Investment in flood protection must keep pace with climate change

Posted: Monday 12th February 2007

Investment in flood defences should rise substantially to keep up with climate change is the message that the Environment Agency Board heard and discussed when they meet in Bristol last week.

"The new international scientific assessment leaves no reason for doubt or fudging about climate change - itís real and happening now," Chairman of the Environment Agency, Sir John Harman said.

"We need to invest more in adapting to climate change and defending communities against flooding. If we leave vulnerable communities undefended, they end up paying the price in damage to property and risk to life and limb. Itís cheaper and better to invest in flood defences rather than deal with cost and misery."

The government has a good record in increasing flood defence expenditure, but the Environment Agency stressed the need for a sustained long-term increase in investment.

The major assessment of flood risk, climate change and investment by the Foresight programme, Future Flooding, defined the need for "a compound increase in flood management expenditure of between £10 million and £30 million per yearÖ So, for example, in 20 years, the annual expenditure would be between £700 million and £1.1 billion, compared to £500 million today". Spending on river and coastal flooding in England and Wales was just over £438 million in 2005-6.

Pointing out that the flood defence schemes built by the Environment Agency reduce expected future flood damage by at least six times more than they cost and often far more, Sir John Harman added:

"Analysis of the economics shows that the flood defences we build are terrific value for money. But it also means there are dozens of flood defence schemes that we donít have the resources to undertake that would reduce damage by many times more than they cost.

Calling for a 20 year investment programme for flood defences that would keep pace with climate change, the Environment Agency highlighted the importance of adapting to inevitable and unavoidable climate change while we intensify efforts to reduce emissions. Flood risk will increase through sea-level rise, greater winter rainfall, more intense and prolonged downpours with hardening and drying of surfaces aggravating the risk.

"We must be relentless in reducing carbon emissions to prevent destabilisation of the climate, but we must also prepare to face the inevitable climate change that is already built in over the next few decades. We should see flood defence as critical national infrastructure in a climate changing world, and plan for it," Sir John Harman said.

The Environment Agency emphasised that increasing investment on flood defences is not about imposing additional burdens on the public, but about reducing the overall costs that managing flood risk imposes on the economy and wider society. By using resources more cost-effectively to prevent flood damage, rather than pay for repairs and clearing up, investment in flood defence a better deal for society.

Commenting on the financial situation, Sir John Harman said: "Our budget for flood defences will increase in the next year financial year and we are pleased about that. Looking further ahead, we want to see a sustained increase in investment in flood risk management and measures to adapt to climate change."

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