COP26: it’s time to make a watertight investment

On 13 October 2021 the Environmental Agency published warnings on climate change and how we must all “adapt or die.”

If all the commitments made in the Paris Agreement are met, the global average temperature is still set to increase 3oC by 2100. We already know that is too high. Aiming to bring climate change reduction to less than 1.5oC has to be our new target, but even this change has uncertain consequences, not just for the UK, but for the rest of the world.

The science behind global warming and flooding is relatively simple. Warmer planet, warmer air, warmer seas, meaning more evaporation and moisture held in the air, which will result in more intense rainstorms. Warmer seas also mean we will see more ice melting from polar regions and higher sea levels. This is all very difficult to predict locally; when might a flood or a tsunami occur in my neighbourhood? But the trends are becoming easier to confirm with certainty, thanks to satellite information and powerful computer models.

The report delivers some frightening statistics and one-liners:

  • Sea level could increase by 78cm by the 2080s
  • Winter rainfall is expected to increase by approximately 6% by the 2050s and by 8% by the 2080s, compared to a 1981-2000 baseline
  • Summer rainfall is expected to decrease by approximately 15% by the 2050s compared to a 1981-2000 baseline
  • London’s sea level is expected to rise by between approximately 23cm by the 2050s and 45cm by the 2080s
  • River flows will be more extreme. Peak flows are expected to be up to 27% higher in the 2050s, while in the summer months river flows could be 82% lower by as soon as 2050
  • Public water supplies are expected to require more than 3.4 billion extra litres of water per day if no action is taken before 2050.

I support the proposal that the only way to deal with flooding in the long term is to combat climate change. This approach will reduce flooding and improve a whole host of other consequences.

We must reverse the effects of industrialisation with new technologies, learn from the mistakes of the past, and learn to co-operate and co-exist globally. Refocus our priorities as human beings; perpetual growth is not sustainable. As a country, we have much to emulate and learn from around the world, because we can share knowledge and select from best practice.

Awareness has improved regarding the harmful and overwhelming presence of plastic in our oceans and on our mountains. The spiralling and devastating effects of deforestation have been known for years, but the consequences are coming to light as our understanding of tree communities develops. All contributing to the potential extinction of over 1 million species (IPBES, 2019).

A recent report from the UN’s International Panel on climate Change (IPCC) states that the tipping point, the point beyond which the possibility of reversal disappears, is closer than scientists had previously believed which means we have less time than expected to overhaul economic systems and shift political and social mindsets.

Considering all the above, it is the responsibility of industrialised nations to make rapid and significant changes and we hope the world leaders gathering at COP 26 will agree on real and meaningful change. We cannot continue to ignore this problem, as we have done for too long. Many of the consequences are here already and will undoubtedly get worse before they get better, and they will only get better if we make these big, necessary changes. This means that in respect of flooding, we will see more and more of it over the next 30 years, regardless of whether we secure a more positive future for generations to come.

For the next few decades and more, in the absence of local reliable strategic defences, the only real option for flood risk is to design and implement appropriate flood defences for existing buildings. New build requires a design approach to eliminate flood risk, perhaps with elevated structures and sacrificial resilient elements.

The pressure to build on land not at flood risk will increase land values in such areas. But the skill to bring an existing asset at flood risk out of that risk and back into viable long-term profitable use – by careful design and appropriate construction methods – is a more environmentally friendly and sustainable approach.


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Ian Paton

Partner, building surveying


T +44 (0) 1865 812 755
Ian Paton