Monday, 7 December 2015

"Extreme weather events are now a feature of the British climate"

Watching British TV as the second 'once-in-a-century' flood hits Cumbria in six years, I realise why the British are more acutely aware of climate change than Poles. Whether it's the Somerset Levels, the upper reaches of the River Severn or the Thames, Oxfordshire or Cumbria, Britain catching the effects of climate change in the neck. Increased energy caused by higher global temperatures are creating more moisture in the North Atlantic; more powerful winds are being generated, lashing the western parts of the British Isles with increasingly frequent storms and downpours.

As global leaders continue seeking a solution to climate change in Paris at COP21, the effects are hurting tens of thousands of flooded households in the UK.

Since I arrived in London five weeks ago, Britain has already been hit by four 'named storms' - Abigail, Barney, Clodagh and now Desmond. The north-west of England and south-west Scotland have been most heavily affected. Day after day, the weather forecasts, showed conveyor belts of dark clouds that have been dumping rain incessantly on Lancashire, Cumbria and the Borders. The streams up in the hills have swollen, the ground sodden, bringing more and more water into the valleys. The final straw came on Saturday, when nearly 14 inches (34 cm) of rain fell in 24 hours on the Cumbrian hills. It was a record rainfall, the largest ever recorded in the UK.

The effects on towns like Appleby, Carlisle, Cockermouth, Kendal and Keswick have dominated the TV news headlines. Water pouring over the top of floodwalls; houses with water halfway up the ground floor rooms, railway lines washed away by floodwater. Experts are on TV non-stop saying 'we told you so' - this type of weather event is now becoming a norm; in my childhood this sort of thing only happened in other, lesser developed, parts of the world. The costs to the economy - insurance companies mainly, but not only, have been estimated by PwC at between £400m-£500m. Half a billion starts to make itself felt in a nation's GDP. The previous floods, in 2009, cost the economy £179m.

Flood defences built after the 2009 floods, meant to withstand a once-in-a-century event, were 'overtopped' to use the frequently used neologism. Critics of government cuts have pointed to flood defence projects cancelled for budgetary reasons, but there's a general realisation that no amount of investment in flood defences can hold back the results of ever-wilder weather where such events, once anomalies, will become commonplace.

Here in London, the rain has been far less pronounced, but the temperature today hit a balmy +13.8C, way above the average high for December of +8.1C. Warmer than Warsaw's high today of +11.1C, which in itself is way above the average high for December, a mere +1.9C.  But climate change has had - to date - far less adverse impact on Poland and Poles. Poland has had the occasional bit of flooding, the drier-than-usual summer, a few small and sporadic forest fires. Nothing that seems out of the ordinary, nothing that would engender anxiety, caution or changing attitudes. Indeed, if anything, not having numbing frosts in winter and hotter, and enjoying drier summers is seen as a wholly positive change.

In any case Poland - for the good of its coal-mining community and its energy independence - remains wedded to burning coal to generate electricity into the long term. The carbon dioxide being pumped out is not harming Poland, so the thinking goes, so keep on pumping. Except that the climate is a zero-sum game. There are winners and losers, Poland's a winner (for the time being at least); and the Home of Solidarity is not too fussed about the effects of its carbon dioxide emissions outside its borders.

This time two years ago:
Cheaper public transport for Varsovians

This time three years ago:
Swans on ice

This time four years ago:

This time five years year:
What's the English for kombinować?

This time seven years ago:
The demographics of jazz

This time eight years ago:
A day in Poznań

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