New report on the storms and floods in the UK

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The Met Office and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology recently published a report on the recent storms and floods in the UK.

The report documents the record-breaking weather and flooding, considers the potential drivers and discusses whether climate change contributed to the severity of the weather and its impacts.

CEH’s input to the report relates to the major flooding that has been experienced in many areas of the country over the last eight weeks.

Key messages on flooding in the report include:

With catchments across most of the UK saturated by mid-December, the full gamut of flood manifestations – tidal, pluvial (flash), fluvial and groundwater – has been experienced over the ensuing seven to eight weeks.

Estimated outflows (total river flows) from Great Britain remained close to the highest ever recorded during late December and, subsequently, throughout most of January across large parts of England and Wales.

The cluster of drought and flood events through the early years of the 21st century and the recent runoff and recharge patterns, are near to the extreme range of historical variability, and therefore also raise the question that they may reflect anthropogenic climate change. It is important to note, however, that differing flood types may be expected to respond differently to increasing temperatures. Tidal flood risk is increasing as sea levels rise but the outlook is more complex in relation to fluvial flooding.

As yet, there is no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change in the recent storminess, rainfall amounts and the consequent flooding. This is in part due to the highly variable nature of UK weather and climate.

The floodplain inundations have caused major disruption to transport, agriculture and restricted sporting and recreational activities, and resulted in severe difficulties for some low-lying hamlets (most notably in the Somerset Levels). However, given the overall volume of runoff, the amount of property flooding at the national scale to date, has been relatively modest; a tribute to the general effectiveness of flood defences.

The report also has some detailed analysis for the River Thames:

During the last two months, In a series from 1883, flow rates on the River Thames have remained exceptionally high for longer than in any previous flood episode. Correspondingly, floodplain inundations on the Thames and in many other areas have been extensive and protracted.

A preliminary analysis suggest that outflows (total river flows) for the River Thames at Kingston aggregated over six weeks were the greatest since the 1947 floods. The 1947 event was the most extensive in England & Wales during the 20th century.
Generally, however, the peak flows registered during the recent flooding were not extreme. On the River Thames the highest flow in 2014 (up to end January 2014) has been exceeded during 14 earlier floods (most prior to 1950).

Download a copy of the The Recent Storms and Floods in the UK. Continue reading

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Ministers who won’t act on climate evidence should go!

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The UK’s response to the flooding crisis must centre on a long-term strategy to address climate change the Green Party says today, as it recommends a series of ten measures to improve the country’s flood resilience in future.
It says sustained political action on climate change is crucial to reducing the risk of severe flooding happening again.
The Party is calling for Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to be sacked and for the Prime Minister to remove Cabinet Ministers and senior government officials who refuse to accept the scientific consensus on climate change.
The Met Office has said all the evidence points to climate change contributing to these extraordinary floods.
“Politicians who ride roughshod over the painstaking findings of climate scientists, sometimes motivated by their inappropriately close links to fossil fuel big business, endanger our future and our children’s future”.
Green Party Leader Natalie Bennet said “It’s a crying shame more of the recommendations made by the The Pitt Review into the 2007 floods haven’t been taken seriously by Labour, the Tories, and their Coalition government lackeys in the Lib Dem Party but it is not too late for action.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said:
“Across the country, homes and businesses are being devastated by the floods, and our hearts go out to everyone whose life is being turned upside down.  Nature is giving us another wake-up call.
The call to government urges ministers to adopt the recommendations of a major independent cross sector coalitionfor  a Cabinet-level committee on infrastructure and climate change resilience and a Royal Commission on the long-term impacts of climate change on land.
The Green Party is also calling for all staff cuts at the Environment Agency to be cancelled, planning rules to be strengthened to prevent further development on flood plains, and for increased levels of spending on flood defences to a level in line with expert recommendations from the Environment Agency and the Climate Change Committee.
And it is supporting the call of campaigners for  the billions of UK fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks to be used to help the victims of flooding.
“This redirection will address the underspend and assist the victims of flooding, as well as putting a halt to public money exacerbating the problem of climate change that is making the floods so much worse”, noted Bennett.
 

Why we need to talk about Climate Change

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Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP, whose constituency has been hit hard by flooding, is demanding that the threat of increased extreme weather is taken seriously,  that the UK Government and mainstream media ‘wake up’ to the links between flooding and climate change.

“Though individual weather events can’t be explicitly linked to climate change the evidence suggests that we can expect more of this kind of extreme weather in the future. It is, therefore, amazing that there have been so few mentions of climate change in the media as thousands of people are hit hard by this unusually wet weather.

The Government and the media need to wake up to the links between weather like we’re seeing and the global climate change that our fossil fuelled economy is causing. Though better planning and flood defenses will help us mitigate the risks of climate change the only way to properly protect ourselves is to take radical action to lower of reliance on fossil fuels.

If the Government is serious about protecting the UK from flooding, and wants to live up to it’s claim of being the ‘Greenest Government Ever’ then it will end it’s obsession with climate change causing energy production like fracking.

We know that widespread fracking would see us pumping evermore harmful emissions into our atmosphere when we should be drastically cutting levels of greenhouse gases, yet the Government are falsely touting shale as some sort of ‘green’ solution. It’s time to expose this fallacy and move towards using sustainable sources of energy that don’t lead to increases in extreme weather.”

Yesterday Keith Taylor called for cuts to the Environment Agency to be reversed and for the Environment Secretary to be sacked. He said:

“The Government’s planning for this flooding, and their response since it began, has been utterly inadequate. We have known for a long time that climate change will cause more events like this, yet we were utterly underprepared for these devastating floods.

Though individual weather events can’t be explicitly linked to climate change the evidence suggests that we can expect more of this kind of extreme weather in the future.

If the Government is serious about tackling flooding in the future than they must both work to develop flood defences and, crucially, do everything in their power to cut our addiction to climate changing fossil fuels.

The fact is that the Government’s Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, has cut funding on measures aimed at protecting Britain from global warming and he repeatedly fails to take climate change seriously.

In the short term the Government can do two things to help the fight against flooding. Firstly they should reverse cuts to the Environment Agency and secondly they should sack Owen Paterson, an Environment Secretary who just isn’t up to the job of protecting our environment.”

Mr Taylor call for Owen Paterson be sacked comes after he was accused by environmental groups of ‘incompetency’ after slashing spending on measures to help Britain cope with global warming.