UK weather: Britain left 'exposed' to more floods and heatwaves

Climate change means thousands of lives could be lost, warns government adviser

Ian Johnston
Sunday 23 November 2014 01:00 GMT
Floods force a family from their home in Wraysbury
Floods force a family from their home in Wraysbury (Getty)

The UK is dangerously "exposed" to increasingly extreme weather brought about by climate change, a leading adviser to the Government has warned.

Professor Lord Krebs, who chairs an expert group of the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC), said thousands of lives could be lost in searing heatwaves, and a lack of spending on flood defences would lead to "unnecessary flood damage" unless action was taken.

He called on Britain and other countries to do more to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, saying global warming could have "profound implications" even for wealthy countries such as the UK.

In an article for The Independent on Sunday, on our website, Lord Krebs applauded some steps of recent years, noting that 1.4 million homes were protected, and no one died, in last winter's floods. "And yet," he said, "the UK is still exposed in key areas."

The National Audit Office and the CCC's Adaptation Sub-Committee, which he chairs, have concluded "not enough money is being spent on flood prevention". Lord Krebs said: "As a result, unnecessary flood damage will occur... The current approach in England is to 'build and protect'; to allow development on the floodplain as long as there are flood defences in place," he said. "This simply stores up costs and risks for the future. Indeed, such development is encouraged."

In 2003, the warmest spell of weather in Europe for 500 years led to an estimated 2,000 deaths in the UK and tens of thousands across Europe. "By the 2040s, a typical summer is expected to be as hot, or hotter," Lord Krebs said. "We need homes and buildings that can be kept cool in the summer as well as warm in winter. But current building standards are designed with the past, not the future, climate in mind.... The number of people in the UK dying prematurely from high temperatures could treble by the 2050s to 7,000 per year."

Lord Krebs said the current rate of greenhouse-gas emissions could see temperatures rise by three to five degrees by 2100. "This would have profound implications.... Our small island stands at the mercy of the North Atlantic jet stream. Last winter a strong and unusually stable jet stream pounded our coastline with a series of 12 major storms."

A Royal Society report, to be published on Thursday, will discuss how to protect lives and property. "Measures to adapt to climate change and reduce disaster risks are essential," the society said about the report.

Leo Hickman, chief adviser on climate change for WWF UK, said action is hampered by the "groundhog day" debate about whether it was happening: "The debate should really be 'it is happening, we are to blame, so how do we prepare the most at-risk habitats and communities?'."

Guy Shrubsole, of Friends of the Earth, said: "David Cameron talked about cutting the 'green crap', thinking it's too expensive to go green. But it's extremely expensive not to... because it has all these repercussions on people's homes and the UK."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said "Our record level of investment in flood defences alre ady takes climate change into account. We will be spending more than £3.2bn over the course of this parliament on flood management and defences – half a billion pounds more than in the last parliament."

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