Droughts and floods: the UK’s worrying climate future

Two alarming reports predict more extreme weather events for northern England

(Image credit: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Increases in both floods and droughts have been predicted for northern England, two new studies are warning.

Britain will suffer some of the worst river flooding in Europe, according to a study published in Nature.

The paper drew its conclusions after researchers from 24 European countries examined half a century’s worth of data. They found that the North of England and southern Scotland will be the areas worst hit by the worrying trend, with an 11% increase in river flood levels per decade.

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The Independent says the conclusions of the 50 scientists from 35 research institutions “have provided the clearest evidence yet that climate change is affecting the severity of floods”.

There are regional variations because in central and northwestern Europe increased levels of precipitation are making soils wetter and therefore unable to absorb excess water.

By contrast, in southern Europe, the risk of flooding is predicted to decline by up to 23% because climate change is causing precipitation to fall while higher temperatures are drying out soils, meaning they can absorb more water.

“Processes differ across Europe – but the regional patterns all correspond well with predicted climate change impacts,” said Professor Gunter Bloschl from the Vienna University of Technology.

“This shows us that we are already in the midst of climate change. We will see the effects of these changes in the next decades. Flood management must adapt to these new realities,” he added.

Jamie Hannaford, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “This timely study adds to a growing body of evidence that shows that flood magnitude has increased in the UK over the last five decades, particularly in parts of northern and western Britain.”

Meanwhile, a report for think tank IPPR North found that demand for water could outstrip supply by 2035 in parts of northern England. A perfect storm of major reductions in rainfall and water flow, population increase and inadequacies in water companies’ efforts to reduce leakage could lead to drought.

The report says that in Yorkshire and the Humber, water shortages could soon be a reality unless households and businesses reduce their consumption. The current average of 141 litres per person per day is significantly higher than Germany’s 121 litres per day, the authors note.

The Guardian says floods and droughts can become growing threats due to global heating, which means “the likelihood of drought is projected to increase while average summer river flows may decrease, reducing water availability, even as the risk of flooding is likely to increase, particularly in winter”.

The Environment Agency has previously warned that England could run short of water within 25 years.

Chief executive Sir James Bevan said the country faces the ‘‘jaws of death” unless a concerted effort is taken to stop leaks, improve efficiency of water usage in the home and transform public attitudes.

He added: “We need water wastage to be as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby or throwing your plastic bags into the sea.”

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