildfire risk in the context of climate change (including both direct and indirect climate relationships), together with the response to that risk in terms of adaptive risk management (i.e., recognising that risk is dynamic and that this can affect residual risk). If necessary and if supported by evidence, additional actions to reduce the residual risk may be investigated and potentially recommended. By defining wildfire risk as ‘cross-cutting’, the CCRA has recognised that although traditionally associated with sectors of the natural environment, the risk also has implications for people, buildings, infrastructure, and businesses, and therefore crosses the rural-urban interface.
In the following sections, we firstly identify how ‘wildfire’ is defined in the UK and outline its relationship to the natural environment and climate. Then we assess evidence for changes in current wildfire risk in the UK and how this may change in the future (directly or indirectly), including how climate change may interact with other socioeconomic drivers. This information is then used to contextualise current wildfire policy and actions in the UK, providing a basis to consider where further actions may be beneficial in reducing residual risk.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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