Flooding may cost Britain £27bn a year, scientists say

A A A

Flooding will be costing Britain up to £27bn a year by the end of the century, a twentyfold increase on current damage, according to a high-level investigation by government-appointed scientists.

Global warming, coastal erosion and the practice of building on flood plains will inevitably lead to an increase in the risk of floods that cause loss of life and extensive property damage, the scientists warn in a report published yesterday.

The 60-strong body of experts led by Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, said that radical measures will need to be taken to fight the sort of floods expected over the next 80 years if sea levels continue to rise and the weather becomes increasingly stormy.

Sir David said that more than £200bn-worth of assets are already at risk around British rivers and coasts and that everyone in towns and cities was vulnerable to major disruptions in power and transport when flooding occurs.

The analysis of the threat by leading climatologists, civil engineers, geographers, environmentalists and economists is the most rigorous undertaken in Britain and probably the world, Sir David says in the report's foreword.

"There are two key messages. First, continuing with existing policies is not an option - in virtually every scenario considered, the risks grow to unacceptable levels," Sir David says. "Second, the risks need to be tackled across a broad front. Reductions in global emissions would reduce the risks substantially. However, this is unlikely to be sufficient in itself. Hard choices need to be taken - we must either invest more in sustainable approaches to flood and coastal management or learn to live with increased flooding," he says.

Flooding can inflict devastation on people's homes and businesses and 1.7 million properties and four million people are already at risk, says Sir David, who has warned that global warming is a greater threat than terrorism.

The scientists, who were drawn together as part of the Government's Foresight initiative, considered four future scenarios that each differed in the degree of economic growth, greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable development over the coming hundred years.

Two scenarios, called "world markets" and "national enterprise", envisage a future of unrestricted economic development and pollution, whereas two other "community-orientated scenarios" - called "local stewardship" and "global sustainability" - envisage a future of more sustainable growth.

In all of them, the risk of flooding increases significantly. However, the report warns that the future costs of flooding will vary widely depending on how much worse global warming gets and how valuable the property in flood-prone areas becomes - the greater the value, the greater the costs when floods occur.

"The two consumerist scenarios contrast with the two community-orientated scenarios, which experience much more modest increases," the report says.

The number of people who could be at high risk from river flooding and coastal erosion could increase from 1.6 million today to between 2.3 and 3.6 million by the 2080s.

In addition to the risk of flooding from rivers and coasts, towns and cities will suffer from localised floods due to old Victorian sewers and drains being overwhelmed. "The potential damage could be huge.... The numbers of properties at high risk of localised flooding could typically increase fourfold under the four future scenarios," the report says.

If climate change increases further and the weather becomes more extreme, then flash floods are likely to overwhelm the drains of major cities. Many of the drains were built nearly 200 years ago.

"Urban floodwaters are invariably mixed with sewage, so future increases in urban flooding would be compounded by the additional risks to health, and higher costs of repair to properties," the report says. In addition to the direct health risks from sewage and foul water, flooding can have serious mental-health consequences as properties become unsaleable.

"The socially disadvantaged will be hardest hit. The poor are less able to afford flooding insurance and less able to pay for expensive repairs," the report says. "People who are ill or who have disabilities will be more vulnerable to the hazard of a flood and to health risks due to polluted floodwaters."

Professor Edward Evans of Glasgow University, who led the scientific team, said that there were a number of measures that could be taken to lessen or minimise the future risks. They ranged from allowing more room for water storage on flood plains to prevent rivers from suddenly bursting their banks, to allowing some coastlines to erode away naturally rather than protecting them with increasingly expensive coastal defences.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior PHP Developer - Zend Framework

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This number one supplier of Coo...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Forecast Analyst

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Forecast Analyst is required to join a...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of Science in this com...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea