While Britain Floods, Politicians Debate Climate Change

Extreme winter weather in the U.K. has sparked a bitter debate about the impact of climate change

  • Share
  • Read Later
GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images

The wettest January in 250 years has led to catastrophic floods in Britain

Britons are normally never more comfortable than when talking about the weather, but recent extreme weather events have began to test that theory. Since December, the U.K. has faced a relentless assault from some of the worst winter weather on record. It began with the worst storm and tidal surges in 60 years hitting the North Sea coastline, floods that ruined Christmas for thousands across Surrey and Dorset and in January, the most exceptional period of rainfall since 1766. The deluge has transformed swathes of southern England into cold, dark lakes, destroying homes and businesses, and in some cases taking lives.

Politicians have looked weak in the face of such natural disaster, with many facing criticism from local residents for doing little more than turning up as “flood tourists” at the site of disasters, incapable of helping those in crisis and only there for a photo opportunity. The Environment Agency, the body responsible for combating floods and managing rivers, has also been blamed for failing to curb the disasters. But there’s an ever larger debate over the role of climate change in the current floods and storms, and it has been unremittingly hostile, with bitter disagreement within the government itself.

(MORE: A Landmark International Agreement to Halt Wildlife Trafficking Is Just the Beginning)

The U.K.’s Met Office, the country’s national weather service, issued a report on the recent climatic events, linking it to the cold weather in Canada and the U.S. The report indicated that “as yet, there is no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change” to these events, in part because of how varied the U.K. weather tends to be. “But all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change,” said Dame Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientists. “There is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly rain events.” When heavy rain in 2000 devastated parts of Britain, a later study found the climate change had doubled the chances of the flood occurring.

The former Conservative party Chancellor Lord Lawson dismissed her comments as “absurd” for drawing a link between the floods and climate change. “There’s been bad weather before,” said Lawson. And Eric Pickles, a senior Conservative government minister, told the BBC that “it does not matter if it is climate change,” that caused the floods—the government would still have to deal with the situation.

(MORE: The Hard Math of Flood Insurance in a Warming World)

Others in government disagree. “This type of climate change denying conservatism is willfully ignorant, head in the sand, nimbyist conservatism,” said Ed Davey, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, in a speech on Feb. 13. For his part, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that he “very much suspects” that flooding was linked to climate change. Davey’s colleague in the Department for Energy and Climate Change, Greg Barker, told TIME that while it was “bad science” to draw a parallel between one weather event and climate change, “it is highly likely we will see more extreme weather events as the earth warms up.”

For those affected by flooding however, their immediate concerns are not necessarily about the manmade changes to the earth’s atmosphere. A YouGov poll from February found that while 84% of those surveyed believed Britain was likely to experience similar extreme weather events in the next few years, only 30% thought it was connected to man-made climate change. Responding to Pickle’s comments that climate change was irrelevant to the issue of flooding, Barker said, “In the short term, what people affected by flooding want to know is that there is effective relief effort in hand. If your property is under water, if your access to transport is impaired, then you want effective relief.” But this doesn’t mean that the public isn’t willing to “think again about the long term impacts of climate change,” added Barker.

What will it take for politicians to take more decisive action on climate change, asks Nicholas Dunlop, the Secretary-General of the Climate Parliament, an international network of legislators dedicated to preventing climate change. Dunlop describes the U.K.’s flood crisis as “the opening scene in a really bad play.” The “storm factory” over the North Atlantic that meteorologists say is about to send more harsh winter weather Britain’s way means that for many, the flood crisis is only set to deepen.

(MORE: Population Plus Climate: Why Coastal Cities Will Face Increased Risks From Floods)

11 comments
JanroseCapellan
JanroseCapellan

The environment plays an important part in a nation’s economy. The U.K is trying to look for a solution, but they might not be able to find one. The U.K government is going to have to insure the houses and properties of the citizens in the U.K, since it is not the citizens' fault that the climate is changing. Maybe, a tax raise (which citizens might not be happy about) will help to fond more programs to prevent and minimize the risk for deaths or other consequences. I feel that if we start taking care of the environment and nesting on the environment we can stabilize the climate.

