Not drowning but waving: making the climate emergency a global opportunity
I’m here, of course, to give a speech on climate change and flood risk. But first I want us to turn our thoughts to all those residents affected by flooding in the Lincolnshire town of Wainfleet – and in fact to those others around the country who were also affected last week, and whom we may not have seen on the news. Flooding is a deeply personal and devastating experience – I’ve seen enough of it to understand that – so it’s with the people of Wainfleet in mind that I want to turn now to the debate on a longer term strategy this nation needs. There’s a saying in Silicon Valley that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. We all want a better future for our world. Today we need to invent that future in the face of the biggest threat we have ever encountered: the climate emergency.
I said “climate emergency” because it is, and because we all need to wake up. We need to wake up to the fact that the changing climate means we may not have enough water in this country in 20 years’ time – what I recently called the Jaws of Death. And we need to wake up to the growing danger that climate change poses in relation to flooding and coastal erosion.
We live on an island full of rivers where it rains a lot. Our seas are progressively rising and our rivers are increasingly raging. Unless we tackle this, in a few decades many areas of the UK could be uninhabitable. Parts of this country risk being retaken by the sea, from which there is no coming back. And much of the rest of the country risks being constantly and lethally threatened by river or coastal flooding. If that doesn’t sound to you like an emergency, I’d be interested to know what does.
Now the good news: the government has recently announced an ambitious Net Zero target for carbon. This is a great step forward. The bad news is that this will still only limit the damage to the climate, not eliminate it. Even if we didn’t produce another gram of carbon from this moment on, sea levels will continue to rise for centuries. That means we still need to prepare for a different future.