The future of climate services: informing security and prosperity

COP26 is fast approaching where the eyes of the world will be on the UK’s actions to build climate resilience, reach net-zero, and coordinate action on local and national scales. Climate services will be vital to delivering this agenda: they provide decision-ready information about current and emergent climate risk that can be integrated directly into decisions to inform adaptation and mitigation. Better climate services will translate into enhanced security and prosperity, providing UK businesses with the ability to take advantage of new opportunities, and to realise the benefits of government investment in research.

Showcasing deep cross-government collaboration, a new Met Office led SPF UKCR project aimed at developing a national framework for climate services for the UK is bringing together users from multiple sectors and disciplines. This includes public and private providers, who are working to identify and fill gaps in current and future climate service capabilities. This innovative work seemed like a perfect fit for a session at Civil Service Live on 16-17 June, the annual conference for the UK’s civil servants which aims to educate, engage and empower the civil service to be the best it can be.

A session entitled ‘The future of climate services: informing security and prosperity’ was delivered providing an opportunity to raise the profile of current work underway in the UK to explore the need for enhanced national coordination and give the broader Civil Service the chance to put forward their views on the future of climate service deliver in the UK.

The session involved a cross-sectoral panel of experts to respond to audience questions. Delegates were able to view a live stream of the session through the Civil Service Live streaming platform, with Lucy Dang of the Ministry of Defence acting as Chair. Professor Stephen Belcher, the Met Office’s Chief of Science and Technology, kicked off the session with an overview of current initiatives providing climate services across both the UK and internationally. This overview demonstrated the breadth and variety of efforts to better integrate information about natural hazards and climate risk into decision making. Sarah Honour, Deputy Director and Head of Climate Science at BEIS, spoke about the skills the civil service needs to deliver a sustainable and resilient transition to net zero. James Richardson, Chief Economist at the National Infrastructure Commission, spoke about bringing together government, business, and academia to deliver climate services that provide value for money and are accessible to users and the public. Professor Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts at the University of Newcastle, described current and future priorities for strengthening decision-making and policy-making in the UK. A recording of the session is available to view here.

Positive polling

More than 1,100 delegates signed up to take part in the session, an indication of the level of interest in climate change across the civil service. The session was aimed at all parts of the civil service with a role in improving climate resilience and managing risk from policy level to local action, as well as external partners. Delegates were made aware of current cross-government action under way to enhance the UK’s climate resilience, a unique opportunity to hear about the civil service’s plans for the future of climate services. The success of the session was reflected not just in the large registration numbers, but also in the post-event polling, with more than three-quarters of delegates responding that they ‘felt inspired’ and would ‘do something differently’ as result of attending this session’.

Delegates also contributed to the discussion through submitting questions for the panel, as well as participating in online polling. Delegates were asked what they thought was the most important factor needed to become a resilient low carbon society; equal importance was given to both ‘helping governments and businesses prepare for climate change’ and ‘communicating climate science to non-experts’, indicating there is still an ongoing and pressing need for knowledge exchange and translation services. Delegates were also polled on their priorities to improve the use of climate information in adaptation and resilience planning, with ‘advances in the technology’ the clear front-runner, followed by ‘enhanced end-to-end-services’ and ‘more knowledge sharing’.

After much hard work and a few hiccups along the way, the session came together and was a real success. Getting leading experts together in one room – even virtually – was a real achievement.

Louise Wilson, Principal Investigator, Improving Climate Services (Met Office)

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Last updated June 2020

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