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"The first attempt to put a price on changes in the atmosphere"
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Anna MacGilvry, report author
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Monday, 15 May, 2000, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Cost of global warming - 1.2bn

Sea defences must be improved as global warming takes effect
Building better protection against extreme weather conditions caused by global warming could cost England and Wales 1.2bn over the next 50 years, a government report has revealed.

The cost is expected to grow as the full force of increased storms, droughts and heavier rainfall patterns cause damage to habitat and wildlife.

The report, commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, identifies priority areas such as building stronger defences against river and estuary flooding for the first time.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher said that while government spending may not reach the same budget levels as health or education, the cost was going to mount in the future.

Climate change is happening and we have to defend ourselves

Michael Meacher, Environment Minister

"We are talking sizeable expenditure in which we have no choice because climate change is happening and we have to defend ourselves," he said.

The minister refused to speculate on who would bear the costs, but said a decision would have to be made on the relationship between industry, domestic households and the government in relation to the tax component.

"We need to sensitise public opinion, business opinion and government opinion to ensure we make the maximum effort in this country to reduce emissions, to minimise the effects and adapt to those that are irreversible. That's the message," he said.

Preventative measures

While work on adapting to climate change was at an early stage throughout the world, Mr Meacher said that the UK was as far ahead as anywhere.

The DETR report underlines the cost of doing nothing to counter the effects of global warming compared to putting in place preventive measures.

The government already requires water companies to produce a 25-year water resource plans that take climate change into account.

They must include estimates of sea level rise in project appraisal for sea defences.

Work has also begun on a best practice guide for those involved in land planning use, identifying priority areas which need to be adapted for global warming.

Ways must be found to reduce consumers' demand for water, with the creation of more efficient domestic appliances, meters, and recycling procedures, the government says.

The electricity supply network should also be able to withstand climate changes.

Threatened wildlife

To counteract flooding, the report says there is a need for more effective flood defences and better infrastructure design, particularly with regard to rivers and estuaries.

The country's wildlife is under threat
Vulnerable areas have been identified as the estuaries of the Mersey, Ribble and Arun, the low-lying Gwent levels, Somerset levels, Morecambe Bay, North Kent coastline and the ports of Heysham Harbour and Dover.

Global warming could mean that landscapes and wildlife might change forever in the Hampshire Downs, South Downs, New Forest, Welsh Uplands, the Lake District and Cairngorms.

Whereas birds such as the kingfisher and nightingale could benefit from climate changes, other species could be adversely affected.

Flowers such as the Snowdon lily, birds like the dipper and snow bunting and arctic alpine species could disappear altogether.

Computer models

There are those who will criticise the assumptions about climate change on which the government has based its announcement.

Not all scientists will accept that the extreme weather conditions and rapid warming recorded at the Earth's surface in recent years can be ascribed to human greenhouse emissions.

They question the reliability of the modelling on which future assessments are made. This modelling, they say, has difficulty simulating many important climate processes and should be treated with extreme caution.

Furthermore, they point out that even the most powerful computer models do not have the spatial resolution to determine what the climate might be like in a region as small as the UK, so many years ahead.

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