Wildfires, record temperatures, drought, flooding. Rarely a week goes by without reports of extreme weather, sadly all too often at great cost to life and property.
This week alone we have seen reports that the world now sees twice as many days over 50C, compared to the 1980s. At the same time, firefighters are tackling wildfires in California while the Eastern Seaboard is recovering from the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Ida.
The scientific community is united in its view that we are now seeing the very real effects of man-made climate change. It’s sobering how quickly this seems to have happened. It was only in 2015 that the Paris Agreement was signed to great acclaim and yet here we are. There are difficult conversations to be had at COP26 when all eyes will be on the world’s leaders as they assemble in Glasgow. It seems clear that even stronger action is needed not only to stop manmade climate change, but to manage its results.
And, for me, it’s this second point that needs to be more prominent in the debate. The climate conversation too often focuses on emissions reduction, cutting fossil fuels and developing renewables. All crucial, of course, but only one side of the coin. We need our governments and scientists to drive more awareness of how our lives and economies must adapt to the effects of climate change.
This is vital if communities are to understand the need for new infrastructure investments and, more importantly, accept and support them. This is well illustrated in the strain that climate change is putting on arguably our our most precious resource – water.
The Committee on Climate Change points out that climate change is set to increase the probability of flooding in the UK yet at the same time put pressure on water. Demand increases resulting from population growth are to be accompanied by decreases in water availability. Already, large parts of south east England regularly experience drought with significant impacts on communities, agriculture and business.
Importantly, new water resources are planned across the UK to address this challenge with a significant announcement just made. Ofwat, the water regulator, has agreed to £500m of funding for water utility businesses to develop options for new water resources.
Paul Hickey, the managing director of RAPID, the organisation responsible for co-ordinating these plans, said: ‘Making sure the water sector is prepared and planning for our changing climate is essential. We have to find new and sustainable ways to keep the taps running. We will continue to collaborate to find the right solutions so the water sector delivers in the face of the climate emergency.’
It’s a timely and welcome announcement in the face of growing incidents of extreme weather. Yet, the public reaction in the media is not one of universal support and major infrastructure developments often provoke opposition and concern from the communities affected. We must find ways of changing that reaction if we’re to prepare for a future made different by climate change. The water utilities do an excellent job in communicating with their customers, but we need a wider, national debate. We need this led at the highest levels and we need it before it’s too late.
Greg Phillimore is a director at Camargue