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Extreme weather confirms the need to plan for climate change

Lord Smith, Chairman EA

Lord Chris Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency said at the launch of the report into climate adaptation in Britain that Britain needs to plan now for more erratic, unpredictable and extreme weather patterns in the future

His comments came following recent floods across England and Wales and that this extreme weather is typical of the kind of weather we should expect to see more frequently, based on climate predictions.

Testing resilience to extreme weather

This year the wettest April to June on record, which saw many rivers rise to unprecedented levels, followed the driest 16 months on record in some parts of England – testing the country’s resilience to extreme weather.

Severely depleted groundwaters, worryingly low reservoirs, dried up rivers and hosepipe bans were quickly followed by the wettest April, May and June ever recorded, with flooding having devastating impacts on homes and livelihoods across the country.

Lord Smith said: “The weather extremes which we’ve seen this year – with widespread floods almost immediately following a long term drought - have brought the importance of resilience into sharp focus. Climate change science tells us that these are the sort of weather patterns we are going to have to get used to, so taking action today to prepare and adapt our homes, businesses, and infrastructure is vital. “The Environment Agency is working to improve its flood forecasting and early warning systems and is improving flood defences to protect communities. Local Authorities and other partners also have a key role in improving community resilience and incident response. And we must all work together to plan better for surface water flooding after torrential rain. “But we have also seen some of the warmest years on record in the last decade and water resources in some parts of England are under increasing pressure. We therefore need government and organisations to work together on long term solutions to water resources and efficiency.”

Climate Ready

The Environment Agency is at the forefront of efforts to increase the country’s resilience to flooding and water scarcity, both now and future climate conditions. Its new Climate Ready support service aims to help organisations from businesses to health authorities and local authorities prepare, by providing them with advice on future risks and the steps needed to adapt. The Environment Agency continues to work with water companies, industry and the farming community to identify ways to conserve, share and make the most efficient and effective use of water.

Since the start of May over 3,000 properties have been flooded, 55,500 properties have received a flood warning from the Environment Agency and over 31,000 properties were protected by flood defences, during what’s now being referred to as the ongoing summer 2012 floods. The Adaptation Sub-Committee report provides an assessment of current progress to manage risks from flooding and water scarcity.


Flood Defence & Climate Change

Adaption Sub-Committee report on Climate change

“the number of properties at risk of flooding could quadruple by 2035 if climate change is not addressed sufficiently”

The number of properties, in England, at risk of flooding could increase by up to 4 times, over the next twenty years if adequate steps are not taken to prepare for climate change. on the 11th July by the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) of the Committee on Climate Change,

Despite of the worsening effects of floods, the report found that:

· Development in the flood plain increased by 12% (210,000 properties), compared to 7% in the rest of England over the past 10 years. 1 in 5 of these properties were built in areas of the floodplain at greatest risk of flooding. · Simultaneously, funding for flood defences from both public and private sources is decreasing: 12% lower for the current spending period compared with the previous period after inflation. The Environment Agency estimates that funding needs to increase by £20 million a year on top of inflation to keep pace with climate change.

· Take-up of measures to protect individual properties from flooding is 20 – 35 times lower than the rate required to safeguard all properties that could benefit.

· The proportion of gardens that have been paved over increased from just over a quarter of total garden area in 2001 to nearly half in 2011.

The report advises that increasing investment and ensuring more careful planning of new housing in the floodplain can reduce the risk of flooding by almost four times what it would have been in 2035 without action.

Lord John Krebs, Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee said:

“Extreme weather is likely to become more common in the future as a result of climate change. Flooding and drought are two of the most significant climate risks. Flooding, as we have seen recently, can have a devastating impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. How we adapt to these risks will be critically important to our future resilience: whether it’s deciding not to pave over our gardens; or building in less exposed areas. “We must take adaptation more seriously if we are to manage the growing risks of floods and droughts. This can be done by investing more in flood defences, faster roll-out of water meters and giving serious consideration to where and how we build our housing and infrastructure. Without action by households and businesses to prepare for these inevitable weather extremes the country faces rising costs, unnecessary damage and future disruption.”

The report also indicates that water scarcity is likely to become more common in some parts of the country in the future due to the combined effects of climate change and population growth. This is likely to be exacerbated by levels of household water consumption that are among the highest in north west Europe.

Encouraging households to save water could reduce total consumption by 700 million litres of water per day, two-thirds more than current efforts by water companies, according to the new report by the Sub-Committee. A faster pace of reduction in water use is needed including through increased metering (in higher risk areas) and water efficiency measures.

The report did conclude that actions to date are having a positive effect on the issues:

· Investment of £1 billion in flood defences has helped to reduce flood risk to 182,000 homes in the last three years.

· The majority of floodplain development proceeded in line with Environment Agency advice, because the developer incorporated adaptation features, such as raised ground and floor levels or safe evacuation routes.

· Nearly half of all new developments have incorporated sustainable drainage features.

· Household water consumption has declined since 2000 from 150 litres per person per day to 145 litres per person per day.

· Water companies are investing £1.8 billion to reduce demand for water and increase supply by 320 million litres per day between 2010 – 2015.

Recommendations for the Governments National Adaptation Programme:

· More transparent and careful planning of new development in flood risk areas by local authorities, taking account of long-term costs of flooding.

· Increasing investment in flood defences (from public or private sources) or finding other ways to deal with increased flooding risk.

· Encouraging greater use of property protection measures and sustainable drainage systems to cope with flash- flooding.

· Further steps to increase efficiency of water use by households through water metering and pricing.

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