Climate resilience perspectives at Flood and Coast 2021

Yesterday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis – a ground-breaking new report ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 this November in Glasgow.

The IPCC report on climate change provides the most updated physical understanding of the climate system and of climate change, combining the latest advances in climate science and multiple lines of evidence.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring and sharing some of the ways we’re helping our clients to enhance their resilience. This ranges from scientific research to practical approaches of assessing climate risks and developing adaptation plans.

Our colleague Kate Benny, Hydraulic Modeller, recently attended the virtual Flood and Coast Conference and Expo 2021, and shares some of the climate resilience perspectives from this event.

‘The first talk I attended was on Perspectives on climate resilience: experience from the five nations. The speakers discussed how their guidance was changing in response to the increased severity of natural disasters. Ceri Davies from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) spoke about how this year they had already experienced mine tip slips, landslides, flooding and surcharging of acid mine drainage filled groundwater. In light of this, they are undertaking a detailed review of their actions in the context of exceptional conditions that are becoming the new normal.

It was clear from all the speakers that national rhetoric is moving in the direction of more nature-based solutions to flood management. Damien Curran, Director of Water and Drainage Policy in Northern Ireland, outlined a plan to alleviate flooding in Belfast, a city that sits in a bowl shape in a coastal bay. The scheme focused on the whole catchment and as well as hard engineering solutions such as larger pipes, it contained many softer engineering strategies. Ceri Davies discussed the peatland restoration and tree planting schemes that Natural Resources Wales, who own 7% of the land in Wales are working on.

Gaining funding (that spans election cycles) and support for non-traditional flood alleviation schemes requires evidence and the support of local communities. Ceri Davies discussed the importance of good evidence that is widely and transparently shared. Natural Resources Wales produces a 5 yearly report called The State of Natural Resources. It is set out in an easy-to-understand manner for government officials to use in decision making. Julie Foley from the Environment Agency talked about the Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation program which is testing a range of approaches to flooding in 25 locations around the country.

We need to be able to prove that Natural Flood Management (NFM) works so that governments and people in affected communities can financially and emotionally invest in it. Collaboration must involve flood affected communities. As Ruth Ellis from SEPA said, ‘It is a luxury many do not have to be able to worry about the future’. To paraphrase her next words: to think, and plan for flooding helps to mitigate the after-effects. Local people need to be involved in flood alleviation plans that affect them. We need to build trust with these communities, build on their experiences and work at a pace they are comfortable with so they are then willing to take the brave decisions necessary to move away from hard engineering practices.

Ceri Davies noted that NFM had been an unpopular choice with the public but engaging them early, outlining all the plans and methodically working through them instead of trying to sell just one, was the best option.

It is easy as a hydraulic modeller staring at flood outputs on the screen to forget why we are doing what we do. Each property that floods is someone’s home. We see a 100-year flood event on a screen, they see black sludge throughout their house. In order for society to make decisions about where they live, where flood management should be concentrated, who needs to be aware they are at risk of flooding and take steps to mitigate this and where developments resilient to floods are built, we need to know where is likely to flood.

As Terry Fuller, Chief Executive of CIWEM mentioned, when new developments are being planned how can we make sure they don’t cause a flood risk and are not at risk of flooding themselves? Rather than building flood defences retrospectively.

How can we improve hydraulic models to be able to do this? Both the talks Understanding Water: innovation in hydrology and hydraulics, and Innovations in flood modelling and forecasting addressed these issues.

Many of the speakers touched upon how their work improved surface water flooding. Jenny Grist, JBA Consulting spoke about how we are helping Local Lead Flood Authorities’ in their work to improve the confidence of their risk from surface water flooding.

Models are only as good as their inputs. Climate is causing larger, more intense rainfall events. As Chris Kent from the Met Office mentioned we only have a short-term rainfall record, and when we combine this with climate change, our pool of relevant storms is limited. Since the National Flood Resilience review of 2016, flood prediction has tried to take account of non-stationarity in the rainfall and flow record. The UNSEEN (Unprecedented Simulations of Extremes with Ensembles) project aims to do this by using state of the art climate models to simulate events which could occur in the current climate. Its main application is the development of extreme rainfall scenarios, and it is particularly important for estimating surface water flooding.’

Want to know more?

You can watch all of the online presentations from Flood and Coast 2021 here.



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