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Floods show government’s failure to protect UK citizens

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Responding to Liz Truss’ Statement on the North West Floods, Nick Mabey Chief Executive of E3G, said:

“Ignoring real flood risk in order to simplify decision making is completely irresponsible. Expensive flood defences seem to have been built based on overly optimistic risk estimates. This is a waste of public money and puts peoples’ lives and livelihoods in danger.

“No one expects George Osborne to predict the future but he should not to force other Secretaries of State to wilfully ignore climate change in order to simplify decision making or save money. The Government must deliver a new assessment of climate change risks in light of the outcome of Paris Climate Change negotiations this week.”

Key questions

E3G considers that the North West floods raise five questions that the government must answer:

  1. The Government accepted the recommendations of the Pitt Review Report for sectoral infrastructure plans to ensure critical infrastructure deliver core functions during a 1 in 200 year flood event. Do current plans for the North West meet this standard? (Note 1)
  2. Have current resilience plans for the North West been fully implemented? Has implementation of these plans been delayed by budgetary or personal constraints in the relevant agencies? (Note 2)
  3. Is the performance of flood defence measures consistent with estimates of 1 in 200 flood events? Has there been systematic under estimation of the severity 1 in 200 flood risks, and if so what is the reason for this? (Note 3)
  4. Floods events in the North West are expected to increase in severity and frequency as climate change worsens. Will the government review the current 1 in 200 planning assumptions for all UK infrastructure in light of the outcome of the Paris climate negotiations which are expected to imply additional average global temperature rises of 1.7-2.7C? (Notes 4 and 5)
  5. Will the government consider establishing a National Resilience Office under the National Security Council to oversee resilience of all UK critical infrastructure? Will the National Infrastructure Commission take into account the resilience needs of future UK infrastructure? (Note 6)

Contact

Nick Mabey, +44 (0) 7949 768 771, nick.mabey@e3g.org

Notes to Editors

1. There is currently no national standard for flood resilience for critical national infrastructure assets. The Pitt Review (commissioned after the 2007 floods and published in 2008) suggested that as a minimum, critical infrastructure assets should be protected to a 1-in-200 year standard against flooding. The Cabinet Office has set a benchmark that “as a minimum essential services provided by Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) in the UK should not be disrupted by a flood event with an annual likelihood of 1 in 200 (0.5%)”. But the Committee on Climate Change have warned that “It is not clear how this benchmark has been interpreted by each sector and whether this minimum standard of flood resilience is now in place”. (https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/reducing-emissions-and-preparing-for-climate-change-2015-progress-report-to-parliament/)

2. The Environmental Audit Committee gave the Government a red card for climate change adaptation. In Oral Evidence to the previous Environmental Audit Committee in January 2015 the Chair of the Infrastructure Operators’ Adaptation Forum concluded that “we simply do not know the capability of the vast majority of stuff out there for current weather, never mind the future”. In the same inquiry the Chair of the Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub Committee accused the Government of making the country less resilient and gave the Government 2-3 out of 10 for their climate change record: “Chair: On a scale of one to 10, where 10 is very good, where do you think the Government are in terms of their ability to implement strategically where you are so far with the evidence that is coming forward? Lord Krebs: Shall I have a first stab and the others will come in? I would say, looking at the NAP, well under five, and probably in the two to three range. Am I being too harsh, Daniel?” (http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/climate-change-adaption/?type=Oral#pnlPublicationFilter)

3. The Guardian have reported that the Government intends to review flooding forecasts amid concerns current ones underestimate the risks: “Official forecasts may underestimate the risks of flooding, Downing Street suggested this morning. The prime minister’s spokeswoman told journalists that David Cameron raised the issue at this morning’s meeting of the Cobra emergency committee and asked whether there needs to be “adjustments” in relation to flood planning in the light of events over the weekend.” (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/live/2015/dec/07/boris-johnson-proposes-deal-with-putin-to-defeat-isis-politics-live#block-56656feee4b0768f5818cb00)

4. Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, in response to the severe flooding across parts of Northern England and Scotland, said:

“…if global greenhouse gas emissions do not peak soon and start to fall, 4 or more degrees of warming could take place this century. This would lead to severe and unavoidable increases in UK flood risk. If average global temperatures rise by 4°C, expected UK flood damage would double, even assuming the Government continues to invest in flood defences. An extra one million UK homes would be exposed to a high risk of flood damage, with a 1-in-75 or greater chance of flooding in any given year. This emphasises the importance of securing a strong and binding deal in Paris this week.” (https://www.theccc.org.uk/2015/12/07/uk-floods-climate-change-likely-to-increase-frequency-and-magnitude-of-severe-flooding-events/)

5. Flood risk in the North West is increasing because of climate change. By 2020 peak river flow in the North West is expected to increase by at least 10% because of climate change, rising to 19-56% if emissions reduction targets are not met. By 2050 a 15% peak river flow in the North West is expected to increase by at least 15%, rising to 26-95% if emission reduction targets are not met. (Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017, Projected Future Flood Risk in the UK, p38, https://d2kjx2p8nxa8ft.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/CCRA-Future-Flooding-Main-Report-Final-06Oct2015.pdf)

6. Climate change is sharply increasing flooding and storm risks in the UK. According to the UK Climate Change Committee, 10-35% of infrastructure disruptions in the UK are already caused by extreme weather events. Two million people lost power in the 2013/14 floods, and power outages disrupted trade through Gatwick and three major ports. The number of assets in high flood risk areas will increase by at least 50% in 2050. Over five million homes are at risk of flooding, a quarter of all bridges in England have a medium risk of collapse and 1:20 have a high risk, 10 – 14% of emergency

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