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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Will climate change overwhelm the UK's infrastructure?

We have had extreme temperatures and now flash floods, overwhelming several London tube stations and two of the capital's hospitals. Across the country we are relying on aging drainage systems and other infrastructure that was largely constructed by the victorians to cope with weather patterns they weren't designed for. And despite decades where we have been warned of these consequences of climate change our government has failed to do anything about it.

The Guardian reports on the views of scientists, who say flash flooding of the type seen in London this weekend will become a more common occurrence as the climate crisis worsens. They believe the UK government, businesses and householders must do much more to protect against future harm:

Dr Jess Neumann, a hydrologist at the University of Reading, said: “Flooding from intense summer rainfall is going happen more frequently. No city, town or village is immune to flooding and we all need to take hard action right now if we are to prevent impacts from getting worse in the future.”

Climate policy in the UK has focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which is a primary concern, to reduce the human impact on the climate and ensure global heating does not reach catastrophic levels. But the government has also been warned frequently that measures to cope with the impacts of extreme weather are urgently needed, and that the UK has been falling behind on such adaptive measures.

Adapting to the impacts will require a thorough overhaul of the UK’s infrastructure, encompassing not only drainage and water supply systems, and transport, to ensure they are not overwhelmed, as many in London were at the weekend, but also energy supply and communications networks.

Buildings will need to be redesigned and public areas revamped to include better drainage channels and storm drains, while more innovative approaches could include porous pavements. A lack of green spaces and vegetation, and the paving over of many areas without heed to flood risk, has compounded the problem in many cities, including London, and also needs to be addressed, experts warned.

Neumann said: “Planning and development need to consider flood risk from all sources – river, groundwater and flash floods – and adapt accordingly. It is not acceptable to keep paving over the land and expect the public to deal with the water when it comes into their homes.”

Of course we are not going to be able to coordinate efforts to deal with these new requirements if we don't know where the problems are. Liz Stephens, associate professor of climate resilience at Reading University, says there is a lack even of basic data, caused by a refusal to invest in more precise research. “The surface water flood hazard maps for the UK have not been improved since 2013. These urgently need updating. The current accuracy of surface water flood maps reflects an investment choice and not what is possible with the state-of-the-art science,” she said.

“It is difficult to help people prepare for surface water flooding if they don’t know they are at risk, and if they don’t receive precise warnings of the likely impacts when heavy rain is forecast.”

And don't look to the insurance industry to pick up the slack either. Their standard response to crises of this kind is to jack up their premiums and then refuse to insure altogether.

The government need to start taking this seriously and show signs of urgent action to map and tacke the problem, otherwise it will not just be a few days of heat we will have to put up with, but major disruption to our day to day lives.
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