THE BLOG

Storms on the Climate Horizon

28/01/2014 15:09 GMT | Updated 30/03/2014 10:59 BST

Science tells us that no particular adverse weather event either can or should be put down to climate change. That is just not the way climate change works.

However, science also tells us that climate change will certainly bring an increase in both the frequency and severity of adverse weather events in general. So when, on 6 December the UK experienced a storm surge that was the highest since 1953 we were right not to jump to the conclusion that this was the direct consequence of climate change.

Equally though we would have been wrong to think that we would have to wait another 60 years before the next monster storm surge swept through -- very wrong. In fact it took less than 30 days!

Yet around the world some politicians are gambling on just such an unscientific outlook. Adaptation is the forgotten word of climate change.

The media when it focuses on climate change at all, does so in terms of carbon emissions and how to reduce them. Only rarely do our leaders advance arguments about adapting our environment and our economy to the effects of climate change that are already inevitable.

Thousands of people affected by recent winter storms would be surprised to know that lessons do not appear to have been learned from previous flooding incidents. They would be appalled to find that spending on flood defences, at the end of this Parliament in 2015, will be down by 100 million pounds a year compared to 2010 levels.

But this is the impact that climate deniers both inside and outside of parliament have had not just on the terms of the debate about climate change but on actual government policy. It is against these voices that Sir David King, the UK Government's special envoy on climate change warned again just this month that the "storms and severe weather conditions that we might have expected to occur once in 100 years, say, in the past may now be happening more frequently....and the reason is - as predicted by scientists - that the climate is changing and as the climate changes we can anticipate quite a radical change in weather conditions."

Climate change is real and anthropogenic; and the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC has left the deniers little room for manoeuvre, but they are swiftly morphing into a new breed that accept the climate is changing but like to suggest this may have positive benefits. In the United Kingdom we have seen flood risk downgraded as a priority for the Environment Department as ministers have claimed that climate change is not all bad and may in fact boost UK agriculture. This line is equally dangerous.

The Christmas floods in the United Kingdom saw the loss of seven lives, many residents had to flee their homes and 150,000 households were left without power. These people do not want to be told that others will benefit from climate change and so we are going to do nothing about it.

The science is clear: floods like these are likely to become more frequent and more severe. Policy should increasingly reflect this and engage in early adaptation action.

Of course there are some countries where adaptation is the most pressing political issue. Some of the world's small island states like Vanuatu, for instance, cannot afford the luxury of ignoring the science.

That country, perhaps more than any other in the world, is susceptible to dangerous climate change, as water rises and it sinks into the ocean. And this underlines that dealing with climate change raises serious issues of justice and equity: this problem that is not of Vanuatu's making, and that brought wealth to those who did create it, is now threatening the island's very existence.

Whilst the developed world may say it wants to see much greater commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this may only be politically feasible if there is strong support for adaptation measures in those countries at greatest immediate risk. The 30 billion US dollars start up funding pledged to the UN climate change process by the international community had to be equally divided between mitigation and adaptation. This was a sensible recognition that progress on the one will only come about when there is progress on the other.

The 2020 Green Climate Fund of 100 billion US dollars a year is expected to impose the same discipline. It is expected that within this envelope there will be specific provision to support national climate legislation as called for at successive summits by GLOBE International. But it would be tragic if governments who now respect the need for adaptation at the international level were to fail to recognise the same imperative holds good for their domestic policy.

The recent storms in the United Kingdom may have been the worst for sixty years, but they are only a foretaste of the very real disaster that dangerous climate change represents. If they serve to reorder political priorities and refocus policy around sound science then it may still be possible to avoid the huge cost of inaction.