Climate change means we will have to get used to flooding

 

The political blame-game is in full swing over who is at fault for the current flooding crisis. But ministers debating local dredging operations in Somerset is a sideshow.

It will be a miracle if the winter of 2013-14 does not go down as the wettest on record – and frankly, it is difficult to see what could have been done to prevent massive disruption given the rainfall. But why is this happening?

The immediate answer is that the UK is “stuck” in a weather pattern – a common feature of our climate. But what is uncommon is the exceptional intensity of the rain and waves.

There is a perfect so-called “storm factory” in the Atlantic caused by warm, moist air from the tropics coming up unusually close to the very cold polar air. The jet stream is then acting as a conveyor belt, continually firing these violent weather systems eastwards at us.

The more difficult question is: to what extent is this is down to climate change? On that, the jury is still out.

The latest UN climate report last year was clear that man-made activities over the past 100 years are causing unprecedented climate change. Global temperatures have increased, Arctic sea ice is melting, sea levels are rising and the oceans are getting warmer.

The policymakers asked scientists for consensus and they have it – leaving climate change for future generations to deal with is a phenomenally high-risk option.

Scientists cannot attribute individual weather events to climate change – but coming hot on the heels of major floods in 2007 and 2012, there could well be a link.

We have long been exposed to risk from flooding, but climate change is loading the dice.

 

Rising sea levels now takes less of a storm surge for coastal flooding to occur than it did a few decades ago. Warmer air can hold more water, and across many parts of the world we have seen more heavy rain over the past few decades.

Most projections of future climate across the UK suggest that we will experience wetter conditions in winter but it is difficult to predict exactly how flood risk will change. What we do know is that relying on historical records is no longer enough, and will likely lead us to underestimate risk.

Climate change affects flood risk differently across the world. In some areas, the flood risk may decrease, because of lower rainfall or perhaps smaller snowmelt floods. But in other areas, risk is likely to increase substantially if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, particularly in some densely populated regions such as south Asia.

Overall global exposure to flooding will increase much faster than the projected rises in population and economic growth alone might suggest.

The message for politicians is clear. Even if deep cuts to emissions of greenhouse gases are successful, we will have to live with more floods in Britain.

Once the immediate challenge is over, we need to think deeply about how to manage our flood risk as the climate changes.

Professor Nigel Arnell is Director of the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at the University of Reading

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker / Telesales

£15000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading supplie...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Field Sales Executive - Dereham

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation is proud to b...

Day In a Page

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
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project