PANATAG
PANATAG

*DUTIES of our LOCAL OFFICIALS but, 

"ignoring DECLARATIONS OF  AUTHORITIES" 

G-E-N-E-R-A-L- C-O-M-M-E-N-T*:

OBLIGATION community OFFICIALS 

specially LAURA affecting FOLLOWERS  in general & praying that  

NOT to PROSPER IN PERFECT ACCOMPLISHMENT OF CRIMES*

PLS APPREHEND  NOW

INFORMAL SETTLERS

PANATAG
PANATAG

WE ARE PART OF COMMUNITY THAT EXPERIENCE THE TRUTH ABOUT LIVES & STRUGGLES OF COMMON TAO OUR NATIONAL AS WELL AS LOCAL ELECTED AUTHORITIES ARE DOING THEIR SHARES EVERY TIME THEY NEED TO ASK FOR THEIR ACTIONS BUT BUTTTTTTTTT PWEDE PO BA NA RIGID EXACT ACTIONS IS NECESSARY TO 1 EASE OUR STRESS 2* PERMANENTLY SOLVES THE REAL PROBLEMS WHAT AUYTHROTIES DID IS PUBLICLY INFORMED DIFFERENT SECTORS BUT TO APREHEND IS WHAT WE ARE PRAYING FOR 

PANATAG
PANATAG

WITH COORDINATIONS/COOPERATIONS & CONSENTS OF PROPER AUTHORITIES ON BOTH SIDES 

THEY PROMISE NOT JUST "LIP SERVICES" BUT ACTIONS LIKE THESE LINGAP SA MAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAMN

WORLD WIDE WALK MEDICAL MISSION 

MODESTY ASIDE INSPIRE US TO CONTINUE WITH OUR DAILY LIVES OF COURSE WITH THE PRESENCE OF AUTHORITIES NEARBY THAT GIVING FIRST AID SUCH AS PAIN RELIEVERS 

PANATAG
PANATAG

FOR THE LAST QUARTER OF 2013 UNTIL NOW FEB 2014 NUMEROUS OCASSIONS GATHER MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ASIDE FROM THE OCASSIONS SPONSORED BY NATIONAL LOCAL GOVERNMENT  NONE OF THE OCASSIONS EVER 

btt1943
btt1943

Global climate change may have come too slowly for most people to be aware of, but extreme and isolated weather is here to stay and one cannot pretend not to notice. The gradual negative impact of weather change on human livelihood will be very severe if not awfully threatening. No debate needed, take it or leave it at your own perils. (boonteetan)

JackWolf
JackWolf

We better get a move on, cause these impacts are just beginning and will get worse as long as we emit greenhouse gases.  It's a simple fact long ago proven and all the predictions scientists made 20, 30 years ago are now happening.   We are living in "interesting times" as the proverb said..

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

“Believe” in what?


Science has NEVER “believed” beyond; “could be”. 

Prove that science “believes” as much as you “believers” do or at least stop telling kids that science agrees with your “belief”. 

And stop embarrassing yourselves and get up to date;

*Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.

*Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

REAL progressives are former climate blame believers. This was another Iraq War without a real enemy.

Yoshi
Yoshi

"Climate change" cannot be prevented any more than volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, or plate tectonics. Yes, indeed, let's move away from pyrotechnology, but let's at least be honest and rational about it. We all want a nice place to live.

PANATAG
PANATAG

@JackWolf  *DUTIES of our LOCAL OFFICIALS but, 

"ignoring DECLARATIONS OF  AUTHORITIES" 

G-E-N-E-R-A-L- C-O-M-M-E-N-T*:

OBLIGATION community OFFICIALS 

specially LAURA affecting FOLLOWERS  in general & praying that  

NOT to PROSPER IN PERFECT ACCOMPLISHMENT OF CRIMES*

PLS APPREHEND  NOW

INFORMAL SETTLERS