The UK must spend an extra £500m over the next four years to prepare for the increased risk of flooding brought by climate change, government climate advisers have warned as storms continue to batter the south of England.
Nine severe flood warnings – meaning there is a danger to life – are currently in place in the south-west as high sea levels combine with strong winds to bring coastal flooding to many areas.
The Met Office has issued amber warnings for wind in Wales, south-west England and London and south-east England, after storms have disrupted rail services and left about 44,000 homes temporarily without power.
The latest round of poor weather has worsened conditions in many areas already hit hard. A further 30mm of rain is forecast to fall on many flooded or saturated areas on Thursday.
While no single incident of weather can categorically be attributed to climate change, it is believed that warming global temperatures will increase the chances of such extreme weather affecting the UK.
“Flood damages are expected to increase across the UK. Scientists are becoming bolder in attributing recent weather events and flooding to the level of global warming already observed”, Daniel Johns, head of adaptation at the Committee on Climate Change told the BBC.
Despite this, Johns argued the government was failing to prevent developments that will exacerbate flooding.
He said, “Development appears to be continuing in areas of significant flood risk despite planning controls. Urban green space is being lost and gardens are being paved over. Permeable paving options are available but their take-up appears very low.
“Every millimetre of rain deposits a litre of water on a square metre of land. A day of even modest rainfall can deposit several million litres of water on a town or city.”
Johns called for the introduction of sustainable drainage systems, which manage surface water and slow the rate that it enters drains. The Environment Agency says such systems are “extremely effective”.
Johns said spending of £500m would be needed over four years, or increasing numbers of homes would be at risk.
“As a result, we can expect avoidable flooding to take place in future years, causing as much as perhaps £3 billion in damages”, he said.
The government’s spending on flood defences has been a contentious subject in recent weeks, after environment secretary Owen Paterson claimed that the current government was spending more on flood defences than any before it.
The government was later forced to admit this is not the case, and recently released figures showed that the government’s overall spending on climate change preparation has almost halved since Paterson took office.
The Environment Agency was recently criticised by residents of the Somerset Levels – where flooding has cut off many villages for over a month – who have demanded to know why local rivers have not been dredged.
Prince Charles visited the flood-hit area on Tuesday, and pledged a £50,000 donation to help those affected.