A sign of things to come?

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The general ‘dismissive’ view of the effect of climate change on us all is that it may get a bit warmer in the Summer and colder in the Winter  – but there is a much bigger issue for us all here;

We might have to get used to power blackouts and disrupted travel plans as the country struggles to cope with the long-term effects of climate change, a report for the government has warned.

Floods, rising temperatures and higher sea levels threaten the UK’s road, rail, water and energy networks between 2030 and 2100.

Far fetched?

If that warning was not sombre enough in a month when air, rail and road travel has been badly hit by the weather, large storms and changes in wind direction could threaten some of the country’s busiest ports and airports. That would mean the abandonment of coastal docks and increasing pressure for the building of new runways throughout southern Britain.

The independent report for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on how well prepared energy, transport and water infrastructure is to cope with climactic changes expected between 2030 and 2100 presents a challenging, even bleak, picture. It identifies a general lack of long-term foresight, with capital investment at present depending too much on short-term returns and businesses tending to look no further than six to 12 years ahead. The authors argue that social attitudes and behaviour need to change too.

The official UK climate projections published last year predicting hotter and drier summers, warmer and wetter winters, rising sea levels and more floods, storms and heatwaves, provide the basis for analysing many of the risks threatening vital infrastructure. But the report also warns that ports and airports could face as yet unquantified threats from changes in prevailing winds, although it admits evidence on which such predictions could be made is, as yet, scanty.

It says:

“Even with many changes, current levels of supply and infrastructure functionality may not be possible at reasonable cost. We need to ensure the general public understands the constraints and challenges. Customer expectations in the UK are high. Customers do not expect interruptions to supply, restrictions on use or loss of quality, yet they demand low costs.”

The study, which was started under the previous government, will feed into a cross-government project to identify what climate change will mean for key networks. The project also involves major power and water companies, airport, port and rail operators and motoring organisations.

The project makes clear a big and expensive programme of sea and flood defences will be necessary. (The coalition government has just slashed spending in this area, a decision critics have warned will prove a false economy). Some areas of eastern England are already under threat – the report also warns some existing quaysides may have to be made higher and more inland ports such as Goole, Yorkshire, 50 miles from the open sea developed.

This would be “an expensive and radical option” but might be necessary “if conditions deteriorate substantially”. It would mean abandoning billions of pounds of existing assets in “at risk” locations and could provoke a business and public outcry, the report concedes.

Plans for a third runway at Heathrow were dropped by the coalition government, but the report notes that runways at UK airports are aligned either east-west or southwest-northeast depending on the prevailing wind. Many only have a single runway or parallel runways, which means on days when there is a strong cross wind, there can be severe disruption. These airports could therefore be vulnerable to a change in prevailing wind direction.

On energy, the report suggests one alternative would be for every home to be able to use low-carbon electricity when available and gas (perhaps supplemented by local anaerobic biogas) when it was not. A gradual shift to renewable energy sources, such as sun, wind, waves and tides, which are dependent on climactic conditions for providing electricity, might make stability through a grid system difficult to guarantee.

Lots to think about – and likely to affect the current generation, not just future generations. It is time to take a much more serious look by us all!


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