limate change is, quite simply, thegreatest challenge facing the planet in the21st century. The science provides uswith compelling evidence that climatechange is happening and accelerating. But it alsoleaves us with a lot of uncertainty about the pace ofchange, about precisely how adverse its consequenceswill be, and about where it will all end up. What we doknow, of course, is that we will face hotter, driersummers and warmer, wetter winters, temperaturechanges and sea level rise. Combating the causes of climate change, and reducingour greenhouse gas emissions, remains a global policypriority. But we know that we are going to face some ofthe consequences of change anyway, come what may.And in preparing for those, we have two choices. Wecan wait for absolute certainty on the extent ourenvironment might change or we can act now on whatwe do know to prepare our homes and communities forwhat 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 for such an uncertain future is a hard sell. Over thepast decade, England and Wales have experiencedsevere weather-related incidents that have affectedthousands of people. Whether or not these weatherevents can be directly attributed to the first vestiges of human induced climate change is a moot point; but the experience of living through flood, drought,coastal erosion, and water shortages give us a goodunderstanding of what is likely to come morefrequently in the future. Despite being a prosperous country and well preparedADAPTATION EFFORTS INENGLAND AND WALES118GLOBAL VOICESRT HON LORD CHRIS SMITH, CHAIRMAN, ENVIRONMENT AGENCYCPhoto: UN Photo
" "WE WORK WITHCOMMUNITIES TOMANAGE THE RISKOF FLOOD ANDCOASTAL EROSION,HELP MAINTAINSUFFICIENT WATERFOR DRINKING,RECREATION, INDUSTRY, AGRICULTURE ANDTHE NATURAL ENVIRONMENTGLOBAL VOICES119for "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 the decade ahead, there are three main issues that will occupy our efforts in adapting to climate change:Firstly, managing flood risk. Our priorities with flood risk management have been to increase awareness and readiness 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 Walescould become more frequent due to heavier, tropical-style downpours of rain, with the potential for more flashfloods at any time of year. Sea level rise and the moreextremes of weather are likely to speed up coastalerosion. Longer, hotter summers, combined withpopulation growth will lead to greater threat of droughtand water scarcity. Our estimates are that in thirty years'time, levels of flow in some rivers in England in summermonths 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 riskof climate change to the country's criticalinfrastructure. Likewise, homeowners who protect theirhomes and make them easier to recover if they areflooded, could (and indeed should) be encouraged bythe 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 licences allowbusiness and industry to take from threatened rivers andlakes and requiring water efficiency measures amongbusinesses and water companies. 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 this moredifficult. Few people in areas that flood regularly, orwhich 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 the Environment Agency since July 2008. He became MP for Islington South and Finsbury in 1983, served on the Environment Select Committee until 1986 and in 1992 joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Environmental Protection. When Labour came to power in 1997 Chris Smith became Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. He took a prominent role in opposing the war in Iraq and stood down from the House of Commons in 2005. He was then created a life peer and took his seat in the House of Lords in July 2005.