Climate Change: “Adapt or Die”

England faces more floods and droughts, rising sea levels, and greater demand on water supplies due to climate change, the Environment Agency has warned.

Flooding along the River Severn at Tewkesbury, February 2020
Image: The Guardian

Ahead of the UN Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow, the government agency is warning that adaptation – becoming resilient to the already inevitable effects of climate change – is just as important as actions to cut greenhouse gases.

It is a case of “adapt or die”, said the Environment Agency’s chair, Emma Howard Boyd, warning that deadly events such as the flooding in Germany this summer would hit the UK if the country did not make itself resilient to the more violent weather the climate emergency was bringing.

Climate change would exacerbate pressure on England’s water environment, which is suffering from problems such as pollution and increased demand, and make it harder to ensure clean and plentiful water – the EA said in a report.

The agency alone cannot protect everyone from increasing flood and coastal risks. Traditional flood defences will not be able to prevent all flooding and coastal erosion, the report said.

Rapid Change

There will be worse environmental incidents, such as flooding, water shortages, and pollution. Regulations are not ready for climate change. And the natural world cannot adapt as fast as the climate is changing, the EA said.

The report notes that between 2025 and 2050 population growth and climate change will increase water demands. This will result in needing an extra 3.4 billion litres of water a day for public usage.

Hot and dry summers, rising sea levels, and development pressures are increasing the problems of people, industry, agriculture, recreational river use, and wildlife water supply.
2C global warming, below the level of global warming that is currently well underway. This will increase winter rainfall in England by about 6%, while summer rainfall will decrease by 15% by the 2050s.

River flow patterns can be more extreme, and rainy days can be more intense. The report says London’s sea level is expected to rise by the 2050s.

Further Information:

The UK Government has committed to adaptation and mitigation. Two of the government’s main goals COP26 are:

  1. Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. Countries are to come forward with emissions reductions targets. To deliver on these stretching targets, the phase-out of coal, curtail deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles, encourage investment in renewables will be needed.
  2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. The climate is already changing and it will continue to change even as we reduce emissions, with devastating effects. At COP26 we need to work together to enable and encourage countries affected by climate change too. Protect and restore ecosystems, build defences, warning systems, and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods, and even lives.

The Environment Agency said it is working with governments, businesses, and communities on flood protection and with Observer Offwatt on water supply.

Howard Boyd said: “The climate crisis is global, but the impact is on your village, your store, your home.”

“Adaptive behaviour needs to be essential to governments, businesses, and communities, and people will soon wonder why it isn’t.”

“It’s about adapting or dying. With the right approach, we can be safer and more prosperous. Let’s prepare, act and survive.”

The warning appears in the Environment Agency’s third adaptation report submitted to the government under the Climate Change Act.

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