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Climate change 'will threaten Britain's water supply'

Britain's water supplies, health, ecosystem, planning system and tourist industry are likely to be severely hit by climate change, a government report has warned.

Publication of the results of a £400,000 government research project coincided with a warning delivered in Germany by the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, that climate change could bring down unstable Third World governments and create the largest refugee problem the world has ever seen.

And an opinion survey published yesterday suggested that two-thirds of the population are now concerned about climate change, although they are not convinced that the Government is making progress on the issue. Forty per cent say it could influence the way they vote - but, alarmingly for Labour, only 4 per cent think Tony Blair has made effective progress on the issue.

Asked which leading politician appeared to be "most concerned" about climate change, 21 per cent of respondents said David Cameron, 15 per cent Tony Blair, 7 per cent Sir Menzies Campbell, and only 5 per cent Gordon Brown. The survey was carried out for the pressure group Stop Climate Chaos, by TNS Omnimas nationwide.

One part of yesterday's research project published by the Department of Environment concluded that by the middle of the century, comparatively dry winters like last year's will be followed by even drier summers, creating a significant threat to water supplies. Another part warned that railway companies are being prevented from taking precautions against extreme weather conditions that could cause rails to buckle, points to fail and flooding to wash out routes. The way the industry is regulated, with the emphasis on reducing costs, makes it "very difficult" for companies such as Network Rail to decide what to do about climate change.

Ian Pearson, minister for climate change, said: "Awareness is increasing on the need to adapt to climate change and the fact that costs from climate change will hit across a large number of sectors including water, infrastructure, health, ecosystems and planning."

But the shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, warned: "Whether we live in the developed or developing world, climate change is with us to stay. It is a challenge that threatens the very sustainability of our life on this planet. All governments must be looking into the future and planning their role in mitigating the effects of climate change.

"Above all we must lead by example. Britain's climate change emissions have been rising. Inclusion of the Climate Change Bill in the next session of Parliament would be a good start."