This is the post consultation Climate Adaptation Strategy of the Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Climate Impacts Group – it details the risks the region might face in future as climate change increasingly affects the UK and identifies how we can adapt to these changes.
The Devon, Cornwall, and Isles of Scilly (DCIoS) Climate Impacts Group (CIG), currently chaired by the Environment Agency, was formed in 2019 by the DCIoS Local Resilience Forum in response to declarations of climate emergency across the three areas.
The climate emergency requires a dual approach:
- Climate Change Mitigation: Actions to reduce the region’s contribution to climate change (i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and offset remaining emissions through carbon sequestration and storage.
- Climate Change Adaptation: Actions to become more resilient to the changing climate by anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to reducing the risk from its impacts (e.g. sea level rise, heatwaves, flooding, drought etc.).
Further detail on key terms and their definitions can be found in Appendix 1 – Glossary of terms. This report focuses on the adaptation element of the climate emergency only. Information on the DCIoS region’s response to mitigation can be found in the relevant county-level plans: the Devon Carbon Plan (Devon Climate Emergency, 2022), the Cornwall Climate Change Plan (Cornwall Council, 2019), and the Isles of Scilly Climate Change Action Plan (Council of the Isles of Scilly, 2022).
Climate is the description of average weather over a long period. Future projections of climate throughout the 21st century are presented in Section 1.5. The projections show that average and extreme weather can be expected to continue changing as time progresses. Changes to the climate will continue to occur even if the world stopped emitting greenhouse gases immediately due to the time lag between emissions occurring and the atmosphere reacting to them.
Critical infrastructure (e.g. transport networks, telecoms, and sea defences), community assets (e.g. schools, hospitals, green spaces), homes, the environment, businesses and public services are all sensitive to weather and climate. Therefore climate change will directly affect the resilience of communities and the environment, demand for services, economic productivity, and infrastructure maintenance costs.
- Taking a proactive approach to adapt to climate change will result in many benefits, which could create a fairer, healthier, more resilient and prosperous society now and into the future.
The DCIoS CIG commissioned the preparation of this strategic-level Adaptation Strategy (“DCIoS Climate Adaptation Strategy”), led by RSK Group (including subsidiaries ADAS and WRc) and co-developed with the CIG. It comprises of three sections:
- A Climate Change Risk and Opportunity Assessment (CCRA) for Devon, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly (“DCIoS Climate Change Risk Register”).
- A Strategic Adaptation Plan, which sets out the conditions for everyone to act on adapting to climate change together (“Adaptation Plan”).
- An Action Plan, which sets out the priority actions for regional collaboration over the next five years (“Action Plan”).
It focuses on climate impacts which require, or which would benefit from, regional collaboration. Due to the place-based and context specific nature of climate risk and opportunities, it is not the purpose of this Adaptation Strategy to plan the detail of how individual areas and communities should adapt. Instead, such detailed plans will be captured under county-level risk assessments and adaptation plans, for example the Cornwall Climate Risk Assessment (Cornwall Council, 2022) and the Isles of Scilly Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan (Council of the Isles of Scilly, pending publication). In addition, community or local/parish level adaptation plans are likely to be developed – some communities already have these for specific issues, such as the Slapton Line in South Devon.
The CIG recognises that it has an important role in supporting others to develop their own adaptation plans at a range of scales, from sectoral to household level. The Adaptation Strategy is intended to inform a programme of regional interventions to adapt to climate change, as well as catalysing place-based, grassroots, and organisational action on climate adaptation. It does not intend to replicate or replace county-level CCRAs or adaptation plans.
Whilst the DCIoS CIG and local authorities will play an influential role in preparing the community and other stakeholders for the changes ahead, success will require a collaborative approach involving government departments and agencies, transport and utility providers, organisations, local businesses, communities, and individuals to develop and build the adaptation actions needed in each sector.
The DCIoS region is made up of three areas: Devon (comprising the areas administered by Torbay Council, Plymouth City Council and Devon County Council), Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly, shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Location of Devon, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly within the United Kingdom. Source: ADAS using ArcGIS® software by Esri.
