It’s increasingly clear that human activity is influencing weather extremes

Winter storms set climate alarm bells ringing, writes Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole.

With households across the UK battling to cope with the floods and extreme weather, the political blame game is already in full flow.

This weekend, Eric Pickles pointed an accusatory finger at the Environment Agency and its failure to dredge, prompting the agency’s boss, Lord Smith, to hit back at the Treasury about the lack of funding.

But the reality is that Britain is currently being battered by the elements in an exceptional fashion, and – without urgent action – the long-term forecasts warn of worse to come.

There is ‘no definitive answer‘ to what caused the storms, the Met Office’s chief scientist Dame Julia Slingo said this weekend, at the publication its new report, “but all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change”.

It’s difficult to attribute specific extreme weather events to climate change, although a number of studies exist. One, for example, shows the probability of the huge floods that hit Britain in the year 2000 may have been doubled by man-made global warming.

But even where these attribution studies haven’t been conducted, it’s increasingly clear that human activity is influencing weather extremes.

According to the Met Office’s new report, published yesterday, “there is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly heavy rain events” and “UK rainfall is increasing in intensity”, with four out of the five wettest years on record having taken place since 2000.

For parts of Britain, this past January has been the wettest since the earliest records began 250 years ago. All this sudden extra rain has inundated fields and overwhelmed watercourses, resulting in the devastating floods that so many communities are currently suffering.

What’s more, the Met Office says global warming has already pushed up sea levels around the British coast by 12cm in the past century, and “with the warming we are already committed to over the next few decades, a further 11-16cm of sea level rise is likely by 2030”.

Such a rise will sorely test our sea defences, and make breaching of defences more likely in the event of storm surges.

And, whilst uncertainty remains about the role of climate change in driving storms, the Met Office propose that “the current evidence does suggest an increase in storminess”. ​

These storms are a warning siren that cannot be ignored. It’s time David Cameron and his government woke up to the huge threat climate change poses and take decisive action to tackle it:

  • Tackling global warming must be at the very heart of UK government policy – and the prime minister must ensure he has the right personnel in place. It’s extraordinary that in Owen Paterson, we have an Environment secretary who doesn’t take climate change seriously and recently said it could have a positive side.

  • The UK must do more to rapidly decarbonise the UK economy. Instead of championing shale gas and fracking, which will keep the nation hooked on dirty fossil fuels, we should be investing in energy efficiency and developing the UK’s vast renewable power potential.

  • Councils must be made to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, scrapped this obligation back in 2010.

  • Adequate flood defence spending is needed. Under the coalition, investment  has fallen, with the Committee on Climate Change warning only last month that spending is almost £750 million below the amount needed to keep flood risk at current levels.

  • Environment Agency cuts must be reversed. 550 staff working on flooding are currently in line for the chop, because of a 15 per cent budget cut.

Instead of scrabbling round for scapegoats and short-term fixes our politicians must act in the long-term interests of the UK. It’s the climate, stupid.

Follow Guy shrubsole on twitter. For more information visit Friends of the Earth

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