Flooding and water scarcity ranked as top threat for UK

Water scarcity and flooding is likely to become the main problem for the UK in the future, which will need to adapt to increase its reliance, was the stark warning from the first comprehensive climate change risk study.

Commissioned by the Government, the Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) assesses the potential threats and opportunities for the UK arising from climate change.

The full report was laid before parliament today (January 26) by secretary of state for the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Caroline Spelman, and forms part of the Government’s long-term strategy for dealing with global warming.

Speaking at the launch of the CCRA, Ms Spelman, said: “The Climate Change Risk Assessment will be vital in helping us to understand what we need to do to stop these threats becoming a reality.

“In doing so there is also great potential for growth through UK firms developing innovative products and services tailored to meet the global climate challenges.”

As part of the assessment, 700 potential climate change impacts were investigated, with flooding ranked as the worst risk for the UK, closely followed by water shortages, soil erosion and prolonged heatwaves.

Flood risk is projected to increase significantly across the UK, with analysis for England and Wales showing unless plans to adapt to changing risks are implemented, that by the 2080s climate change and population growth could see damages to buildings and property reach between £2.1bn – £12bn, compared to current costs of £1.2bn.

Water quality is also predicted to be affected, as it depends on water volume and river flows to dilute pollutants. This, states the report is likely to increase water treatment costs and damage the local ecosystem.

According to international research and consultancy organisation HR Wallingford, which led the study, the assessment presents, for the first time, a comparison of a wide range of climate change risks based on their economic, social and environmental implications.

HR Wallingford head of the water management, Dr Steven Wade, said although floods, droughts and heatwaves had been anticipated to feature prominently that the research also revealed that the risk landscape was more complex and affected by geography, social and economic change.

He said: “At a UK level, population growth may cause a significant increase in the demand for water and energy while exposing greater numbers of people to flooding and overheating risks.

“Also some people and places appear to more vulnerable than others to future climate change.”

Dr Wade added changes in water temperature and landscape variations may heighten the risk of flash floods and landslides, as well as disrupting supply routes.

The CCRA also predicts increasing pressure on the UK’s water resources and warns that without action to improve water resources there could be major supply shortages by the 2050s in parts of the north, south and east of England, with the Thames River basin predicted to take the brunt of the drought.

This latest warning, follows publication of the Government’s Water White Paper last year (December 8), which included a package of measures to address water supply shortages, and to ensure the water industry is more resilient to future challenges.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Carys Matthews

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