Planning and preparing for extreme weather events

July 11th, 2012 by Committee on Climate Change

(Please click on report cover to go to report download page)

The Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) of the UK’s Committee of Climate Change, which assesses progress on the UK Government adaptation programme for issues such as floods and water policy, finds that four times as many households and businesses in England could be at risk of flooding in the next twenty years if further action is not taken to prepare for climate change.

The report, ‘Climate Change – is the UK Preparing for Flooding and Water Scarcity‘ prepared by the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) of the Committee on Climate Change, finds that in spite of the worsening effects of floods:

  • Development in the flood plain increased by 12% (210,000 properties), compared to 7% in the rest of England over the past ten years. One in five of these properties were built in areas of the floodplain at greatest risk of flooding.
  • Simultaneously, funding for flood defences from both public and private sources is decreasing: 12% lower for the current spending period compared with the previous period after inflation. The UK’s Environment Agency estimates that funding needs to increase by £20 million a year on top of inflation to keep pace with climate change.
  • Take-up of measures to protect individual properties from flooding is 20 to 35 times lower than the rate required to safeguard all properties that could benefit.
  • The proportion of gardens that have been paved over increased from just over a quarter of total garden area in 2001 to nearly half in 2011.

The report advises than increasing investment and ensuring more careful planning of new housing in the floodplain can reduce the risk of flooding by almost four times what it would have been in 2035 without action.

The Committee on Climate Change estimates that in 2035 only 160,000 properties in England would be at significant risk of flooding after accounting for climate change with increased investment in flood defences of £20 million on top of inflation and uptake of flood protection for individual properties for all those that could benefit. This compares with 610,000 properties in England at risk in 2035 from climate change with no action to prepare.

Around 1 in 7 homes and businesses in England (3.6 million) currently face some form of flood risk. Under current standards of protection, insured losses from flooding and other severe weather are modest, costing on average around £1.5 billion. Around 10% of England’s critical infrastructure (power stations, water treatment works) and emergency services are currently located in the floodplain.

Lord John Krebs, Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change said “extreme weather is likely to become more common in the future as a result of climate change. Flooding and drought are two of the most significant climate risks. Flooding, as we have seen recently, can have a devastating impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. How we adapt to these risks will be critically important to our future resilience: whether it’s deciding not to pave over our gardens; or building in less exposed areas.”

“We must take adaptation more seriously if we are to manage the growing risks of floods and droughts. This can be done by investing more in flood defences, faster roll-out of water meters and giving serious consideration to where and how we build our housing and infrastructure. Without action by households and businesses to prepare for these inevitable weather extremes the country faces rising costs, unnecessary damage and future disruption.”

The report also indicates that water scarcity is likely to become more common in some parts of the country in the future due to the combined effects of climate change and population growth. This is likely to be exacerbated by levels of household water consumption that are among the highest in north west Europe.

Encouraging UK households to save water could reduce total consumption by 700 million litres of water per day, two-thirds more than current efforts by water companies, according to the new report by the Sub-Committee. A faster pace of reduction in water use is needed including through increased metering (in higher risk areas) and water efficiency measures.

The report finds some positive signs of progress:

  • Investment of £1 billion in flood defences has helped to reduce flood risk to 182,000 homes in the last three years.
  • The majority of floodplain development proceeded in line with Environment Agency advice, because the developer incorporated adaptation features, such as raised ground and floor levels or safe evacuation routes.
  • Nearly half of all new developments have incorporated sustainable drainage features.
  • Household water consumption has declined since 2000 from 150 litres per person per day to 145 litres per person per day.
  • Water companies are investing £1.8 billion to reduce demand for water and increase supply by 320 million litres per day between 2010 – 2015.

The report sets out some recommendations to the UK Government as it prepares its National Adaptation Programme:

  • More transparent and careful planning of new development in flood risk areas by local authorities, taking account of long-term costs of flooding.
  • Increasing investment in flood defences (from public or private sources) or finding other ways to deal with increased flooding risk.
  • Encouraging greater use of property protection measures and sustainable drainage systems to cope with flash-flooding.
  • Further steps to increase efficiency of water use by households through water metering and pricing.


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