Government is Failing To Address Climate Crisis
We cannot hide away from our responsibilities to address the man-made climate emergency, how we will cope with extreme weather causing fire, hurricanes, and flood, and also how we will prevent further damage to planet from our activities.
The first responsibility of governments is to ensure its citizens are safe, housed and fed. The Conservative government are failing on all three counts. They are failing to adequately fund public services, and making cuts to our emergency services with 15% cuts made to the Fire Service this year, when already at critically levels.
Even if the government had spent the last three years discussing how it would meet its targets on reducing carbon emissions rather than whether or not we remain in the European union, we would still be facing a monumental crisis. But to have not prioritised addressing this emergency, by funding, action, education and research is appalling.
While cuts are so severe, the Fire Brigades Union is reporting that recent floods in the north of England and in the Midlands have left the emergency services unable to carry out their statutory responsibilities. As with the Grenfell scandal, it is the government’s failure to protect citizens, which has exacerbated the situation by scandalous inadequate funding and led to deaths.
As severe floods from a month’s worth of rain in one day claim a life, it is time to address the inadequacy of the government to find a flood strategy that works.
Poorer Communities Hit Hardest
There is evidence that where there have been instances of flooding in England, poorer communities have been hit hardest. When Tadcaster Bridge collapsed, cutting the town in two, after severe floods over Christmas in 2015, it took over a year to reopen, causing immense frustration to residents and businesses. The leader of Leeds Council called flooding in the area a “preventable disaster”, saying the north had not received “anywhere near the support that we saw going into Somerset” (which flooded in 2014). Indeed, the following year it emerged that the southeast was to receive five times more funding per head than the north for flood defences, and an investigation by the Press Association revealed in October 2016 that the funding formula for spending taxpayers’ money on flood defences was skewed towards wealthier households and areas.
In 2017, a paper for the social democracy journal Renewal warned about floods affecting the UK’s worse-off places after years of cuts.
“It will be the communities linked by only one bridge, with poor roads, with only one shop, dependent on one industry, business or factory, that bear the brunt when the rains come, the harvest fails or the transport links go down,” the author, former Labour adviser Polly Billington, wrote.
“In cities it will be those in poor housing that endure the worst of extreme heat in summer, flash floods and exhausted sewers. Bad design and lack of maintenance mean that architectural assaults on the working class can have long lead-in times.”
Of people who live in areas vulnerable to flooding, she wrote, “these people are not wealthy and often they are now being refused home or business insurance. People who have always struggled will struggle even more as the safety and security of their homes and livelihoods are put under more strain.” At the time, Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole warned that this was, “further evidence of how the poorest are hit hardest by floods – something that will only get worse as climate change worsens flooding”.
ENVIRONMENT AGENCY CONCERNS
wIn May this year, the chair of the Environment Agency Emma Howard Boyd warned: “We can’t win a war against water by building away climate change with infinitely high flood defences.” The agency expected more intense bursts of rain and continuing coastal erosion, with global temperatures rising between 2C and 4C by 2100 and the need for £1bn annual spending on flood management. It was time to accept that some communities may have to be moved entirely to avoid flood risk, she said, and for damaged homes to be rebuilt in different locations. Defra at the time boasted of providing £2.6bn over six years for the problem, but Howard-Boyd called this a “shot in the arm” rather than a long-term solution. As it stands, the Environment Agency’s consultation is due to publish next spring.
FBU Reports of Under-resourcing to meet Statutory Duty
Responding to flooding in the North of England, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has called out under-resourcing of crews and called for a statutory duty for firefighters in England to respond to flooding.
Pete Smith, FBU executive council member for Yorkshire and Humberside, said:
“Our firefighters are working tirelessly on the ground to save lives, property, and communities in South Yorkshire, but the crews responding to this incident are, like firefighters across the country, overstretched and under-resourced. Firefighter numbers in South Yorkshire have been cut by 27% since 2010, and the government has cut our funding by £3.3 million. Worryingly, we have heard that South Yorkshire’s high-volume pumping appliance, vital for flooding response, was unavailable for a period due to staffing shortages. Firefighters are doing everything they can with what they have, but their work needs to be properly funded by government.”
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:
“The hard work of firefighters responding to flooding across England is not currently recognised by government. Unlike in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, firefighters in England do not have a statutory duty to respond to flooding. That means there is no guarantee of proper national funding, training, or specialist equipment for crews on the ground, all while fire budgets and firefighter numbers have been slashed. When the Prime Minister inevitably comes posing for photos with hardworking firefighters, they won’t forget how much damage this government has done to them.”
“We are moving from known extremes to unknown extremes,” its deputy chief executive David Rooke warned at the time.
While the climate crisis brings “unknown extremes” and the cost of flooding becomes ever more costly and unpredictable, what’s for certain is that people feel neglected by policymakers when hit with severe flooding. And there is only one policy response that will ultimately help them. It’s not enough to build smarter homes, higher flood defences, or even to relocate people. The only way is to tackle the root of the problem: cutting emissions faster, wholeheartedly supporting renewable energy, reversing plans for airport expansion, banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars earlier.
At the moment, the government is set to miss its net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 target, and will exceed its carbon budgets for 2023-27 by 5.6 per cent and from 2028-32 by 9.6 per cent.
Boris Johnson dismisses the flooding in massive understatement. “It’s not a national emergency.” Without any acknowledgment or concern about the cause or scale of the flooding, Johnson said, “At the moment, touch wood, this is not looking like something that we need to escalate to the level of a national emergency but we certainly stand by ready to help small businesses in any way that we can”.
Mr. Johnson, do you not realise this is not just a national emergency, but a global one and you and your government have a responsibility to act? It is really not just about the plight of a few small businesses, it is very life itself!
The government have demonstrated an unwillingness to meet their responsibilities, to make the necessary commitments to prioritise the greatest issue on the planet, to protect its citizens, especially the poorest, and those in vulnerable locations. Procrastination and denial is totally unacceptable. As we approach a General Election, we need to acknowledge that the Conservative government are not serious or competent to cope with a Climate Emergency, and we look to elect a responsible Labour government committed to a New Green Deal. Jeremy Corbyn differs from Johnson and does consider that the Yorkshire flooding is a national emergency.