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Adapt to climate change


Introduction: What is climate change?

Weather is the day-to-day conditions of a particular place. For example, it was raining today at school; yesterday it was sunny at home.

Climate is often spoken about at the same time as weather, but it is something quite different. The climate is the average weather conditions at a particular place over a long period of time (usually at least 30 years).

‘Climate change’ refers to the changes in the Earth’s average temperature over a very long period of time, typically decades to millions of years.

The Earth’s climate has always changed in response to natural causes; it can get colder or warmer. However, the climate has been changing rapidly since the early 1900s, according to the majority of scientists this time caused mainly by human activity.

There are two ways of dealing with a changing climate: mitigation and adaptation.

What is mitigation?

Mitigation is about taking action to address the root causes of climate change by reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Each of our services is taking action to reduce the amount of carbon they produce.

Find out about reducing carbon emissions.

What is adaptation?

Adaptation is any activity that reduces the impact of a changing climate.  Whether we call it business planning, being resilient, fit for the future, or plain common sense, all our services are becoming more adaptable.

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Why do we need it?

The effects of a changing climate can be seen in the UK and around the world. UK temperatures, including those of British coastal waters, have already risen. Globally, extreme weather is predicted to become more common and to have a negative impact on people, animals, and plants.

In West Sussex, the projections are that we will see a 3-degree increase in summer temperatures, almost 25% less rain in summer, an increase in the kind of flash flooding that we have seen in 2011 and 2012, and a rise in sea level of around 21cm.

By adapting our services we can make sure that:

  • the services we provide to our communities will be less disrupted by extreme weather;
  • we will avoid or reduce the financial costs associated with restoring business operations;
  • we can reduce the risks to our customers and reputation;
  • services will be prepared and will suffer fewer interruptions and/or less significant impacts from extreme weather events;
  • we can identify opportunities that could arise as a result of a changing climate.


Risk assessments

Between 1998 and 2008, 172 significant weather events were recorded in West Sussex. The Local Climate Impact Profile recorded 1297 weather-related incidents, ranging from the effects of flooding on our road networks, to fires exacerbated by high summer temperatures. The estimated direct and indirect costs of these incidents is over £26 million, not including the cost of man hours spent responding to these incidents.

The County Council is used to planning for emergencies. All our services have a business continuity plan that can be put into action at very short notice if necessary. We tend to think of these events as one-offs, but they are likely to become the norm and extreme weather events become even more extreme. This is likely to affect some of our most vulnerable residents, the very young and the elderly are particularly at risk from rising temperatures. The large numbers of people who live along the coastal strip will be affected by sea-level rise and flooding.

We have been working with all our Services, helping them to understand how future severe weather events might affect the way they do their work and also how the nature of their work might change.

Some of the actions we can take to make sure we can continue to provide services to the people who need them also mean that we produce less carbon, for example using technology better so we don’t have to travel unnecessarily.

An update on how we are adapting to a changing climate is available under Supporting documents.

Supporting documents

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The risk of flooding is an important issue across West Sussex, with around 28,000 properties at risk. The coastline of the county is generally low lying and many of our towns and villages are located near rivers. As a result, we are vulnerable to flooding both from the sea, and also from the county’s rivers following heavy rainfall.

Due to climate change, the risk of flooding will increase as sea levels rise, winter rainfall increases, and flash storms become more frequent. This means that more people will be at risk more often. Flood protection measures are in place in many areas across the county, however the risk of flooding cannot be completely eliminated, nor can flood damage be entirely prevented.

As the lead Local Flood Authority, we have a vital role to play in shaping how our local community can adapt to climate change, in particular to the increased threat of floods.

By 2014 we will have developed a Local Flood Risk Management Strategy.

Find out more about the Council’s role in strategic flood risk management.

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