Extreme weather 'number one challenge' facing UK
CIWEM’s Annual Conference, a key event for the water and environment sector, took place at the Royal Geographical Society, London, on 8-9 April. Keynote speakers included Lord Chris Smith, Prof Peter Matthews, Dan Rogerson MP and Cathryn Ross.
Following the wettest winter the UK has experienced in almost 250 years and fresh warnings from the IPCC about the impacts climate change is likely to have on our environment, Water & Environment 2014 brought together around 250 water and environment professionals to discuss how the UK can best sustainably deliver water and environmental management into the future.
The two-day conference provided an opportunity to learn, discuss and debate a variety of key environmental topics, including flood risk management, adapting to climate change, nature-driven design, integrated catchment management, water use and treatment for shale gas exploration and extraction, future proofing the UK water sector, and water resilience.
Addressing a packed audience, CIWEM President Mike Summersgill welcomed speakers and delegates, highlighting that whilst the focus of the event was primarily the UK, the principles discussed should apply equally to other parts of the world.
Opening keynote speaker, Professor Peter Matthews, Chairman of Natural Resources Wales, described the challenges and achievements of Natural Resources Wales’ first year of operation:
“In our first year, we have laid the foundations of an independent organisation that can deliver for the environment, people and economy of Wales. And we have focused on delivering our core business, including dealing with the harshest coastal storms to hit Wales in decades, continuing with the fight against larch disease and completing one of Europe’s largest habitat restoration programmes with benefits to the state of nature in Wales, as well as ensuring that we are an organisation that is fit for the future.
“It is early days with still much to be done, and we are realistic about the challenge this presents, but we are also optimistic that we have the commitment, skills and expertise to make it happen and I am very proud to be part of this leading innovation.”
Lord Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, used his keynote speech to underline the need to continue improving the UK’s flood defences to enable the country to cope with future extreme weather:
“More frequent extreme weather is the number one challenge facing the nation. The climate will throw more at us in the future and we need to be even better prepared.”
Drawing contrasts with the 2007 floods, in which more than 55,000 homes were flooded, Lord Smith stated that, while 7,000 homes were flooded in this winter’s floods, over 1.4 million homes had been protected, along with 2,500 square kilometres of farmland. He said he was “extremely proud” of Environment Agency staff who had worked day and night, “often in challenging conditions”, from December to February to run pumping stations, deploy defences, co-ordinate information for the emergency services, issue warnings and clear blockages from rivers.
Welcoming the additional £130 million and £140 million the Government has committed for repairs and additional maintenance, Lord Smith added: “The Environment Agency working with communities and partners was key to increasing long-term resilience to flood risk. This approach is already having real benefits in the Calder Valley, where flash flooding in summer 2012 affected 900 households and 250 businesses and the Environment Agency, local authority and flood wardens are working to understand how collective data, information and intelligence can be combined with technology to provide the community with more time to prepare for flooding.”
Environment Minister Dan Rogerson spoke to confirm Defra’s support for the catchment-based approach and to pay tribute to the professionals and volunteers who responded to this winter’s floods.
Speaking about the need for the water sector, including Ofwat as the regulator, to evolve its approach in the face of new challenges, Ofwat Chief Executive Cathryn Ross said:
“One of the things we have learned over the last few years is that one size really does not, cannot and should not fit all. What we are trying to do as the economic regulator in the sector is to create a framework that allows the sector to do what it does best: deliver for customers, find innovative solutions and implement them efficiently.”
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