The future of climate change

By David Wilkes

Global Flood Resilience Leader, Arup

What are the implications if the conventional science and advice has underestimated the impact of future climate change, the rise in Sea Levels? There is a building consensus internationally that this is the case. Some of the new forecasts are showing sea levels rising through a 1 metre increase, through 5 metres and to 10 meters and beyond within the next few centuries. Flooding and the associated risk to life and the structural damage to our buildings and Infrastructure would become more acute with this expected increase in energy and violence of future storms.

Are community leaders and governments prepared for such a future?, Are the emergency plans in place to make the forecasts, issue warnings and to move masses of people quickly to places of safety?

Should we be planning and building the cities and infrastructure to be better prepared and resilient to deal with a new more unstable climate and with higher sea levels? It is the threat from the world’s oceans and seas which has the biggest impact. Of our global population of 8 billion, some 40% of us have chosen to live and close to the coast for reasons of trade, availability of flat land; and 10% (that is 800 million people) actually live in low lying coastal areas.

Let’s take a step back and look at our planet in terms of more geological timescales. Just about 10,000 years ago the last ice age was retreating and a new era of “climatic calm and stability” was about to begin. Mankind had been around already for tens of thousands of years, intelligent and thinking but surviving in a hunter gatherer existence frequently moving from place to place where food, water and safety were most obviously available. It took a further 5,000 years or so for man to realise this new stability in the level of the seas and the relative predictability of the weather and the seasons. Slowly settlements by water grew into towns and cities, for cultivation and farming of land, and to begin the trade and exchange which have gradually evolved the complex and interlinked civilisation we know today at this early part of the 21 century. If we truly are at 5 minutes before midnight in terms of this period of climate stability coming to an end, we are moving into a future quite unlike any point in our history. Change will require exceptional leadership, vision and determination. Almost every one of the 8 billion of us will need to adapt and support the interventions which will be necessary. However if the climate change and sea level rise comes to pass before we are ready then the consequences for vast numbers of people and our sense of order could be even more catastrophic.

Biography – David Wilkes

David Wilkes is Global Flood Resilience Leader for Arup and based in Leeds. In this role he regularly reviews and challenges much of Arup’s flood risk work from around the world.  David’s career as a Chartered Civil Engineer and Flood Risk specialist has a proven record of managing change and resources in demanding, environments which have required political skills, broad leadership ability and wide technical experience. David has worked for the Environment Agency and their predecessors from 1976 to 2006. His roles have included managing the Thames Barrier and Flood Risks in London from all sources (1994 to 2000), and managing flood risk and water resources for Yorkshire between 2000 to 2006.

He is currently Project Director for the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme and is Director for several Humber tidal projects. He was Director for the guide to PPS25 (Development and Flood Risk) and Director for the Cabinet Office sponsored report on flood resistance and resilience of critical infrastructure.

David was the President of CIWEM  from  2011to 2012, and has served on the Trustee Board  previously as Lead Member for Professional Development and Audit Committee and now Chair of Remuneration Committee. David is also a member on the editorial panel of the CIWEM International Journal of Flood Risk Management.