“Adapt or die”, says Environment Agency as flood risk increases across the UK

The Environment Agency has issued a warning to the UK Government that climate change can only be tackled through greater adaptation to immediate risks, particularly in relation to flooding.

In its third adaptation report submitted to Government under the Climate Change Act, the agency warned of more extreme weather leading to increased flooding and drought, sea level rises, and public water supplies needing more than 3.4 billion extra litres of water per day by 2050.

The report warned that even with a 2°C temperature rise compared to pre-industrial levels, the following projections can be expected:

  • Winter rainfall expected to increase by approximately 6% by the 2050s and by 8% by the 2080s, compared to a 1981-2000 baseline.
  • Summer rainfall expected to decrease by approximately 15% by the 2050s compared to a 1981-2000 baseline.
  • London’s sea level is expected to rise by between approximately 23cm by the 2050s and 45cm by the 2080s.
  • River flows will be more extreme. Peak flows are expected to be up to 27% higher in the 2050s, while in the summer months river flows could be 82% lower by as soon as 2050.
  • Public water supplies are expected to require more than 3.4 billion extra litres of water per day if no action is taken before 2050.

Agency projections therefore show that more lives, homes and businesses are at increasing risk from flooding, and that the conveyancing industry will also need to change and adapt to the significant impacts that rising flood risks across the country will bring. Increased use of flood reports and risk analysis are to be expected for many conveyancers.

With COP26, the next annual UN climate change conference, taking place in just a few weeks, the agency also welcomed in its report, the UK Government’s focus on adaptation as well as mitigation, and is now urging governments, businesses and society to embrace and invest in adaptation, rather than live with the costs of inaction.

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, commented:

“The climate crisis is global, but its impacts are in your village, your shop, your home. Adaptation action needs to be integral to government, businesses and communities too and people will soon question why it isn’t – especially when it is much cheaper to invest early in climate resilience than to live with the costs of inaction.”

“While mitigation might save the planet, it is adaptation, preparing for climate shocks, that will save millions of lives. Choosing one over the other on the basis of a simple either/or calculation is like telling a bird it only needs one wing to fly.”

“With that in mind, it is deeply worrying that adaptation is in danger of being grievously undercooked at COP26. Not by the UK Government, but by the world at large. Significant climate impacts are inevitable. We can successfully tackle the climate emergency if we do the right things, but we are running out of time to implement effective adaptation measures. Our thinking must change faster than the climate.”

“Some 200 people died in this summer’s flooding in Germany. That will happen in this country sooner or later, however high we build our flood defences, unless we also make the places where we live, work and travel resilient to the effects of the more violent weather the climate emergency is bringing. It is adapt or die. With the right approach we can be safer and more prosperous. So let’s prepare, act and survive.”

Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, said:

“We’re pleased to see the Environment Agency publishing its latest climate change adaptation plan. This road map will be vital to ensuring our natural and built environments are well adapted to the significant changes in our climate taking place today, with more to come.”

“We urge all Government agencies, authorities, regulators and businesses big and small to get their adaptation plans together before the deadline on 31 December. We look forward to assessing the EA’s plan in early 2022 as part of our independent appraisal for Government of similar plans from across the public and private sectors.”

The report also highlights how the Environment Agency is working with government, businesses and communities to prepare for the impacts of climate change, including delivering a record £5.2 billion programme of new flood and coastal defences over the next six years.

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