Floods crisis shows urgent need to tackle climate change

By Bridget Robertson

The recent floods across the south west, which are set to spread this week further across the country, highlight the urgent need to both prepare for and do to everything possible to avert climate change.

A Met Office report published on Sunday highlights the link between flooding and climate change. Dame Julia Slingo, the agency’s chief scientist, said “all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change.” The report notes that four of the five wettest years on record have taken place since 2000, and that “a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly heavy rain events”.

What is perhaps even more significant in that in addition to increased rainfall, the Met Office reports that climate change has led to a sea level rise of 12cm in the past century. This means that less severe storms are needed to breach our sea defences, a trend that will only worsen as sea levels continue to rise.

Floods like we have seen since Christmas will happen with ever increasing frequency unless urgent measures are taken to reduce carbon emissions and to prepare for the climate change impacts that it is already too late to prevent.

However, the Government has neither taken sufficient steps to protect people against flooding or to reduce climate-changing carbon emissions. Instead, it prefers to focus on lining the pockets of its friends in the fossil fuel industry.

David Cameron and George Osborne are trying to force ‘fracking’ for gas onto communities, and last year the Government handed out tax breaks worth almost £2bn for north sea oil and gas production. To stop dangerous climate change four firths of the current known fossil fuel resource must be left in the ground – yet the Government’s strategy is to burn every last drop. A massive programme of investment in renewable energy and a nationwide programme to reduce energy use by insulating people’s homes is needed as part of a wider plan to decarbonise Britain’s economy. This would also create hundreds of thousands of much needed jobs.

The Tories have also cut flood defence spending, cut the staff of the Environment Agency responsible for dealing with flood defence, cut the number of civil servants working on climate change adaptation from 38 to 6, and removed the duty on local authorities to prepare for climate change. Its a wonder with all these cuts they have been able to respond to the flooding crisis at all. The Government’s independent advisers the Committee on Climate Change now warn that spending is almost £750 million below the amount needed to keep flood risk at current levels. They are now trying to shift the burden of paying for the impacts of flooding onto the working class, with a scheme for it to be paid for by householders through flooding insurance premiums.

The level of complacency of the Tory-led Government can be seen in the appointment of an avowed climate skeptic as the Environment Minister. Secretary of State Owen Patterson has also said that even if climate change were happening, it could be a good thing because their would be ‘warmer winters’ and we can ‘adapt over time’.

In order to distract from their failure to deal with this crisis the Tories have tried to blame the Environment Agency, the very body that they have cut resources from to deal with the problem. They have also tried to play down the climate change link, with Eric Pickles , the Minister temporarily in charge of the flooding response, telling Parliament this week that it is not relevant whether flooding is caused by climate change, as it does not inform the response. The contrary is true. It is the duty of every socialist to campaign for a response to flooding that both prepares for the future impacts of climate change, and commits to ending our dependence on climate-changing fossil fuels.