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Greater focus needed on addressing ‘inevitable’ climate impacts

Words: Laura Edgar
Flooding / iStock: 62450550

The Environment Agency has warned that the climate emergency can only be tackled through greater action on adapting to ‘inevitable’ climate impacts, which are already being seen.

The agency has called on world leaders to step up to the challenge of addressing the emergency at the COP26. According to the organisation’s chair, it is time to “adapt or die”.

In its report Living Better with a Changing Climate, the government is warned that more extreme weather will lead to increased flooding and drought and sea level rises of up to 78 centimetres by the 2080s. Public water supplies will also need more than 3.4 billion extra litres of water a day by 2050.

Governments, businesses and society must embrace and invest in adaptation, “rather than living with the costs of inaction”, said the Environment Agency.

It welcomed the UK Government’s focus on adaptation and mitigation, however, the agency did demand for more action at a global level to protect the “billions” lives and livelihoods at risk.

Projections in the report

  • Winter rainfall is expected to increase by approximately 6 per cent by the 2050s and by 8 per cent by the 2080s, compared with a 1981-2000 baseline.
  • Summer rainfall is expected to decrease by approximately 15 per cent by the 2050s compared with a 1981-2000 baseline.
  • London’s sea level is expected to rise by between approximately 23cm by the 2050s and 45cm by the 2080s.
  • River flows will be more extreme. Peak flows are expected to be up to 27 per cent higher in the 2050s, and in the summer months river flows could be 82 per cent lower by as soon as 2050.
  • Public water supplies are expected to require more than 3.4 billion extra litres of water a day if no action is taken before 2050.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “The climate crisis is global, but its impacts are in your village, your shop, your home. Adaptation action needs to be integral to government, businesses and communities too and people will soon question why it isn’t – especially when it is much cheaper to invest early in climate resilience than to live with the costs of inaction.

“While mitigation might save the planet, it is adaptation, preparing for climate shocks, that will save millions of lives. Choosing one over the other on the basis of a simple either/or calculation is like telling a bird it only needs one wing to fly.”

Bearing this in mind, she continued, it is “deeply worrying” that adaptation is in danger of being “grievously undercooked at COP26” – “not by the UK Government, but by the world at large”.

Although significant climate impacts are inevitable, Boyd said the climate emergency could be tackled if the right things are done. However, she warned that “we are running out of time to implement effective adaptation measures”.

“Our thinking must change faster than the climate,” she said.

Noting the flooding in Germany in the summer, in which 200 people died, Boyd said such events would happen “sooner or later” in the UK, however high flood defences are built. The places where people live, work and travel must also be resilient to the effects of the more violent weather the climate emergency is bringing.

“It is adapt or die. With the right approach we can be safer and more prosperous. So let’s prepare, act and survive.”

In the report, the Environment Agency sets out five reality checks, including that ecosystems cannot adapt as fast as the climate is changing, and there will be more and worse environmental incidents.

The agency’s work to meet these challenges, it says, involves working with the government, business and communities to implement the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) Strategy and its vision to create a national resilience to flooding and coastal change up to 2100.

Living Better with a Changing Climate can be found on the UK Government website.

Image credit | iStock