The impact of climate change on flooding in the UK

The Environment Agency (EA) have previously shared that 5.2 million homes and businesses across England are at risk of flooding; that’s one in every six properties. Roughly half of these are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea, whilst the other half are at risk of surface water flooding. And it is not only properties that are at risk of flooding, so are many critical infrastructure sites such that the impact of flood damage would reach further than the flood waters themselves.

Without doubt flooding is one of the most significant risks that the UK faces today and in future years. The UK Government has set out policies and strategies for mitigating and adapting to an increase in flood risk, including the EA’s National Flood and Coastal Erosion Management Strategy. However, it is clear that it is down to landowners, business owners, householders and local communities to be proactive and implement flood risk management measures in order to protect their assets.

 As we know, climate change is an immediate threat to humanity and one which is irreversible without significant action. The impact that climate change is having on flood risk in the UK is devastating and we must move from mitigative to adaptive measures in order to withstand the impacts of flooding in the coming years. How we do this, and exactly which adaptive measures are chosen, will have a massive impact on the degree of resilience achieved.

 Impacts of Climate Change on Flooding

Excessive rainfall events are a direct consequence of climate change, which is warming the earth’s atmosphere and increasing its capacity to hold moisture. The EA have published that reaching net zero by 2050 will still have repercussions with “59% more winter rainfall” and a “once-a-century sea level events becoming annual events by 2100.” This increase in rainfall, combined with rising sea levels, suggests the frequency and severity of flooding in the UK will rise significantly over the coming years. We must have effective resilience measures in place to withstand the impacts of such events, alongside immediate implementation of global climate change reduction initiatives.

Defra (2016) estimated the economic damage from the 2013/2014 floods were up to £1.5 billion, with 46 percent of this allocated to homeowners and businesses. It is clear that the measures the UK had in place at this time were not enough to protect assets and reduce the knock-on effects to other parts of society. If significant investment and a more holistic approach to flood risk management is not in place over the coming years, the consequences of future flooding will be difficult to recover from.

Protect yourselves

It is estimated that for every £1 spent on protecting properties against flooding, £5 in damages are avoided (The Environment Agency, 2020). However, this does not take account of the fact that floods are becoming more severe and frequent.

In summary, the recent investment and strategy provided by the UK Government is a positive step and has recognised the additional broader range of resilience measures required to combat the impacts of climate change on flooding. Yet, this is merely the start of the journey, and for the value of the strategy to be realised it must be implemented effectively - through stakeholder consultation and educating asset owners to the risks they face. The responsibility now lies with property owners to take a proactive approach in protecting their assets and seeking appropriate advice from flood management experts.

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