Opinion: We should see the economic potential of dealing with UK floods

UK Prime Minister David Cameron visits flood hit areas. Photo credit: The Prime Ministers Office via flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen

The UK Chancellor, George Osborne, said in the Conservative Party Conference in 2011 that we would deal with climate change and reduce emissions, but not faster or slower than other EU countries, saying that we will not save the world by putting our country out of business. In rhetoric, what Mr Osborne meant with that statement was that he didn’t think dealing with climate change should be an area where the UK is leading and that it’s bad for business.

Fast forward to present day and the UK are in the middle of a climate and weather emergency. This has been the wettest January since records began, added to it being one of the wettest and mildest winters that the UK has ever experienced. Storm followed by storm followed by rain that seems to be never ending have led the UK to suffer some of the most severe and prolonged flooding ever, with the economic costs quickly spiralling out of control and the added worry of food security as farming fields are flooded.

This is, of course, what scientists for decades have warned us would be the consequences of a warming climate, but despite the warnings that scientists have heaped upon us, actions are hard to find. Instead, the UK government have slashed the funding given to the Environment Agency and thereby limited their tools of dealing with extreme weather at a time where it is rapidly increasing. At the same time, the UK are going after more and more of those fossil fuels that cause climate change and support for the green economy that can get us out of this mess is almost invisible.

What’s most ironic is that what Osborne refused to back because he felt it would have put the UK out of business, could actually go a long way in putting it back in business. I’m not trying to say that if we had increased the budget given to the Environment Agency instead of cutting it we would have prevented flooding – but we could go a large way in mitigating it. Politicians must start to see the business case of investing in climate mitigation and adaption. In the long run it would save business money and ensure food security.

We should, as I have argued countless times, also see the benefits given to us by being an island nation and harness the energy of the seas. As gales were hitting us, wind power production surged, and if we really are to see a continued increase of these events, it’s insanity to not harness it in the shape of of renewable energy, while at the same time contributing to energy independence and making us less reliant on gas. Volatile gas prices are the true reason why energy bills keep on rising.

Last week, a project called Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay handed in their application for building the UK’s first commercial tidal project and is in the first of a series of proposed projects that could generate 10% of the UK’s domestic electricity as early as 2023. The project is long lived and once live will last for 120 years. As well as using the seas to create energy, the project will also act as a defence of flooding, as a seawall would be able to hold 11 square kilometres of seawater.

This project is just the kind of investment we need to see in the UK, as it deals with two of our biggest problems in one: flood defense as well as creating an energy system which moves us further away from fossil fuels and thereby creating localised economic growth.
But this is, of course, only one of many solutions we urgently need to address and the sooner that we accept that man made climate change is upon us the better. While understanding that the ‘continue business as usual’ model is a false economy.

Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

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