Climate change: Britain needs a reality check on the flooding to come


With homes under water, many people are asking how climate change is connected to these extreme weather events. Depending on where you live, you may be blissfully unaware, but the impacts of global warming are creating a new normal right here, right now and the extent of climate change on the severity of flooding has been previously unclear due to a lack of data.

Global overheating is also  changing our weather as well  and it increase the risks of flooding. In the UK, we need to plan for at least a one-metre rise in sea level by 2100, according to the latest UK climate projections. And in all future climate scenarios, we will experience a continued rise in sea level well into the next century.  

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change talk about the growing risk of global warming and extreme sea-level. But how do we ensure our nation responds to the climate threat of rising seas and increased flood risk?
There is no single answer.

A nationwide standard of flood resilience – as recommended in the National Infrastructure Assessment – would improve the capacity of people and places to live with, recover from and adapt to flooding and coastal change.

To prepare for this risk, as a nation we need to move from a strategy of protection and building higher flood defences to improving the resilience of our communities and our infrastructure, strengthening our ability to cope with flooding and coastal change when it does happen.  
The costs of making our homes, businesses and infrastructure more resilient to a changing climate would be far smaller than the considerable damage that flooding and coastal change could cause in the future. We need to support communities to better plan and – in some cases – adapt to future flooding and coastal change.

The UK’s toolkit for achieving climate-resilient places needs to be broader. We need to steer development to the lowest flood-risk areas and work with natural processes, for example, to slow the flow of floodwaters.

We have to get better at responding to flood and coastal incidents – such as those we’ve seen this week – through timely and effective forecasting and warning, as well as getting people back to “normal” as quickly as possible by clearing up or building back better after a flood.

And so, at the same time as pursuing things like the government’s admirable commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, we must improve our resilience to the consequences that are already embedded in our future. In other words, we can’t prevent all flooding and coastal change. But we can manage it better than our current approach, which is shaped by flood events in the past.

And we need a funding programme that will enable efficient planning and delivery of work to address the risks from all sources of flooding.
As the chairs of our respective bodies, we are at the front line of making the UK “climate-proof”. We recognise this needs bold and transformative action if we’re to do our part in becoming a climate-resilient nation. The government’s National Infrastructure Strategy must demonstrate its commitment to precisely that approach.

Our nation needs a common goal if we are to be better prepared for future flooding and coastal change. A nationwide flood resilience standard is the way to achieve this. Learn more about Frederic Michel-Verdier on his profile page.

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