Flooding: What do we need to do to avoid this happening again?

Over recent years there have been countless predictions that climate change will mean increased occurrences of extreme weather, and of the consequences such as flooding. There have also been many experts warning of the need to change the way we do things in the UK to protect ourselves from the sort of flooding that we are currently experiencing in the areas of the Severn, Avon and Thames valleys. And there are things that can be done.

The Foresight Future Flooding report – recommending what can be done – was produced back in April 2004 – but how many of the recommendations have been taken on board so far?

Led by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, with a team of 60 top scientists, the report was the most wide-ranging analysis of flood risk in the UK. It predicted that climate change will be an important factor in increasing flood risk, and that both the number of people in danger from flooding and the costs of damage from floods will significantly rise.

It used scenarios of potential social and economic changes, as well as information on climate change to help us understand the risks of flooding in future, and inform both public and Government bodies on what will need to be done to meet these risks.

Using a series of scenarios that took into account potential social and economic changes, as well as information on climate change, the main findings of the Foresight Future Flooding report were as follows:

• Climate change is an important factor in increasing flood risk, particularly through the impacts of rising sea levels and more stormy weather.

• Other important factors include the way we use land, increased urban development and the effects of increased wealth and higher standards of living.

• Figures for annual damage from flooding could rise from the present level of £1 billion to about £25 billion in the worst case scenario.

• The number of people at a high risk from flooding could rise from 1.5 million to 3.5 million.

• More effective land management will help reduce the risks in most scenarios. However, in the worst case scenario these are of little benefit and greater use of flood defences and coastal re-alignment will be required.

As a result of these findings, Foresight concluded that:

• We must all play a part in reducing the amount of carbon we are burning, and so help to slow down the rate of climate change.

• We must spend more on flood and coastal defence to protect against the impacts of climate change.

• To avoid creating a huge problem for the future, we need tougher restrictions against building on floodplains now.

• We must make any new developments resilient against flooding.

Yesterday (23 July 2007) the government announced that more new homes will be built on floodplains. Yet the Foresight report stated back in 2004 that we must take all reasonable steps to help reduce climate change and have a tougher line against actions such as floodplain development that can exacerbate the problems associated with flood risk.

Foresight has shown that the most effective way to reduce flood risk is to adopt a portfolio of measures tailored to conditions in each location. These measures include how we use the land, what flood defences we build and how we warn about possible flooding.

Climate change is the biggest threat to our environment. Scientists agree it is happening and that human activity is increasing it. Over the past century, global temperatures have risen – with the last 10 years being the warmest ten in the century.

A low carbon energy future – including low emission vehicles – is essential to limit the extent of climate change. Science tells us we should avoid temperature rises of over 2°C and the associated dangerous impacts. To avoid more unwelcome impacts of increased climate variability such as drought and flooding we urgently need to move towards a low carbon economy and make radical changes to our built environment, infrastructure and water catchment areas.

The Environment Agency Floodline: 0845 9881188