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West Midlands Levelling Up Growth Prospectus

Climate Adaptation and the Natural Environment

The Challenge

The UK heatwave of July 2022 was a stark reminder of the need for us to ensure we are better prepared for climate change. It highlighted the importance of the natural environment and nature recovery in addressing this challenge. 

Annual temperatures are on the rise — in the West Midlands alone, we’re forecasted to experience a rise of 1.2°C by the 2050s, and between 1.3 and 2.4°C by the 2080s. Of course, this is dependent on global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between now and then, but it’s a worrying picture nonetheless. 

Risks associated with rising temperatures, such as more extreme heatwave events causing impacts on people’s health and wellbeing, are likely become more prevalent. Winter rainfall is expected to increase by approximately 6% by the 2050s and by between 9% to 14% by the 2080s. Conversely, summer rainfall is expected to decrease by approximately 15% by the 2050s and by between 19% to 26% by the 2080s.

The Prize

Many investments do not generate a traditional financial return, but indirectly they deliver a range of benefits which address the levelling up challenge. This includes: 

  • Saved lives and damage costs avoided;
  • Significant economic benefits through new jobs, skills, innovation, and infrastructure;
  • Broader social, environmental, and governance benefits;
  • In adaptation terms, these are together referred to as the ‘triple dividend of resilience’ and underpin the 2019 report of the Global Commission on Adaptation which stated that globally, the rate of return on adaptation ranges from $2-10 for every $1 investment.

Progress So Far…

In 2021, the WMCA launched its first Natural Environment Plan with four priorities:

  • Widening access to green and blue spaces for all communities across the West Midlands, initially focusing on places where there is a deficit of access;
  • Increasing tree and hedgerow planting, but with an emphasis on ‘right tree, right place’, to support climate mitigation and adaptation;
  • Promoting wildlife corridors and working with natural corridors (both green and blue) as well as those linked to infrastructure projects, e.g. along cycle ways;
  • Recognising the importance of the enablers of change and supporting activity around financing and behaviour change that will enable the roll out, impact and scalability of the initiatives identified in the plan.

Since its launch, we have developed an online platform to encourage and support tree planting across the region. The WM Virtual Forest has now registered over 250,000 trees, and the WMCA has worked with partners, including Severn Trent Water as part of their Commonwealth Forest initiative. 

We have also developed a £750,000 Community Green Grants programme to distribute small grants to community organisations to provide better access to green spaces. 

The WMCA is currently producing its own adaptation plan, working alongside other relevant regional stakeholders, to begin to understand more about regional coordination and work required to ensure adaptation is embedded within decision making. 

Our Proposal

  • Establish the West Midlands as a ‘Pathfinder’ for Regional Adaptation Plans. WMCA would be able to support government in the development and delivery of its National Adaptation Plan by bridging between government departments, and local authorities, resilience forums, universities and communities.
  • The pathfinder would provide first-hand insights into the challenges of adaptation and the increasing knowledge in tackling those.
  • Support community groups in areas of high vulnerability to adapt to extreme weather events – working with Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) to develop practical solutions at a neighbourhood scale.
  • Establish a WM Natural Environment Investment Fund – providing pathfinder funding as a catalyst to private sector investment to examine in detail the potential range of funding mechanisms that could be used to protect, restore, and enhance natural capital at a regional scale.

What We Hope to Achieve

  • An evidence base on the likely impacts from various adaptation approaches, including community engagement responses.
  • Increased awareness of climate change and the capacity to respond accordingly.
  • Practical measures to build community resilience to extreme weather events.
  • Credible standards for private sector investment into natural environment projects.
  • Delivery of Biodiversity Net Gain targets and Nature-Based Services.