Geography: Devon is the largest county within the DCIoS region covering a land area of 6,707 square kilometres (km2) (Devon County Council, n.d.). The county has two coastlines, to the north and south, which have a total length of 819 km (British Geological Society (BGS), 2022). Cornwall has the second largest area (3,563 km2) (Historic Cornwall, n.d.) and a coastline which is 1086 km (BGS, 2022). The Isles of Scilly lie 45 km southwest of Cornwall. Over 200 islands sit within the Isles of Scilly archipelago, but only five of these are inhabited (Natural England, n.d.). The inhabited islands (St Mary’s, St Agnes, St Martin’s, Tresco, and Bryher), cover a total area of approximately 16 km2 (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2016) and are very low lying, sitting on average 17 metres (m) above sea level with a maximum elevation of 51m and a minimum of -0.2m (Natural England, 2010).
Population: The total population is approximately 1,788,000, of which Devon has the largest population at 1,215,600, followed by Cornwall with 570,300 (ONS, 2022a) and the Isles of Scilly with around 2,100 in 2021 (ONS, 2022b). In 2021 the median age of residents in the DCIoS region was 48 years, notably higher than the median age in England and Wales of 40 years (ONS, 2022a). Across the region over a quarter (25.8%) of the population were aged over 65 years, a higher proportion than the average of 18.6% across England and Wales, and this age group is projected to grow as a proportion of total population. The Isles of Scilly has a particularly high proportion of elderly people with a median age of 50 years and 28.2% of the population aged over 65 years. Similarly, there are more retirees in Devon (23.2%), Cornwall (28.8%) and the Isles of Scilly (26.7%) than the average in England and Wales of 21.6% (ONS, 2022a).
The census classifies households in England and Wales by dimensions of deprivation, based on employment, education, health and disability and housing quality and occupancy1. Overall, 51.7% of households in England and Wales in 2021 were deprived in at least one of the four dimensions (ONS, 2022a). There are fewer deprived households in the DCIoS region than the national average; 35% of households in Devon were deprived in at least one dimension in 2021, 39% in Cornwall and 34% in the Isles of Scilly (ONS, 2022a).
Land use: Agriculture is the primary land use. In Devon 77% of the land area is farmed, 74% in Cornwall and 69% in the Isles of Scilly (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), 2016). Grassland for sheep and cattle is the predominant agricultural use on the mainland, which covered 77% and 72% of the agricultural land in Devon and Cornwall respectively (Defra, 2016). The remaining area is largely used to grow cereals, energy crops, arable crops and fruit and vegetables. Horticulture is the dominant sector on the Isles of Scilly, historically a leading producer of narcissus in the cut flower industry. Island production is varied including cut flowers, market gardening, herbs, salads, honey, poultry, and cattle (Council of the Isles of Scilly, 2004). Despite the variety of goods produced, 87% of agricultural land in the Isles of Scilly is grassland (Defra, 2016). As well as defining the region’s landscape, agriculture is a key income source, with a total income from farming of £125 million in Devon in 2020 and £281 million in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (Defra, 2020).
The DCIoS region has a number of protected landscapes, including two National Parks in Devon (Dartmoor and Exmoor) and seven Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). The Cornwall AONB is made up of 12 separate geographical areas and covers approximately 27% of the County (The National Association Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 2023). Thirty-five percent of Devon’s land area is within Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks and five AONBs. There are also two World Heritage Sites (the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape and Jurassic Coast) as well as the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and Exmoor’s International Dark Skies Reserve. Whilst the Isles of Scilly are the smallest designated AONB in the UK, the islands boast diverse scenery. These valued landscapes are important for the communities living and working there, but also key attractions for the millions of visitors who come each year. They also play an important role in climate adaptation.
Employment: In Devon, 2% of people are unemployed, in Cornwall 2.2%, and in the Isles of Scilly 0.8%, so unemployment is lower in the DCIoS region than the average 3.4% of people unemployed across England and Wales (ONS, 2022a).
Business: In 2022 there were just under 50,000 enterprises in Devon and just over 25,000 in Cornwall (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), 2022). Business size reflected those found in the rest of the United Kingdom (UK) with almost all (99.75%) businesses in Devon and Cornwall registered as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs; typically defined as businesses which employ fewer than 250 employees) in 2022. All 200 businesses on the Isles of Scilly are classified as SMEs.
Industry: ‘Professional, scientific, and technical’ activities is the leading industry group in the DCIoS region, encompassing 20% of enterprises (BEIS, 2022). This group includes scientific research and development, legal, accounting, architecture, and engineering. Key industry groups are also: retail; agriculture, forestry, and fishing; and accommodation and food services. Businesses operating in these groups represent 17%, 16% and 14%, respectively (BEIS, 2022). Industry distribution differs slightly on the Isles of Scilly; 22.5% of enterprises work within the accommodation and food services sector and 20% within agriculture, forestry, and fishing (BEIS, 2022).
