As the planet turns its attention to London for next summer's Olympic games, the city is ramping up its sustainable infrastructure and the use of clean energy. Despite these important measures, a new report from the Committee on Climate Change warns that the UK is not immune to climate change. The committee found that the UK is highly vulnerable to extreme weather, heavy flooding and droughts.
One of Britain's most pressing challenges is to ensure its water supply and flood control infrastructure is not "pushed over the edge" by climate change. Currently, only 8% of the country's water resources are "at risk" of drying up, but that number could balloon to as much as 45% in the coming decades, largely because of climate change. A water shortage of that magnitude could affect millions of people.
As Britain's water reserves are zapped by drought and increasing demand, floods pose a serious danger to the country's coastal regions and urban areas. The study found more homes are being built along coasts that already experience severe erosion. As sea levels rise, the danger -- and cost -- to protect coastal communities will only increase.
Extreme flooding is not just limited to the coast; changes to Britain's climate will also impact inland communities. Unfortunately, the UK is not prepared for this reality either. Every year, 16,000 homes are built on floodplains despite the risks posed by climate change. In urban centers, green space is being rapidly converted to "hard space" that is more prone to flash flooding.
Climate change does threaten the UK, but improved sustainability practices, along with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, can help prepare for the adverse effects. For example, installing water meters and encouraging the use of efficient showerheads and faucets will relax the strain on the water system. As the likelihood of flooding increases, the government could implement strict building codes in flood-prone areas and promote simple measures like flood-resistant paint.
Climate change is a global problem, but the severity of its impacts will depend in part on the vulnerability of local communities. Identifying how climate change affects our communities is the first step in preparing for the impacts.
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