Action urged to cope with climate change

More effort is needed to help the UK adapt to the impacts of climate change, as attempts to cut the emissions which cause global warming are failing, a report has warned.

More effort is needed to help the UK adapt to the impacts of climate change, as attempts to cut the emissions which cause global warming are failing, a report has warned.

A study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) said homes and cities, transport networks and water, waste and energy supplies needed to be planned or refurbished to cope with expected increases in temperatures, floods and extreme weather.

The report's author Dr Tim Fox said efforts to reduce carbon dioxide do not appear to be working, with emissions rising by 30% in the 15 years since international measures were introduced under the Kyoto protocol to cut greenhouse gases.

While IMechE supports attempts to achieve a new deal in Copenhagen this year to tackle emissions, the report warned it was unlikely the world would be any more successful in cutting greenhouse gases in the coming years.

With many infrastructure projects, such as regenerating areas of cities and building transport networks, lasting for many decades or even centuries, it is important - and cheaper - to plan long-term now for future impacts of climate change, the organisation said.

IMechE said measures that might be needed in the UK include more reservoirs, possibly underground, to store water for the hotter, drier summers that are expected under climate-change scenarios.

On railways, the signalling system, which senses where trains are, could be moved from its current position on the ground up into the trains themselves to make the network more resilient to flooding.

And regeneration of urban areas could include measures to tackle heat build-up in a warmer world, with streets built along the lines of prevailing winds which could then carry hot air out of town.

Houses need to be made more energy-efficient while energy supplies will need to cope with more intermittent generation as more renewable technology is used to wean the world off fossil fuels.

The study warned it would take up to 100 years to switch all power stations and transport systems across the world away from fossil fuels to low-carbon technology.

And the report's authors said they believed it would not be until around 2050, when some major "tipping points" such as melting of the Greenland ice sheet had been reached, that serious action would be taken globally to slash emissions.

The report predicts that based on current emissions trends, in a century's time the world will have experienced around 5C of warming, with temperatures continuing to climb to an 8C rise which will exist for the rest of the millennium.

By the end of the century, there will have been a rise of some 50cm in sea levels, and in the long term, by the year 3000, the seas will have risen by more than 7m.

By the end of the 23rd century - almost 300 years from now - sea levels could have risen by 2m, inundating much of Thames-side London and the Norfolk Broads and threatening key ports and areas where power stations such as the nuclear plant Sizewell currently stand.

Dr Fox said IMechE was urging governments to take long term adaptation seriously, while the Institution's president Professor Bill Banks also said industrialised nations must assist more economically-vulnerable countries to adapt to cope with climate change.

Dr Fox said that in December "nations will converge on Copenhagen for yet more talks on emissions reductions, whilst it has become almost a catchphrase to blame weather incidents, such as unprecedented flooding and heatwaves, on climate change".

He went on: "IMechE hopes this report will be a catalyst to provoke serious action for future planning - not just for the sake of our planet but also the human race.

"Yes we need to mitigate - but the evidence shows this isn't working alone."

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: "The UK is also working internationally to secure a global deal that will lead to deeper cuts in emissions and put us on track to stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at levels which will avoid the worst effects of climate change.

"At the same time we accept that we cannot avoid some further climate change partly due to past emissions.

"That's why we have substantially increased spending on flood defences, set up a centre to investigate risk to the natural environment and why we are working with farmers to continue practices which protect the countryside from the extremes of climate change."

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