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  • by Karma Loveday

Environment Agency chief calls for adaptation focus to stave off "jaws of death"

Environment Agency chief executive, Sir James Bevan, revisited the “jaws of death” he first warned about at the 2019 Waterwise conference when he delivered a speech to the Royal Society ahead of COP26 last week, this time focusing on the need for adaptation.

Sir James argued hotter drier summers and less predictable rainfall as a result of climate change will lead to increased drought risk and possible water shortages in the UK. The Environment Agency’s estimate is that summer rainfall is expected to decrease by approximately 15% by the 2050s in England, and by up to 22% by the 2080s; and that by 2100 the south-east we will increasingly see temperatures above 35°C, and sometimes 40°C.

He said adaptation would be increasingly important to avoid the point on water company planning charts where demand outstrips supply: “Good water quality is essential, but the right water quantity is existential. We need as much emphasis on the latter in the future as we have now on the former. We know what to do to avoid those jaws: reduce demand, by using less water more efficiently; and improve supply, including by investing in the right infrastructure. That means we need to think strategically, radically and long term.”

Sir James added that adaption will be vital given the damage already caused by human activity will continue to be felt for decades – including through more flooding, wildfires, drought and damage to wildlife.


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