UK homes face huge new threat from floods

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Homes and businesses worth £222bn in Britain are threatened by devastating flooding as global warming takes hold, a new official report concludes. It breaks new ground by recommending people will eventually have to give up their cars to avoid catastrophe.

Homes and businesses worth £222bn in Britain are threatened by devastating flooding as global warming takes hold, a new official report concludes. It breaks new ground by recommending people will eventually have to give up their cars to avoid catastrophe.

The report which will be published by the Government's Energy Savings Trust later this week says some five million people living in 1.8 million homes – one in every 13 in the country – risk being inundated by rising seas and increased rainfall in the starkest official assessment yet of the human cost of climate change in Britain.

It adds that over three-fifths of the country's best farmland will also be threatened with flooding. In all, it concludes, buildings and land worth £222bn are under threat.

The report – which was given privately to ministers on Thursday evening – follows months of intense flooding in Britain and across Europe.

Early last week flash floods struck across the country from Inverness – which was cut off, with parts of the city under 5ft of water – to the Isle of Wight, and hitting Bognor Regis, Swanage, Glasgow and parts of Fife and Ayrshire in between. Last month, parts of London were also submerged, shutting down rail and Tube services, while central Europe suffered its worst ever floods – showing, as Chancellor Gerhard Schröder told the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, "that climate change is no longer a sceptical forecast but a bitter reality".

The report – the trust's submission to the Department of Trade and Industry, which is preparing a White Paper on Britain's future energy policy – says that the flooding will get worse with global warming, which it describes as "the greatest threat facing the world community".

Drawing together evidence from a range of government sources, it concludes that 180,000 businesses, and 10 times as many homes, are "at risk" from sea level rise and storms. And so are 3.5 million acres of farmland, "including 61 per cent of the total of grade-one land in England and Wales".

About half of the £222bn of property threatened is in the "Thames region around London" it says. The homes of 750,000 Londoners are at risk, and the capital's future "as an international centre for trade and commerce" is threatened.

Over 150 sq km of the area are already beneath the level of high tides, and parts of Thamesmead are some 12ft below them, the report adds. The Thames Barrier was designed on the basis that it would not have to be closed more than 10 times a year. But in the year 2000-2001 it had to be shut 24 times, nearly as often as the total for its entire history until then.

And, the report adds, Government plans to develop the Thames Gateway with new housing would make things even worse – adding another million people to those at risk.

The report calls on the Government greatly to increase energy saving measures, saying that Britain's "energy efficiency lags well behind that in some of our European neighbours". It produces detailed figures to show that this offers enormous potential for cutting the emissions of carbon dioxide that cause global warming, at relatively little cost.

Most controversially, it goes further than any previous official report, in urging the Government to adopt policies to persuade people to give up their cars. It says that much can be done to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by improving the efficiency of cars and introducing cleaner fuels. But it concludes: "A long-term policy aimed at slowing down and ultimately reducing car ownership, as well as use, will be necessary to have any real impact on transport emissions".

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