The damage caused by flooding can be reduced if countries keep their internationally agreed promises to tackle climate change, a new study finds.
But the paper warns that the UK still faces some increase in damage even if the world limits warming to around 1.8C above pre-industrial levels, slightly warmer than the global target of 1.5C.
Current policies around the world put the planet on track for a warming of around 2.7°C.
This is a significant advance from the landmark Paris climate agreement, but higher temperatures are still expected to have serious consequences for food production, melting glaciers, drinking water and hot and humid cities.
Researchers from the University of Bristol and flood modeling company Fathom assessed the risk of flooding in the UK using the latest Met Office forecasts.
They found that the level of damage could be limited to just 5% above historical levels, but only if countries meet the pledges made at the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow and an additional net zero by 2050.
Professor Paul Bates, lead author of the study and chair of Fathom, said: “For the first time, this flooding model gives us a more accurate and detailed picture of how climate change is affecting future flood risk across the UK.
“The results are a timely warning to the country’s political leaders and business sector that global commitments to significantly reduce carbon emissions must be taken very seriously and ultimately implemented to mitigate the increased losses from flooding.”
Official flood maps that inform defense investment policies and long-term risk planning lack transparency and are not peer-reviewed, scientists warn.
They described them as “insufficiently verified” and the methods used to create them “hazy in secrecy” and unique.
They said failure to open assessments to peer review meant that the British lost more accurate information about threats.
The article is just the latest in many that warn the UK “is not well adapted to the flood risks it currently faces, let alone a further increase in risk from climate change”.
Last year, the government’s climate advisers, the CCC, warned the number of properties in England at risk of flooding from heavy rains has likely doubled over the next 30 years without dramatic government action.
“Current expected annual damages of [around] £700m is a drain on the economy, but more importantly, it represents a very significant amount of misery for those affected.
Which parts of the UK are most affected by flooding?
The data also showed regional differences in potential flood damage, which is true even if the global average temperature has been capped at 1.8°C above pre-industrial levels – just above the internationally agreed limit of 1.5°C.
South East England, South Wales, North West England and Central Scotland are most at risk, with densely populated cities such as London, Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh expected to see an increase in damage of more than 25%.
North East and Central England as well as northern Scotland will face roughly the same level of flood damage as today.
Professor Bates added: “We have found that flooding increases most in places where risk is already high, so the best thing we can do to prepare for the impacts of climate change is to strengthen flood management in areas currently at risk, and this will bring immediate economic and social benefits.
Kamil Kluza, co-founder of risk analysis firm Climate X, said measuring future flood risk in the UK is important, “but it’s not the only risk to consider”.
“Our data shows that by 2050, inland flooding will account for 50% of insurance losses – the other 50% will be caused by a combination of winds, subsidence and rising sea levels.”
The study also found that the quality of information generated by each of the four UK countries varied, with Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland lagging behind England.
It was published in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences and was based on real-world observations of river flow, rainfall and tides, as well as climate model projections that matched flood loss data from the Association of British Insurers.
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