Friday, 8 January 2016

Winter Floods

It has been another stormy winter and, once again, many communities in Britain have had their Christmas ruined by flooding. In Cornwall we had plenty of gale force winds and lots of rainfall but, unlike two years ago when the tidal surges damaged sea defences at Portreath and Penzance, this time the worst of the damage has been seen in Yorkshire, Scotland and Cumbria, which saw the heaviest rainfall since records began in 1910.

Around the world we seem to be seeing an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.  It is not just here in the UK.  Over the Christmas period we also saw extreme flooding in the USA and in October there was severe flooding in the French Riviera.  Meanwhile, other parts of the world are experiencing other extreme events.  Australia started 2015 with severe bush fires around Adelaide and it ended 2015 over the Christmas period with more bush fires started by lightning storms and fuelled by arid weather.

One factor that could be driving the increased frequency of extreme weather events is climate change and that is why we must continue to make progress to reduce carbon emissions. However, many of the current weather events are being put down to the El NiƱo effect: a naturally occurring cycle that develops every four or five years due to warm ocean currents in the South Pacific which then have knock on effects on weather systems throughout the world. 

This means we also need to plan to manage and mitigate flood risk. In the last parliament, the Government spent over £1.5 billion on investment in flood defences and during the current parliament we plan to invest an additional £2.3 billion, supporting around 1500 schemes that will help protect some 300,000 homes.  

This projects will include major pieces of infrastructure such as tidal barriers to the development of natural flood plains and shore line defences to minimise impacts.  We will never be able to guarantee that extreme weather events will be avoided, but we are doing all we can to plan for them.