Transport: The region hosts just 24 miles of motorway, all of which are in Devon. Devon has the largest road network in England with 8,953 miles of roads, whilst Cornwall has over 4,500 miles of roads (Department for Transport (DfT), 2022). The road infrastructure on the Isles of Scilly is minimal, comprising of 21 miles (DfT, 2022). The region is served by two rail lines from London which converge at Exeter to continue to Penzance. This includes a number of challenging sections of route such as the sea wall at Dawlish which affects all services to Torbay, Plymouth and Cornwall (Devon County Council, 2011). Other Cornish lines such as Looe and the branch from Par to Newquay are also vulnerable to flooding. There is no rail infrastructure on the islands. Ports and harbours are important to the economy of the region. Plymouth’s Millbay docks are the 7th largest passenger port in England, providing services to France and Spain and because half of the passenger traffic originates from outside Devon, the ferry is very dependent on the A38 (Devon County Council, 2011). Millbay is also a cargo port in Cornwall, Falmouth Docks is the largest harbour. Penzance ferry port links the mainland to the Isles of Scilly. On the islands, transport is largely by car, bike, on foot or by boat. St Mary’s, the largest island, is home to St Mary’s Harbour in Hugh Town, the main ferry terminal for visitors to the islands in the summer. Air travel is also a primary transport route to and from the islands, with Skybus taking passengers between St Mary’s Airport (also known as Isles of Scilly Airport) and the mainland: Land’s End Airport, Newquay airport, and Exeter Airport (Isles of Scilly Travel, n.d.) . As well as the larger transport infrastructure there are many footpaths and multiple cycleways across Devon and Cornwall that are promoted by the local authorities to support active travel around the region.
The impacts of climate change and associated hazards (e.g. heatwaves, floods, and droughts) present direct threats to physical and mental health and indirect threats through impacts on the building blocks of health, i.e. food, housing, employment, transport, green space. There is broad consensus that climate change increases health inequalities. The extent to which people’s health is vulnerable to the effects of climate change is dependent upon three factors: their exposure to climate health hazards (such as flooding or extreme heat or novel diseases), their sensitivity to those hazards, and their adaptive capacity to cope with the consequences. In addition, places (e.g. rural, urban or coastal) have distinct vulnerabilities and vulnerable populations. Some groups more likely to include vulnerable people are: the elderly, young people, those with health conditions and disabilities, low-income groups, communities facing deprivation, and minority communities. There are also many other groups including visitors and new students, homeless and migrant populations, single-pensioner households, those living in caravans or temporary structures etc. Though people within these communities may also provide resilience and support to others.
Elderly: The elderly are more vulnerable to flooding and heatwaves than other age groups. The reasons for this include (Climate Just, n.d.a):
- Their sensitivity to extreme heat. People over 65, and more so people over 75, are not able to adjust as well as other adults to sudden changes in temperature and are also more likely to have a long-term health condition or take medication that changes their body’s ability to respond effectively to heat.
- More commonly living in certain types of housing, e.g. bungalows, that are more susceptible to flooding.
- A reliance on friends, neighbours and relatives for aspects of their care.
- Their limited adaptive capacity perhaps because of reduced mobility and consequently a restricted access to help.
However, not all older people are equally vulnerable. There are huge differences between people in the same age group as a result of varying biological, social and psychological factors.
Children and young people: This group can be affected disproportionately by heat related impacts because their bodies create more heat, they sweat less and dehydration affects them more quickly than in the case of healthy adults. Younger children are dependent on adults to adapt their behaviour and actions to climate impacts, e.g. in the case of higher temperatures – taking shade in the peak sun, wearing appropriate clothes and hats, and applying suncream etc.
Their development can also be affected due to having experienced traumatic events, which can cause aggressive behaviour, mental health issues and the disruption of their schooling (Climate Just, n.d.b).
Physical health conditions: Those with existing health conditions can be more at risk due to an ongoing dependence on local healthcare services and their increased sensitivity e.g. extreme heat can exacerbate asthma and cardiovascular diseases.
Mental health conditions: There is limited evidence on the links between climate change and mental health, but the literature reports that people who are experiencing poor mental health are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change on their physical as well as mental health. One reason given is that the climate crisis threatens to disrupt the provision of care for people with a mental illness diagnosis (Lawrance et al., 2021).
