Climate change can bring more floods AND droughts to the UK
Climate change, by its very definition, suggests that geographical areas become hotter or drier or wetter as the case may be. Some places even become colder, while others experience severe fluctuations in weather, such as an increase in storms or droughts.
Anthropogenic climate change – climate change caused by human activity – is predicted to affect weather conditions throughout the globe, the most vulnerable being hot countries that already experience extreme weather. According to the World Bank’s list of the 12 countries most at risk from climate change, Bangladesh is most susceptible to floods, Malawi to droughts and the Philippines to storms. Low lying island states, followed by Vietnam, are threatened most by rising sea levels.
But what about the UK with its wet, mild northern climate? Sure, Britain is an island, but it’s a big one and weather in the UK is never as extreme as in the aforementioned places. Plus, Britain is wealthy and it’s got infrastructure like the impressive Thames Barrier to prevent floods.
But infrastructure, whether in Manila, London or São Paulo, is designed for the present climate of each respective location, not for future climates. This is why flood engineers in the UK are looking to tropical countries for ways to deal with ‘surface flooding’.
And it may sound strange, but besides flooding, a study by the Met Office deals with how more ‘extreme droughts’ could hit the UK due to climate change.
From an article in the Independent:
The Met Office climate model was used to run a number of simulations and in the worst case scenarios, extreme droughts could happen once every decade – making them about 10 times more frequent than today.
According to Environment Agency data, 2010 has gotten off to a dry start for England and Wales.
From a Guardian report:
The situation is remarkable because the last three summers have been exceptionally wet, leading to a rise in water tables and an increase in the flow of some groundwater-fed rivers. Towns like Cockermouth, which last year experienced some of the worst floods in a century, are now witnessing near record-low river levels.
A drought, combined with increased water demand, is bad news for local ecosystems. An increasing human population and future climate change will only exacerbate such stresses.
What exactly climate change will bring to the UK is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy, but risk and worst case scenarios demand planning, political action and honesty in the face of looming threats, whether in the form of flooding or drought.
By Graham Land