Editorial: The UK Government must prepare for future extreme weather events

Temperatues on 22nd March this year compared to 22nd March last year.

 2012 saw the wettest year on record in the UK. It started out somewhat different, with exceptionally dry conditions forcing several water companies to declare drought zones and enforce hosepipe bans. This was followed by a relentless period of rain which dragged into a miserable summer, compounded by cuts in the flood budget and lack of infrastructure upgrades, which all ultimately incurred huge costs to families and businesses across the country.

The beginning of 2013 has seen no let up in the series of extreme weather events so far, with continued flooding in many regions and a prolonged and ‘unseasonal’ cold spell. Last week we saw a landslide resulting in one fatality in the South West, and this week has seen snow in large parts of the country, resulting in parts of Scotland being cut off from electricity supplies for several days. This is just two examples of many.

All this, raises serious questions about whether the UK is ready for the challenge of climate change; just this week the Government’s outgoing Chief Scientist Prof Sir John Beddington gave a stark warning to the country, linking the increase of extreme weather events to climate change.

We have an infrastructure that is laughable in the UK; this government must make it a top priority to upgrade it to meet the challenges of future extreme weather events on a par with other European countries, such as the Netherlands, who are taking the lead in climate mitigation and adaptation.

No longer can we afford to use the argument that weather has always been ‘changeable’, so its not worth the heavy investment needed to upgrade the infrastructure. The last few years have shown that harsh winter conditions are no longer incidental events that occur every decade or so; they are happening at an alarming and increasing frequency. The government has to start preparing for the likelihood of extreme winter weather events happening each year.

The government must prioritise the development of flood defences, its a false economy in the long term not to; by cutting the flood budget they’re showing that they’re not taking these challenges seriously. One of the main challenges is working out what to do with the surplus water when it arrives in huge downpours, as well as preventing rivers from flooding poor infrastructure areas and disrupting the local economy. In the Netherlands, a country well accustomed to flooding, they have overcome this challenge by creating large water tanks that suck up the surplus water when it arrives, slowly releasing it back into the system when safe to do so. In the height of the industrial revolution, Britain built thousands of miles of canals to help transport coal around the country, if for example we were to build more canals we would have somewhere to run off the leftover water.

Its time to properly look at intelligent and robust town planning, which can capably withstand flooding, snow and other extreme weather events when they arrive. This government has shown that they’re incapable of coming up with solutions themselves, therefore it’s imperative that they really start to watch and learn from the countries that are already dealing with the same challenges well.
Subedited by Kirstie Wielandt

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