Disabilities: Some people living with disabilities can be more vulnerable due to on average lower incomes, an unawareness of emergency protocols (due to warning and preparedness systems not being accessible to people with low vision or blindness or hearing loss, for example) and separation from carers and any assistive devices relied upon (Clarke, 2022).
Low-income households: A person’s income is often closely tied to other causes of vulnerability such as due to being a lone parent, being in ill-health or having a disability. People in these groups tend to have fewer employment opportunities than others and so tend to be on lower incomes. Households with low-incomes and those who are unemployed are less able to adapt to climate impacts as they have reduced financial capability to invest in adaptation and/or manage, cope, or respond to extreme weather events and associated hazards. Low-income households are also more likely to be employed in professions that have a higher exposure to heat due to working outdoors or confined spaces (Climate Just, n.d.c).
Minority communities: Minority communities can be disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to potential language barriers, a higher likelihood of living in dense urban environments (subject to a greater ‘heat island’ effect) with less access to green space (Climate Just, n.d.d), a greater occurrence of asthma exacerbated by living in areas of poor air quality, and systemic inequalities meaning that diverse voices are under-represented in professions generating solutions to the climate crisis (Chapman, 2022).
Tourists and people who have lived in an area for a short time: May be unaware of local risks like flooding and eroding cliffs. Tourists may also be staying in vulnerable accommodation like campsites, caravans and camper vans.
Homeless: Homeless people are more likely to be in suffering from health conditions than others and clearly more exposed to climate impacts by the very nature of having inadequate shelter (Climate Just, n.d.e).
1.5.1 Emissions scenarios
The world has already experienced warming of around 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) and further temperature changes are expected in the future (Met Office, 2022a).
The use of different future greenhouse gas emissions scenarios enables examination of the impacts and risks from projected climate change.
The UK’s third Independent Assessment of UK Climate (known as CCRA3), published in 2022, sets out future climate pathways for global warming of 2°C and 4°C (+ or – 0.5°C) above 1850-1900 levels by 2100. The lower scenario could be achieved if international climate policy goals (The Paris Agreement) are met. The higher 4°C scenario represents the expected outcomes if current climate policy commitments are undertaken.
For the risk assessment, a baseline and 2050-time horizon were considered, which is widely used across climate change risk assessments as a time horizon that is far enough in the future to indicate how the climate might change compared to present day, but near enough to ensure that the consequences are real for current generations and that action is undertaken within the next 25 years or so. It also aligns with the Government’s Net Zero target.
1.5.2 Projected climate change in DCIoS region
The CIG published climate projections for South West England using the UK Climate Projections: Climate Change Impact Projections During the 21st Century (Climate Impacts Group, 2021). The report used the same 2°C scenario (the technical name for which is RCP2.6) but a less optimistic scenario for its high emissions climate projects; a scenario called RCP8.5 which is representative of 4.5°C warming.
To align with the national method for scenario analysis, this Adaptation Strategy considered the climate impacts to the DCIoS region under 2°C and 4°C (known as RCP6.0). The extent of warming and the subsequent impacts are largely similar during the period from now to the 2050s under both scenarios, and it is only later in the century where the two scenarios diverge and the effects of 4°C warming become more prominent. Therefore the 4°C scenario is largely referred to as the point of reference in this report.
Table 1 indicates how temperature, rainfall and sea level rise is very likely to change in the DCIoS region and how these differ between a 2°C and 4°C scenario by 2100.
Table 1. Projected climate changes by 2100 in the DCIoS region under 2°C and 4°C of global warming, in comparison to the 1981 – 2000 average. Source: UK Climate Programme, 2018.
|2°C global warming
|4°C global warming
|Annual average temperature change
|0°C to 3°C
|2°C to 5°C
|Average maximum temperature change
|0°C to 5°C
|2°C to 10°C
|Summer precipitation change
|-70% to +40%
|-80% to +20%
|Winter precipitation change
|-30% to +50%
|-20% to +70%
|Sea level rise (Plymouth)
|0.34m to 0.65m
|0.60m to 1.06m*
* Note: this range reflects a 4.5°C warming as data is not available for 4°C warming
The general trends in climate that the DCIoS is projected to experience in the 2050s is illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Summary projected impacts of climate change for the DCIoS region.