Time for action on climate change

Energy & Climate Change, Management & Regulation, Natural Environment

Time for action on climate change

With today’s Global Climate Strike mobilising millions of people from all walks of life and corners of the globe, Extinction Rebellion maintaining the pressure for truth and action, and world leaders arriving in New York for Monday’s UN Climate Action Summit, public awareness of climate change has never been greater. As Chair of CIWEMs Climate Change Network, I’m delighted to see this elevation of the subject in our national conscience, at a time when there are so many political distractions and a looming General Election.

So it was a great pleasure to Chair a panel on ‘Declaring a climate emergency: what does this mean for flood risk management?’ as the closing session of CIWEM’s Future of Flood Risk Management’ conference this week.

  • The climate emergency sets an urgent need for action that’s not yet happening. Carla Denyer, Green councillor for Clifton Down, Bristol, drew a great analogy with fire-fighting, where the ‘emergency’ requires rapid co-ordinated action on multiple tasks in order to prevent the fire escalating. At present our response to the climate emergency is sequential, and opportunities for action are being missed. I think it’s fair to say that goes for both adaptation and mitigation.
  • Adaptation is not receiving the focus and attention it needs. Dr Andy Russell, Senior Science and Policy Analyst at the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) shared that the Second National Adaptation Programme provided little more than a catalogue of ongoing activities and no clear direction or vision for the future. He commented that adaptation and mitigation are still largely dealt with in isolation, which perhaps leads to a sub-optimal overall response to climate change.
  • We mustn’t ‘sugarcoat’ the impact of climate change. There are some really difficult decisions to be made in relation to flooding and coastal erosion impacts on people’s homes and businesses. We must make the need and the consequences of climate change clear, in order to drive action. Steven Tupper, Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Manager at the Environment Agency, described their ‘evidence-based’ approach to their mission, and through this I believe they have a vital awareness raising role, as they are widely trusted at a time when there is a huge trust deficit across many institutions and agencies in the UK.
  • We need to prioritise bottom-up awareness in order to drive action from the top. Votes at the General Election and demands of agencies and authorities from their communities and customers is what will force change to happen. Moving our mindset away from resisting the forces of nature in an attempt to keep the status quo, towards an acceptance that change is inevitable and that outcomes will be better if we’re pro-active.

Personally, my key message from the discussion is the need for us, as an industry, to work hard to engage and promote the truth around the impacts of climate change and articulate how it will affect flood and coastal risks and our ability to deliver management actions. To co-ordinate across sectors to inform and ensure consistency in the message, and to work hard to identify those actions, such as Natural Flood Management, that are truly climate win-wins, that must be scaled up in the face of the climate emergency.

Adam Hosking, Chair of CIWEM’s Climate Change Specialist Panel and Water Resources Director at Jacobs.

20/09/2019

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