ombating the causes of climate change,and reducing our greenhouse gasemissions, remains a global policypriority. But we know that we are going toface some of the consequences of change anyway,come what may. And in preparing for those, we havetwo choices. We can wait for absolute certainty on theextent our environment might change or we can act nowon what we do know to prepare our homes andcommunities for what is likely to happen. In a world where some countries confront reducedpublic and private sector finances, and others focus onthe need for immediate improvement in impoverishedliving standards, encouraging people to adapt now forsuch an uncertain future is a hard sell. Over the past decade, England and Wales haveexperienced severe weather-related incidents that haveimpacted severely on thousands of people. Whether ornot these weather events can be directly attributed tothe first vestiges of human induced climate change isa moot point; but the experience of living throughflood, drought, coastal erosion, and water shortagesgive us a good understanding of what is likely to comemore frequently in the future. Despite being a prosperous country and well preparedfor "natural disasters", the severity of these effects onpeople's homes, livelihoods, and sadly sometimeslives, ensures the UK Government pays seriousattention to the need to prepare for climate change.The Environment Agency could quite easily be calledthe "Adaptation Agency". Our core work is supportingpeople where their lives and the environment meet. Weexpect these interactions to be more difficult with theadded pressures of a changing climate. We work withcommunities to manage the risk of flood and coastalerosion, help maintain sufficient water for drinking,recreation, industry, agriculture and the naturalenvironment and work to ensure that biodiversity andthe use of natural resources are balanced sustainably. Looking back over the past decade and forward to thedecade ahead, there are three main issues that willoccupy our efforts in adapting to climate change:Firstly, managing flood risk. Our priorities with floodrisk management have been to increase awareness andreadiness among communities about their flood risk;to build better flood defences in high-risk areas; tohelp communities find their own solutions; to providebetter prediction and early warnings of severe weather;and to ensure fewer developments are built in floodprone areas.Secondly, adapting to coastal erosion and rising sea-levels. Our approach has been to determine whichsections of coastline are most at risk from sea-levelrise, increased storminess and erosion; to work withcommunities to agree plans; to prevent erosion wherewe can but to accept that in some places preventingerosion is physically and economically unsustainablealong over 3,500 miles of coastline.Thirdly, in addressing water resource concerns we haveneeded to find a balance between the needs of peopleand the environment; to prevent over-abstraction ofwater from rivers through licensing; and to promotewater efficiency across business, industry, agriculture,and in new developments.Research suggests that floods in England and Wales could become more frequent due to heavier,tropical-style downpours of rain, with the potential ACTING NOW,PREPARINGFOR THE FUTURE122GLOBAL VOICESCRT HON LORD CHRIS SMITH, CHAIRMAN, ENVIRONMENT AGENCYRight:Rt Hon Lord Chris Smith
GLOBAL VOICES123for more flash floods at any time of year. Sea level rise and the more extremes of weather are likely to speedup coastal erosion. Longer, hotter summers, combinedwith population growth will lead to greater threat ofdrought and water scarcity. Our estimates are that inthirty years' time, levels of flow in some rivers in Englandin summer months will be 50 per cent lower than at present.So, based on what we are doing now and what we knowis likely to happen in the future, what should we be doingin the decade ahead to manage the future impacts of ourweather and climate? And who needs to act?The Environment Agency needs to continue to invest inflood defences and flood warnings. Businesses, localauthorities and developers also need to recognise theirneed to take action to reduce their risk from flooding,perhaps with something as simple as having a floodplan in place should the worst happen. Our transport,water, energy and telecoms companies haveparticularly led the way by beginning to reduce the risk of climate change to the country's criticalinfrastructure. Likewise, homeowners who protecttheir homes and make them easier to recover if theyare flooded, could (and indeed should) be encouragedby the insurance industry with discounted premiums.Coastal risk management is an issue that has alwaysbeen high on the agenda of our island nation. But asclimate change bites harder the risk is likely toincrease. Major coastal protection schemes willcontinue to be built in areas identified as cost-effective, but some communities will need tocontribute to the cost of defences. Likewise, thedecision about where to press ahead with new nuclearpower stations around the coast will need to takeerosion and sea-level rise properly into consideration. We are tackling the twin issues of water resources anddrought by reviewing how much water our licencesallow business and industry to take from threatenedrivers and lakes and requiring water efficiencymeasures among businesses and water companies.New developments should have high water efficiencystandards; and in order to incentivise reducedconsumer demand for water, metering should becomemuch more widespread. Water companies also have the challenge of improving efficiency andreducing leakage in the storage, transport and re-use ofwater supplies.We are also working with businesses and communitiesto develop inter-tidal habitats, to promote sustainabledrainage and to protect our moorland. Protecting thepeat cover in our moorland areas, for example, helps topreserve a major carbon store as well as reducing floodrisk and improving biodiversity. England and Wales are countries that have dealt withextreme weather for centuries. A changing climate,bringing more extremes of weather, will make thismore difficult. Few people in areas that flood regularly,or which have eroding coastline or where rivers andhabitats are disappearing, would thank us for waiting afew more years to act. nABOUT THE AUTHORRt Hon Lord Chris Smith has been Chairman at theEnvironment Agency since July 2008. He becameMP for Islington South and Finsbury in 1983, servedon the Environment Select Committee until 1986and in 1992 joined the Shadow Cabinet as ShadowSecretary of State for Environmental Protection.When Labour came to power in 1997 Chris Smithbecame Secretary of State for Culture, Media andSport. He took a prominent role in opposing the war inIraq and stood down from the House of Commons in2005. He was then created a life peer and took hisseat in the House of Lords in July 2005.