Purpose – This paper aims to argue that to address the consequences of climate change and variability a greater focus on pre-emergency planning that engages a wider stakeholder group must be adopted. Design/methodology/approach – The paper discusses UK emergency management and approaches to climate change and climate variability risk. Findings – The internal focus of UK emergency management inhibits the contribution that it can make to societal resilience and public preparedness. Effective risk reduction requires that all actors, including the public, are engaged in the social learning process. From a UK emergency management perspective this requires a culture shift to an outward proactive focus. Originality/value – This paper offers insights into emergency preparedness in the UK.