Climate Emergency: Act now to adapt and increase resilience to future extreme weather

With the eyes of the world on Glasgow next week for the launch of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), there will be a global spotlight on the need to mitigate climate change and the need to increase our climate resilience through adaptation measures.

In our latest blog Peter May, Head of Resilience and Water Management explores the impact of climate change on both flood risk and water resources, and the adaptation opportunities available to us here in the UK, including a closer integration of flood risk and water resource management policy to help create a unified water management strategy.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in August 2021 outlined that the 1.5C warming target will be breached within 20 years without taking immediate action, described as ‘A code red for humanity’. And with COP26 just weeks away, the Environment Agency has also issued a stark warning about current approaches to tackling the climate emergency and called for increased focus on adaptation. The recently published Living better with a changing climate report emphasises that adaptation to become resilient to the effects of a changing climate is just as important as mitigation.

The Environment Agency’s Emma Howard Boyd cites the need to ‘adapt or die’, with new measures urgently required to prepare for and adapt to the twin challenges from increasing flood risk and more frequent droughts.  Over recent years we have experienced a series of severe flood events across the UK and witnessed devastating floods across Europe.  The prediction is for such events to become far more frequent as winter rainfall increases, more severe summer storms and rising sea level leading to greater coastal erosion.  Even with a 2°C temperature rise compared to pre-industrial levels, winter rainfall is expected to increase by approximately 6% by the 2050s and by 8% by the 2080s, compared to a 1981-2000 baseline.

However, we must also prepare for water shortages and drought as well.  As the report notes, climate change will make it harder to maintain clean and plentiful water supplies: existing issues with water stress will be exacerbated by climate change, bringing altered temperature and rainfall patterns.  Summer rainfall is expected to decrease by approximately 15% by the 2050s compared to a 1981-2000 baseline: river flows in the summer months could be 82% lower by as soon as 2050; and public water supplies are expected to require more than 3.4 billion extra litres of water per day if no action is taken before 2050.

Measures to tackle these pressures are underway, but a strategic approach to water management and faster progress on improvements are needed to meet the demands from our growing population in a changing climate.  A closer integration of flood risk and water resource management policy will help create a unified water management strategy across the UK.  We must also consider our rivers and lakes alongside our vital, but hidden, groundwater resources as we plan for climate change and prepare for extreme weather events.  This includes a programme that not only manages demand and reduces leakage, but also seeks to increase reservoir storage of winter rainfall, to deliver the strategic transfer schemes needed to manage the risk and adapt to the pressures arising from more frequent drought.

Want to know more?

Contact Peter May to find out more about how JBA’s comprehensive climate adaptation and resilience services can support you and your business to be prepared for climate change including flood resilience measures and water resource management. From regional water companies, to industry, to private domestic water supplies; from regional drought orders to new boreholes, we provide expertise for those looking to secure new or additional water supplies.

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