Supporting the vulnerable: Challenge 2050

A flooded street with a church in the background

This blog post was written for Cymorth Cymru by David Clubb, ahead of him holding a presentation and workshop on climate change at their annual conference on March 26, 2020.

How about this for irony; those who have contributed least to climate change, stand to suffer the greatest (1). This is as true globally as it is in Wales. 

The countries which prop up the global per-capita greenhouse gas emissions table (2) include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Burundi, Uganda and Somalia. Africa is notable for its exceedingly modest contribution to human-induced climate change, yet stands to suffer greatly from changing weather patterns (3), not least increased average temperatures and changes in precipitation which will increase the challenge of desertification across much of the equatorial region.

As globally, so in the UK. The lowest decile of income produces ⅓ of the greenhouse gas emissions of the top decile (4). Yet those with the lowest incomes typically have much lower resilience to events  which will be far more likely to occur as a result of climate change, such as flooding, wildfires and heatwaves.

So when it comes to mitigating climate change, I refuse to point the finger at those who have done least to cause the problem. Yes, everyone can, and should, play a part in minimising their own carbon impacts. But the heaviest burden should fall on those with the greatest capacity to bear the cost – and on those who have contributed the greatest to the UK’s carbon emissions.

Instead, the focus for those of us with personal and professional interests in supporting the most vulnerable in our society should be on how we can adapt our services in order that we are as well equipped as possible to respond to the inevitable challenges and crises that will arise more frequently in a future defined by a breakdown in climate as we have been privileged to know it.

The Future Generations Act (5) provides us with a useful framework to consider our operations, with both the Well-being Goals and Ways of Working (6) requiring us to take different decisions and produce improved outcomes as a consequence.

To take one example, the ways of working require a long-term, preventative approach. If we combine that approach with the Goals of prosperity and resilience, we can see that they mandate a careful assessment of the risk of flooding to property and other assets over a long period of time – say 2050. With coastal flooding risk increasing significantly (7), it would seem prudent for those providing services to the vulnerable to assess which of their assets will be in an annual flood risk area by 2050, and to make enquiries to Natural Resources Wales, the local authorities and to Welsh Government about any planned improvements to coastal flood defences.

Such service providers would almost certainly benefit from also undertaking an assessment of fluvial and surface water flood risk – activity thrown into sharp relief from the recent devastating floods in the valleys, and more widely across south, mid and north Wales.

And it’s not just the assets of support service organisations that should be considered; what happens if major transport infrastructure routes are disrupted or destroyed? How can support organisations respond to what will inevitably be a large rise in demand for their services in response to an increasingly severe flood risk? 

Yet within the challenges that face the sector lie opportunities to make changes which will provide multiple benefits. Whilst warmer summers will undoubtedly lead to significant problems for many of our most vulnerable, the opportunity to pre-empt the worst impacts by using green infrastructure to provide natural shade and cooling will simultaneously help reduce rainwater run-off, improve mental and physical well-being, and improve habitats in and around property assets.

The organisations which are most likely to thrive in conditions of increasing unpredictability will be those which have adopted a strategic approach to embedding resilience and subsidiarity. So the big questions to be answered by the different levels of governance within organisations which provide services for the vulnerable are:

  • Does the Board have the right strategic approach to preparing staff, property and other for a 2050 which will see much increased disruption from climate-influenced natural events?
  • Does senior management have the right tools to embed a culture of resilience and subsidiarity within the organisation?
  • Do front-line delivery staff have the right training, support and autonomy to enable them to react with confidence and good judgement in situations outside ‘normal’ work conditions

We certainly can’t stop our climate from changing. But we can, and should, think carefully and strategically about how our organisations can play a significant role in making the transition to our new climate reality more sustainable and manageable. We owe no less to those who will depend upon us.

1.     Extreme Carbon Inequality [Internet]. Oxfam International. 2015 [cited 2020 Mar 7].

2.     List of countries by carbon dioxide emissions per capita. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 Mar 7].

3.     Girvetz E, Ramirez-Villegas J, Claessens L, Lamanna C, Navarro-Racines C, Nowak A, et al. Future Climate Projections in Africa: Where Are We Headed?: Investigating the Business of a Productive, Resilient and Low Emission Future. In 2019. p. 15–27.

4.     The distribution of UK household CO2 emissions [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 7].

5.     Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act ’ [Internet]. 2015 anaw 2 Apr 29, 2015 p. 56.

6.     Well-Being of Future Generations – The Essentials [Internet]. Welsh Government; 2015 [cited 2018 Oct 28].

7.     Wales underwater? – Afallen [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 7].