Under investment in flood defences is storing up costs and risks
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Infrastructure assets and networks will be exposed to higher temperatures, flooding, coastal erosion and subsidence in the coming decades, with a risk of further damage from high winds and severe storms as climate change takes hold, according to a new progress report published by the climate change committee (CCC).
The report, “Managing climate risks to wellbeing and the economy”, is highly critical of the government’s lack of investment in flood risk management. Limited national and local funding means that hundreds of flood defence projects are currently on hold and 75% of existing flood defences are not being sufficiently maintained, says the report. It also criticises a failure in many areas to publish statutory local flood risk management strategies, and says scrutiny of local plans and actions appears to be lacking.
Defra maintains that the government is spending more on flood defences than any previous government. But the Guardian newspaper reports a recent leaked draft communication strategy it has seen, which says the Environment Agency, responsible for delivering flood defences, repeatedly challenged funding claims made by Defra, saying “we took a 27% reduction in capital [spending] that recent announcements have not yet restored”.
The CCC report warns that infrastructure networks are sensitive to extreme weather and should be a priority for adaptation. Failures in one network can cascade onto others leading to a loss of vital services, which is detrimental to the economy, as well as to peoples’ health and wellbeing. The committee also expresses concern over the lack of emergency planning information, saying that neither the current level of emergency capability nor the capacity required under potential future climate change scenarios is known. Continuing to build in flood risk areas will exacerbate demands placed on the emergency services, says the report.
Lord John Krebs, chair of the sub-committee at the CCC that produced the report, said: “As our report highlights, there is more to be done to counter the increasing risks of severe weather that are likely to be associated with climate change. As well as making vital infrastructure services more resilient to flooding and storms, the country needs to adapt homes and other buildings so they are suitable for higher summer temperatures.”
The new CCC report comes six months after the worst storms in 60 years left infrastructure networks in chaos, homes devastated and businesses in disarray across many parts of the UK. Last month, the House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee published its report into the winter floods and warned the government not to neglect maintenance of flood defences and watercourses. Committee chair, Anne McIntosh MP said: "Ministers must take action now to avoid a repeat of the devastation caused by the winter floods."
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