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The Government is unprepared to tackle extreme weather events from floods to droughts and storms to heatwaves, a new report by the National Audit Office reveals.
No one in Whitehall has collected the information across government to tackle these weather crises and the Cabinet Office will not have an overall plan to do so until 2030, it has found.
The lack of a risk strategy to tackle weather crises means ministers are not properly informed about how to tackle problems.
Labour’s Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, said the Government “currently has no well-defined vision for what a resilient, well-adapted UK looks like” and “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”.
The report examines eight different recent severe weather events on the national risk register covering floods, droughts, storms, and heatwaves which caused major disruption in the UK.
The report states that the combination of the London floods in 2021, Storm Arwen in 2021, and Storm Eunice in 2022 has cost the insurance industry an estimated £931 million in claims from flood and storm damage. Storm damage from Storm Eunice meant that 1.4 million properties lost power.
The 2022 heatwave in the summer, when temperatures topped 40°C led to 4,500 people dying because of the heat.
The report also cites a crisis caused by the heat at two top hospitals. Then, a heatwave caused “failures at two data centres used to host the 371 legacy IT systems of London’s largest NHS hospital trust”, with the two data centres supporting clinical services, patient records and administration.
“The cooling failures took down most of the clinical IT systems at Guy’s, St Thomas’ and Eveline London hospitals, and community services,” the report states. “The trust declared a critical site incident and moved to a paper-based operating model and requested wider system support (a Level 3 critical incident, the highest level). Complete restoration of IT systems took several weeks.”
The NAO also found that there are about 3.4 million properties at risk of flooding from surface water but the public is not aware about the scale of this – and the Government has not done enough to warn them.
On tackling drought, the report cites the drought declared in August 2022. It states: “By September 2022, 11 out of 14 Environment Agency areas in England were in drought. In early 2023, two areas remained in drought.”
The report states that the economic cost of the drought amounted to £165 million in lost revenues and cost £96 million in lost profits. It affected agricultural production, stressed wildlife, caused water shortages, and caused damage to roads and the rail networks as the ground shrunk. The Government is committed to reducing the amount of water used by people but, because of leaks, there has been no reduction.
One area that has improved is the Met Office forecasting of severe weather – with warnings being prompt and accurate.
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The NAO recommends that the Government speeds up plans to coordinate action on severe weather from 2030 to 2028, and appoints a chief risk advisor. The report contrasts the lack of coordination in the UK with action taken in Australia and New Zealand, where a single agency is in charge of combatting the problems arising from severe weather.
Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner Georgia Whitaker, 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.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson told Byline Times: “The best way to protect people, businesses and communities from extreme weather events is by having systems in place that are both robust and flexible. This is core to the UK’s resilience strategy, which has been proven to allow us to effectively coordinate the Government and wider resilience community’s response to a diverse set of risks – having successfully dealt with a series of severe weather events this autumn.
“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.”