Cambridgeshire will experience more extreme weather and flooding as the climate crisis takes hold in the UK, according to the Environment Agency’s chief executive.
Sir James Bevan said on Tuesday (February 23) that several of the “reasonable worst-case scenarios” have already happened in Britain in recent years.
Cambridgeshire was badly hit by flooding this winter, with some residents evacuated from their homes during the worst days before Christmas.
Describing the catastrophic impact that the climate crisis is causing around the world, Sir James said: “If [this] sounds like science fiction, let me tell you something you need to know.
“This is that over the last few years, the reasonable worst case for several of the flood incidents the EA has responded to has actually happened, and it’s getting larger.”
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While parts of Cambridgeshire have long been affected by flooding – particularly the low-lying fens – the frequency and extremity is something new.
Three of the five wettest winters on record have been within the past eight years, according to the Environment Agency (EA).
The public body works with the Met Office to identify rainfall scenarios to forecast the worst-case flooding impacts to ensure the EA and emergency services are prepared to support local communities.
Storm Christoph last month was the most recent ‘worst-case scenario’ to hit the UK.
Following Storms Ciara and Dennis in early 2020, the storms have raised the Bedfordshire Ouse and many other major rivers to record levels in the last 15 months.
The River Great Ouse – which runs through St Neots, Huntingdon and St Ives in Cambridgeshire – has caused major problems in those towns during times of high rainfall.
Dozens of ‘risk to life’ flooding warnings were issued in Cambridgeshire locations in December, with emergency services deploying inflatable rafts to recover residents.
One St Ives family awoke on Christmas Eve to find their home 18 inches underwater.
And so high was the water in Hilton that a man completely disappeared from view when he fell into a ditch that day.
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A spokesperson for the EA said their research “shows that there is an upward trend in extreme floods at two-thirds of our river level stations and that this trend is 90% certain at over a fifth of locations.”
This means that scenes like these of burst banks and waterlogged roads in Cambridgeshire are set to get increasingly bad without urgent action to address the climate crisis.
Because of the county’s famous flatness and abundant rivers, Cambridgeshire is very susceptible to the effects of climate change in the UK.
A 2015 study by Climate Central found that even areas of Cambridge, Huntingdon and Peterborough would not be exempt from the creeping tide if temperatures rose to 3.2 C, causing a sea-level rise of 10 metres.
Sir James told the annual conference of the Association of British Insurers: “Much higher sea levels will take out most of the world’s cities, displace millions, and make much of the rest of our land surface uninhabitable or unusable.”
Speaking the day after Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap announcement, the EA boss called on the government – and public – to put the same effort into tackling the “unseen pandemic” of the climate emergency as they had in tackling Covid.