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Strengthening Resilience: Helping the Nation Navigate an Uncertain Future

Policy@Manchester

5 min read Partner content

In the past few years, global events have highlighted the potential fragility of the infrastructure that UK businesses and households depend upon. But what are the practical steps the UK can take to strengthen national resilience? A major new publication by the University of Manchester’s policy engagement institute, Policy@Manchester, has just been launched to address that critical question.

Recent years have demonstrated that we are living in hugely uncertain times. Over a relatively short period, the UK has experienced the impacts of a global pandemic, geopolitical volatility, and surging energy prices. As a result, national resilience has taken on new importance within UK policy discussions.  

As global dynamics continue to shape the energy landscape and climate change raises fresh challenges for businesses and consumers, the ability to withstand and adapt to external pressures is increasingly recognised as essential for sustaining economic stability, safeguarding national security, and ensuring a prosperous future.

But how can the policy choices we make today reduce the level of exposure that the UK has to global events and deliver a stronger and more sustainable future for us all? Helping to answer that question is a new report, On Resilience, published by Policy@Manchester, The University of Manchester’s policy engagement institute. In this important new collection, expert researchers identify policy solutions that could potentially strengthen our national resilience.   

Writing in the foreword to the report, Lord Howell of Guildford highlights the need for policy that has “balance and realism” at its heart. This is, he argues, essential if policymakers are to make informed choices that understand the trade-offs required to achieve policy goals whilst also enhancing resilience.

“None of these questions can be met with neat answers or solutions,” Lord Howell acknowledges, “But they can be addressed with shrewd analysis and fearless posing of the issues. That is what these wise and expert essayists from The University of Manchester offer.”

On Resilience is a timely contribution to an important debate, with issues of resilience and energy security increasingly prominent in the minds of public and policymakers alike. Philip Dunne MP, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, told PoliticsHome that he and colleagues are already considering many of the areas highlighted by Policy@Manchester experts.

“Our Committee is taking a significant interest in the impact of climate change on various aspects of resilience of vital infrastructure,” he explains. “It is clear that many sectors are feeling the pressure of warming temperatures and how we adapt to it is crucial. Our current workstreams are considering the capacity of the electricity grid, and how resilient we are as a nation to extreme heat: in terms of health and food security.”

Given heightened awareness about the impact of geopolitical events on UK energy costs, it is unsurprising that several of the pieces within the Policy@Manchester collection focus on steps that can be taken to increase the resilience of the UK’s energy supply as the nation transitions to net zero.

That focus on energy has been welcomed by Alexander Stafford MP, Vice-Chair of the Net Zero APPG, who believes that recent global events have highlighted the importance of energy security. He told PoliticsHome that the shift to net zero now provides an opportunity for the nation to reduce its dependence on imported energy.

“The Green Transition will not only bring wealth, jobs, and opportunities across the country, it will also create national energy resilience,” he told PoliticsHome. “Putin’s aggression in Ukraine shocked the energy market and, for UK businesses and consumers, clearly showed the risks of reliance on other countries for our energy and we must not allow the UK to be put into that position again.” 

However, one of the themes that emerges across a number of the pieces is the need to consider the additional risks to resilience that the net zero transition itself will entail. A reduction in the sources of energy means that those sources will increasingly become critical assets that require protection.

“What is involved in the legal net zero target of removal of all fossil fuels from the UK’s energy by 2050?” Lord Howell asks. “The answer, by definition, is a dramatic narrowing of sources, and therefore entirely new back-up and emergency mechanisms to be devised and built-in, so as to ensure reliability and resilience.”

Whilst acknowledging the resilience risks that the transition to net zero may entail, the articles in On Resilience are equally clear that such a transition remains essential. The research pinpoints climate change itself as a key risk that is already impacting across a range of different sectors. The report sets out policy options that seek to lessen that exposure.

"It is abundantly clear that the UK needs to build up its national resilience to protect us all from climate change,” Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change, tells PoliticsHome. "I am pleased to see that experts are exploring policy options to strengthen our national resilience and lessen our exposure to climate catastrophe." 

However, issues of national resilience extend far beyond energy security. On Resilience also includes thought-provoking pieces that consider leveraging technology to mitigate risks to food production, tackling water shortages through better storage, and finding new ways to address the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance in humans, animals, and agriculture. 

Across all of these areas, research is providing a route map for approaches that can help the UK strengthen its ability to weather global challenges, protect the public, and establish itself as a resilient and prosperous nation in an increasingly uncertain world.

Mark Pawsey MP, who is a member of the influential Energy Security and Net Zero Committee warmly welcomed the publication as a valuable contribution to ongoing debates about resilience.

“We stand in fascinating times as the geopolitical events of the past year and the ambition to reach net zero by 2050 have forced us to rethink our energy production and usage,” he tells PoliticsHome. “On Resilience provides some insightful thought leadership and the authors should be congratulated on offering innovative solutions to some of the great challenges posed by climate change and global demand.”

For more information about ‘On Resilience' and to read the collection of thought leadership pieces from Policy@Manchester, please click here.

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