Environment Agency - 2022 must become the year of climate adaptation

Posted on 25 January 2022

Environment Agency boss says 2022 must become the year of climate adaptation

Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd has called for this year to become one that is focused on climate adaptation in order to deliver climate resilient infrastructure.

In a speech delivered yesterday at the Coastal Futures conference Howard Boyd also pushed for a review to assess the true cost of climate impacts and the value of investing in resilience.

However, she warned that lack of public awareness on flooding will compound the future risk the industry is working to mitigate against.

Howard Boyd urged for the adaptation emphasis to follow on from the climate focus delivered during COP26 last year and to build on industry knowledge gained in the last 70 years since the 1953 floods in East Anglia.

“In 1953, 307 lives were lost on land and more than 177 people were lost at sea in the east coast surge,” she said. “Caused by a mixture of high spring tides, low pressure and strong northerly gales, it led to significant developments in flood protection, forecasting, and warning and informing systems. The effectiveness of these improvements means that today, many people do not realise they are artificially shielded from disaster.

“For instance, halfway through COP26, millions of people were protected from the highest tide of the year because we operated the Boston Barrier, the Hull Barrier and the Thames Barrier.

“It’s self-evidently a good thing that people can live without fear but, lack of awareness compounds future risks.

“Last year, 200 people died in Germany’s floods. It was reported that people did not know what to do when they heard warnings. Following that tragedy, we reviewed the situation in England.

“Here, 61% of people living at flood risk do not understand that they are. In November, Storm Arwen hit the coast leading to waves over 10m tall. Had these waves coincided with a high or spring tide, impacts could have been worse than in 1953. We cannot put this down to luck.”

According to Howard Boyd, the data analysed by the Environment Agency shows that climate change “is making it harder to hold weather-related shocks at arm’s length”.

She added: “Climate change is taking existing risks and it is increasing their severity, frequency and duration.”

Howard Boyd’s comments follow on from the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2022 being presented to parliament earlier this week. The report said: “The evidence shows that we must do more to build climate change into any decisions that have long-term effects, such as in new housing or infrastructure, to avoid often costly remedial actions in the future.”

Howard Boyd pointed to the Treasury commissioned review on the economics of biodiversity and called for a similar review to assess the true cost of climate impacts and the value of investing in resilience.

“The Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment (CCRI) – which I co-chair - can help,” she said. “The CCRI currently has 120 members, featuring both governments and investors, with over US$20trillion in assets.

“By pricing climate risks, particularly for infrastructure, and including them in upfront financial decision-making, the CCRI is showing how to incentivise a shift towards greater climate resilience.”

Howard Boyd concluded by saying that 2022 must become the year of climate adaptation in order to ensure the success of the UK’s COP26 presidency and drive the ambition of the Green Industrial Revolution.

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