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Climate change heats up Thames flood fears

PUBLISHED: 18:44 23 July 2008 | UPDATED: 13:28 05 October 2010

HOUSEHOLDS living on low-lying land close to the Thames are at increasing risk of floods because of climate change, a report reveals. People in the Thames basin also face droughts as the landscape changes, say the findings by the World Wildlife Fund. Changes in weather patterns are leading to a decline in the number of plants and animals, while fish populations will also drop, according to the organisation’s Thames Vulnerability Assessment study published July 15.

Mike Brooke

HOUSEHOLDS living on low-lying land close to the Thames are at increasing risk of floods because of climate change, a report reveals.

People in the Thames basin also face droughts as the landscape changes, say the findings by the World Wildlife Fund.

Changes in weather patterns are leading to a decline in the number of plants and animals, while fish populations will also drop, according to the organisation's Thames Vulnerability Assessment study published this month (July 15).

Lawns and flower beds of the typical English garden and the lush green landscape along parts of the river will be become more arid and dusty, it says.

Anglers will catch fewer fish in streams as the flow in the Thames and its tributaries, like the River Lea in East London, drops dramatically in hot summers.

East London could see an increase in the risk of tidal flooding due to sea-level rises in the Estuary, the survey predicts, which is likely to need more expensive defences to prevent a major flooding incident in the Estuary.

The gloomy forecast says home insurance premiums, like the tide, will rise due to the increased threat of flooding. Water bills will also shoot up as drought makes supplies scarcer and harder to supply.

An estimated two million population increase in the Thames basin by 2026 will put even more pressure on the water systems, particularly in hotter, drier summers, as gardens are watered more often and Londoners shower more.

Sewer flooding could also increase as more intense rainfall combines with London's dense population and antiquated drainage system.

World Wildlife's freshwater policy advisor, Dr Tom Le Quesne, said: "Climate change is likely to result in hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters.

"Perversely, this means we'll suffer from both more water and less, with greater risk from flooding and drought.

"Population growth will place further pressure on our already-stressed water supplies."

He added: "We need to take action now to reduce the amount of water each person wastes, as well as lowering the level of leakage and reduce pollution."

The chance of rivers flooding in the Thames basin may be five times higher by the 2080s, he predicts, with peak river flows increasing by a fifth. This would lead to a significant rise in annual average flood damage.

Intense summer rain also means more sediment and pollution washed into the river, with less chance of dilution if levels are low.

"Taken separately, all the impacts are harmful," Dr Le Quesne notes.

"But taken together they could ultimately destroy an internationally-important river system.

"The Government needs to develop policies that can address droughts, floods, pollution and climate change simultaneously, rather than treating each in isolation."

The 'vulnerability' assessment is based on an extensive technical report which is available online with a summary at:

wwf.org.uk/freshwater

The environmentalists claim that if everyone used natural resources and generated carbon emissions at the rate we do in the UK today, we would need three planets to support us.

The way we live is leading to environmental threats such as climate change, species extinction, deforestation, water shortages and the collapse of fisheries, they warn.

World Wildlife's One Planet Future campaign aims to help people live a quality of life within Earth's capacity.

More information is online at:

www.wwf.org.uk/oneplanet

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