The National Post of 13 December 2007 reproduced the text of a letter sent by 100 leading climate scientists and other experts to the Secretary General of the United Nations. The letter told him that â€œThere has been no net global warming since 1998â€. It urged the UN to concentrate on encouraging national and international efforts to adjust to whatever climate changes might lie ahead, rather than thinking UN action could stop climate change.
This winter has been particularly severe in large parts of the Northern hemisphere. China has been experiencing Artic conditions, with heavy snowfalls disrupting travel and economic activity. Temperatures have been falling to 20 degrees below zero in the mountains and on the steppes of the former Soviet Union. There are reports of frozen rivers and frozen hydro electric systems leaving people with no power and no heating in the appalling cold.. This is not proof of a new ice age â€“ just a reminder that weather is difficult to predict and variations can be wild.
Here in the UK a wet summer has been followed by the occasional wet period in the winter. The flood threat is ever present. The government dashes around issuing press releases, setting up enquiries, promising more of our money in future years, but still does not get on with the jobs of clearing water courses, improving ditches and working with the water authorities and local authorities to strengthen our flood defences.
I have put in evidence to the Prime Minister, at his request. I have put the same evidence to DEFRA. I have given written and oral evidence to the Pitt Review. I have had meetings with people from the Environment Agency and the local Council, and have exchanged many a letter with water companies and all the army of regulators and governors in this area.
It is a prime example of massive spending on a lot of well intentioned regulation and administration, with all too little of the money being spent on anything useful. The final irony is the possibility that many of the governmentâ€™s planned 3 million new homes will be built on flood plain.
The government has been struggling with Gordon Brownâ€™s sweeping dictat that there will be 3million more new homes by 2020. When he announced it it was difficult to see how people would afford them, as house prices were soaring out of sight of the would be first time buyer. Now prices are weakening, it is difficult to see which housebuilders will be able to afford to build so many. Offering people homes on floodplains, after the images of last summer, will not be an easy sell. It will be even more difficult if insurers say they will not insure them, or if they want high premiums for taking the risk.
The answer to all this is simple. The government should spend more of its current huge regulatory budget in this area on practical measures to improve flood defences. It should not allow building on floodplain, unless the developer has a scheme which will ensure no flooding and make a contribution to better water management. Mr Brown should recognise that a 3 million target may be difficult to achieve in the current climate. Housebuyers are put off by the declines in house prices, and housebuilders are constrained by tight credit and shrinking margins on their work. The government should b e relieved if the housebuilding rate does not fall. They should not expect in these current difficult economic conditions to see a surge in housebuilding to the new higher levels of the PMâ€™s imaginings.