UK government is not prepared for climate disasters, says spending watchdog | Extreme weather #government #prepared #climate #disasters #spending #watchdog #Extreme #weather

The UK government is not adequately prepared for climate disasters including severe droughts and floods, a report by the National Audit Office has found.

Climate campaigners have said that the UK government is “like a boiling frog” and “oblivious” to extreme weather.

Four extreme weather events including droughts, surface water flooding, storms and high temperatures (including heatwaves) were assessed by the independent public spending watchdog to determine how well-prepared the country is.

Storms, floods and heatwaves can cause deaths, while droughts can have devastating effects on agriculture and there are concerns that supplies of running water in certain areas of the country could run out for periods in the future.

The report took into account the fact that these events are becoming more likely, and will be more intense when they hit because of the changes to the climate caused by burning fossil fuels. For instance, by 2050 there is expected to be a 50% chance each year that summer temperatures will match those of 2018, the joint hottest on record.

It found that the Cabinet Office, whose role it is to coordinate government response to events “does not have clearly defined targets, or an effective strategy in place to make the UK resilient to extreme weather.”

This means, according to the report, it is difficult for government to make informed decisions on investment to prevent or mitigate extreme weather events. The investigators also found that there was limited evidence of risk assessments being carried out as part of funding decisions.

The government also does not track or evaluate its spending on extreme weather resilience, the report found, which means there is no way to tell if any measures taken by ministers are effective. The report said infrastructure – such as roads, rail, power and datacentres – is not designed to withstand extreme weather, particularly high temperatures and heatwaves.

NAO officials have recommended the government puts targets and goals in place to safeguard the UK from the extreme weather events that are becoming more intense and more likely due to climate breakdown. They also suggested that the Cabinet Office consider the merits of a chief risk adviser to coordinate the response and funding for climate disasters.

Gareth Davies, the comptroller and auditor general of the NAO, said: “The UK’s experience during the pandemic demonstrated the vital importance of building resilience, and that lesson also applies to extreme weather events.

“Government needs to place sufficient emphasis on prevention and preparedness – clearly articulating the level of risk it will tolerate – and making informed decisions about prioritisation to ensure efficient and effective investment for the long term.”

The report found that the government does have some effective measures in place when extreme weather events occur, or when they are about to occur, such as taking into account forecasting from the Met Office and issuing weather warnings.

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Georgia Whitaker, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Like a boiling frog, the UK government is seemingly oblivious to rising temperatures and the extreme weather that comes with it. This year was the hottest on record, and we’ve been battered by storm after storm in recent months, which has caused devastating floods right across the country. The climate crisis is happening right now and this damning report makes it very clear that the government is unprepared to deal with its impacts.

“To make matters even worse, Rishi Sunak’s climate rollbacks and new oil and gas licences, which undermine international leadership, will aggravate the climate crisis and condemn communities to more frequent and severe extreme weather events in future. Either Sunak and his government step up and starts taking the climate crisis seriously or voters will put someone in charge that will.”

Meg Hillier, a Labour MP who is chair of the public accounts committee, said: “Extreme weather events can have devastating consequences for individuals, communities and businesses. They are becoming more frequent and more severe. Eight of the 89 risks included in the government’s national risk register are extreme weather events. Today’s NAO report says that government currently has no well-defined vision for what a resilient, well-adapted UK looks like.

“Without this it cannot make informed decisions about short and long-term priorities, investment and funding allocations or evaluate how public funds are being spent. Government needs to do more to prepare for extreme weather. It must place emphasis on prevention and preparedness and make long-term investments to protect people and businesses.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “As the deputy prime minister set out this week, we are making excellent progress on building flexible and agile capabilities, systems and strategies which ensure the UK is prepared for emerging threats. This includes constantly improving our systems, for example vastly increasing the number of datasets being fed into the National Situation Centre, and launching a new 24/7 emergency alerts system in April, which is able to deliver warnings and information to the public.”

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