After the floods: are we ready for climate change?

floods2cropThis post is by Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South

Last winter’s storms and floods, during the wettest winter on record, put the reality of climate change at the top of the political agenda. At the same time that Ed Miliband was tackling David Cameron on the issue at prime ministers’ question time, local areas around the country were asking how they could be better protected in the future.

In Nottingham, we were lucky to escape the worst of the winter weather, but we are no strangers to flooding, with a particular risk of flash floods at any time of year. So I was pleased to be asked to work with Green Alliance to think about how constituencies like mine can be better prepared.

Along with two other MPs, Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) and Mike Thornton (Eastleigh), Green Alliance held workshops to look at current and future impacts of climate change, and to discuss how national and local government can help us become more resilient in future.

Flood risk needs to be taken more seriously
Several participants made the case for greater local involvement in shaping priorities, but Britain also needs a government that takes the increasing risk of flooding seriously. That’s why – as my colleague Maria Eagle has made clear – the next Labour government would reprioritise flooding as a core responsibility of Defra; produce a new National Adaptation Programme; and establish an Independent National Infrastructure Commission to identify the UK’s long term infrastructure needs, including flood protection.

In Nottingham, it was great to see the Environment Agency, local authority and community groups working together on the Left Bank Flood Alleviation Scheme: £45 million of infrastructure to protect residents and businesses. However, we could do more to promote ‘soft’ prevention measures, like making sure that new housing developments are built to be resilient, and working with local communities to make sure they understand what they can do to reduce risks.

Climate adaptation measures can save money in the long run
We also need to see the value in anticipating and preventing climate disruption. We know how much it costs when the weather hits: over £1 billion in insurance costs alone for last winter’s floods, for example. But it’s more difficult to estimate the savings which could have been realised if preventive measures had been put in place, like planning policies that minimise flood damage to the built environment, or land management which reduces run-off. At our event, people talked about an example in a different area which could be applied to climate adaptation: Nottingham’s ‘early intervention and prevention service’ for social care, in which families at risk are identified at an early stage and helped before a crisis point is reached. The same could be done to prepare businesses and communities for climate impacts.

Climate change is not a distant, abstract problem for future generations to face. It is affecting every community, and the science shows that the impacts will increase. We need to take the problem of climate change more seriously, and local initiatives have an important part to play. The MOZES project in my constituency is a brilliant example: community organisers and activists in an area that has been faced the constant threat of flooding have offered households energy efficiency advice; solar panels have been installed; and local schools are involved at every stage. I’m keen to work with my fellow MPs, and Green Alliance, to make sure that local communities and the government are able to plan for and respond faster to the threat of climate change in the future.

After the floods: lessons in climate adaptation and resilience from three local areas, published today, is a Green Alliance policy insight summarising the conclusions of the workshops with MPs, outlining six priorities for climate resilience.

See also Borrowing is the best way to pay for flood protection, by Julian Morgan, February 2014

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