Climate Week: Lord Chris Smith talks climate vulnerability and the voluntary sector

Kate Damiral was Climate Change Project Officer at NCVO from April 2011 until April 2013. Kate no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

It’s Climate Week and on Tuesday – very appropriately – NCVO held a cross-sectoral roundtable on climate change and vulnerability. This event was the culmination of our vulnerable people and climate change project and brought together a mix of public and voluntary sector players to hear about this initiative and look at ways to maximise the contribution voluntary organisations can make to creating effective solutions to climate change.


Photo: Lord Chris Smith and Sir Stuart Etherington

Top of the bill was a keynote presentation from Chris Smith, Chair of the Environment Agency which runs the new national Climate Ready Service for organisations.

Lord Smith set the scene by reminding us that we are surrounded by signs that our climate is changing, from rising global temperatures and sea levels, to last year’s record Arctic ice melt, and the UK’s own experience of extreme drought at the beginning of 2012 followed by the nine wettest months on record which led to such extensive flooding.

Climate impacts in the UK

With these types of extreme weather patterns set to continue and intensify, Lord Smith made no bones about the magnitude of the climate-related challenges we face, outlining the UK’s highest climate risks:

  • Flooding
  • Drought
  • Heat-related health problems.

Vulnerable groups and others in our society already facing disadvantage are likely to bear the brunt of the consequences – something that our own project is addressing head on.

A fundamental role for our sector

In fact, Lord Smith pointed specifically to the voluntary sector’s reach – encompassing those at the margins of society as well as wider community relationships – as a crucial tool for tackling climate change. He recognised the unique position many voluntary organisations are in, able to support individuals at times of crisis and help foster longer term societal change.

As an example, Lord Smith described how community organisations in the 2009 floods in Keswick ensured older residents were safely evacuated, and then lobbied for appropriate flood defences to protect the town. Elsewhere, volunteers have worked with the Environment Agency to create more affordable defence systems.

Lord Smith confirmed the Agency is keen to collaborate more with our sector and sees voluntary and community organisations as “absolutely fundamental” to creating a resilient and sustainable future.

As NCVO’s current project (also supported by the Agency) wraps up, we’ll be exploring with the Agency’s Climate Ready service how to maximise the voluntary sector’s potential.

Climate Week Declaration

In the meantime, NCVO has signed up to the Climate Week Declaration calling for the Government to maintain its commitment to the Climate Change Act which requires continued, robust action to cut carbon alongside preparations for the inevitable climate change we already face. Support the Declaration.

More on climate change vulnerability

Want to know more?

Read about the NCVO vulnerable people and climate change project

Listen to Julia Unwin, Chief  Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, talking about why we need a socially just response to climate change.

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