That was the stark warning delivered by the chairman of the environment agency as the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) opened its annual conference on Tuesday.

Sir John Harman called for the forthcoming Climate Change Bill to look at the need to adapt to inevitable temperature rises, as well as measures to reduce future emissions.

He added that an independent board may need to be set up to examine how the UK can meet the challenges of global warming, such as water shortages in summer and more intense inland flooding.

Sir John said: “The Climate Change Bill is quite significant because it tries to address the political logjam.

“We do need that bill to think about how adaptation response is going to be brought into the framework.”

Average global temperatures have already risen by 0.7 degrees Celsius and are expected to rise by at least another degree even if emissions can be tightly curbed.

Sir John added: “Whatever we manage to do on carbon emissions, we already know about the adaptation challenge.

“Our response at the Environment Agency has been to go through a process of climate proofing everything we do.”

Sir John told delegates the water industry faces four major challenges in tackling climate change – improving the quality of flood risk management, tackling water scarcity, meeting the cost of adaptation and protecting biodiversity.

He welcomed the increased investment pledged by the Government for flood risk management, bringing the total to £800m, but said that this needs to be raised to £1bn by 2015.

Sir John said: “The cost of doing nothing is worse than the cost of doing something.”

Kate Martin

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