Defra has recently published a large amount of material on climate change. It needed to do so under the last government’s legislation, to produce a “risk assessment”. I went along to hear about it from the Chief Scientist and Secretary of State, and have read more about it on their website.
The fascinating thing is how uncertain the scientists are about their predictions. By the 2080s they forecast an increase in temperature in the UK of somewhere between 1 degree and 8 degrees. They think summer rainfall may have increased a bit, or may have fallen sharply. They think winter rainfall may have stayed the same, or may go up a lot.
They are not even sure what is happening to emissions of carbon dioxide. They say “It is too early to establish whether actual emissions are pursuing any particular emissions scenario”.
Their historical graphs show that there was no warming between 1860 and 1970 overall. This was despite a very intensive coal burning phase to global industrialisation. There was a warming pattern between 1920 and 1940, but cooling ones from 1900 to 1920 and from 1940 to 1970. They then extrapolate warming since 1970 and project more to come.
Their resulting risk assessments conclude that we will spared a substantial number of deaths from the cold in winter, which will far exceed the extra deaths from heat in summer. They reckon there will be more extreme weather, overheating of some buildings, and greater water scarcity. When I asked wasn’t it good news that fewer people will die of cold in the winter, I was told that global warming does have some good effects.
My view is we will be short of water because the population growth is outpacing new water provision. It would be a good idea to put in some more capacity. I also suspect there will be more flooding, largely because there has been too much development on floodplain. It would be a good idea to improve drainage and strengthen flood defences where there are large settlements. This morning on the radio a Minister assured us they would seek to do that.
Defra’s risk assessment needs to concentrate on the here and now and the eminently forecastable. We do need more water and we do need to protect ourselves from floods. Let’s just get on with it.