Put 9 October in your diary. That’s the day when Britain faces exceptionally high autumn high tides. If these coincide with heavy storms, many parts of England, including the East Coast, the Thames Valley and London, will face the danger of serious flooding. That’s the stark warning from leading scientists, who have taken the opportunity to slam New Labour for cutting national funding for flood defences just as climate change begins to bite.
Last month the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told the Environment Agency to cut its £400m flood protection budget by £15m, which will affect future mapping for floods and improved warning systems. No less a person than Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell, head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University, commenting on the cuts, said on Tuesday: "People enjoying the beach this summer are probably not aware that our coast is in crisis. It is where the risks and dangers of flooding are increasing. We're playing catch-up to a certain extent and the trends to the distant future don't look at all promising. There is unease in the profession as to whether we are spending enough money to deal with the kind of problems climate change will create in 20 or 30 years."
Jean Venables, vice-president of the Institution of Civil Engineers and former chairman of a regional flood defence committee, said that three years ago the government pledgetto increase flood defence investment. "It's extremely disappointing for the government to be reducing the budget for flood-risk management," Dr Venables said. "We need to look very hard at doing proper maintenance of flood defences. I'm very concerned that Defra has gone in the wrong direction."
New Labour’s "green" credentials are clearly not worth the paper they are written on. Carbon emissions have increased under this government, which is infatuated with cars and driven entirely by the considerations of the corporate sector. Demonstrations, like the one planned for 4 November by the Campaign Against Climate Change, need to focus on much more than simply trying to get the US to sign up to Kyoto and putting pressure on New Labour. That’s far too limited an aim and actually a waste of effort. There is also a real danger of reinforcing the illusion that governments respond to rational argument and can even alter the way corporations function. Why beat about the bush? What’s actually wrong with saying that global capitalism itself, with its need to churn out more goods at the expense of the planet, is actually the source of the problem, and that it can always count on its chums in governments around the world? At least this would get to the heart of the climate change crisis and show that outside of transforming our economic and political framework there are no quick-fix solutions.
Paul Feldman, communications editor