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Owen Paterson: Britain Is A World Leader In Climate Adaptation

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The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs

Britain has a long history of overcoming the challenges that our famously changeable weather poses and harnessing our natural resources to support growth.

New investments and innovation in both the private and public sectors continue this tradition today. To help manage our water, consumers can now buy bathroom products knowing how water efficient they are, informed by the water label, protecting this valuable resource both now and for the future. In contrast, when there is too much water our flood management investments, expected to total £2.3 billion over the 4 years to 2015, protect homes and families and free up otherwise blighted land that can be put to good use.

In our rural economy, our agriculture continues to innovate, using advanced breeding techniques to produce new crops that can thrive even when the weather seems to be against us. Looking ahead, Genetic Modification has the potential to make further crop improvements. Managing our natural resources in innovative ways, is backed by the kind of world class science, and engineering skills that we can be proud equip the UK to succeed in the global race.

However, recent extreme weather in Britain, such as the flooding in the winter of 2012, has brought into sharp relief just how important anticipating and managing weather extremes can be.

In the case of flooding, the costs of rebuilding can run to hundreds of millions of pounds. Essential public services such as schools and hospitals can be heavily disrupted and business – particularly small, hardworking businesses – can be hit severely. Even when extreme weather hits abroad we feel the effects at home. For example, harvest failures abroad push up food prices here – a worrying prospect for hard-pressed families.

As the world’s climate changes, Britain’s expertise in areas such as weather forecasting, flood modelling, infrastructure and insurance are already coming to the fore to prepare us for the kinds of events we might see more often. Indeed, the UK is already one of the global leaders in this industry of the future and this market is expected to grow by 5% or more year on year, supporting skilled jobs and the weather-resilience that saves money in the long term. Economists have estimated that, across Europe, every £1 spent on increasing resilience now could yield £4 in damages avoided.

This report shows what the government is doing to support this. In many cases, some simple planning now comes at little additional cost to existing investments. For example, the prospect of changes in rainfall intensity, as well as the growth of London, is built in to the design of the Thames Tideway Tunnel ‘Supersewer’ so it can keep the Thames cleaner long into the future. However, the government cannot act alone. That’s why I’m delighted that we have worked so closely with experts from outside government – from industry, from local government and from civil society – who know what works best in their own sectors. These preparations, based on the best evidence and a spirit of partnership, will help avoid costs and damage and so support the growth of a stronger and more balanced economy.

The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP
Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs

Full report The National Adaptation Programme: Making the country resilient to a changing climate