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Whaley Bridge Dam Collapse Is 'Wake Up Call' on Britain's Need to Prepare for Climate Change Impact

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The north-west of England and parts of Yorkshire experienced flash-flooding last week that has caused chaos, with bridges, roads, and even a dam being hit by damage that could prove disastrous. 

By Aug. 2 around 1,500 people had been evacuated from Whaley Bridge, a town in the picturesque Peak District near Manchester, due to the threat of flooding after a nearby dam partially collapsed.

The local chief police constable Rachel Swann has urged people to take the evacuation seriously and leave their homes saying that it will be "catastrophic" if the dam fails, the BBC reported. 

The UK has been experiencing some very varied weather this summer — with both a record-breaking heatwave and now flash flooding.

Last week, the Met Office released research dating back to 1884 that showed the UK's 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2002. Meanwhile, six of 10 wettest years on record have also occurred since 1998 — with the two wettest winters on record in 2013 and 2015. 

While it can't be said for certain what the causes are in the Whaley Bridge incident — for example whether there was pre-existing issue with the dam's structure — concerns have been raised about the UK's preparedness for extreme weather events that, according to the Met Office, are likely to become more frequent as the climate changes. 

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The Labour MP and shadow minister for flooding, Luke Pollard, responded by releasing a statement saying that the damage to the Whaley Bridge dam was “unprecedented”.  

“This must act as a wake-up call to the government on the urgency of preparing for the inevitable impacts of climate change," Pollard said. "Over the past decade, severe weather events have cost on average £1.5 billion per year." 

Pollard added that "more extreme rainfall in summer is a widely known projection of climate change. When the atmosphere is warmer that means it can hold more moisture, and so summer thunderstorms could get more extreme." 

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A spokesperson from the Met Office told Global Citizen that there will be investigations around the damage at Whaley Bridge, and it was too early to say what happened as there are likely to be many potential causes. 

The Met Office has, however, highlighted that heavy summer rain fits with a pattern associated with changes to the climate as the planet warms up. 

The spokesperson explained: "The Met Office has projected weather and climate forecasts for [the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs] DEFRA up to 2100, with changes starting in 2050. We’ve had to work out a range of different scenarios depending on how mankind responds to the climate change that we have at the moment.”

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"Projections show, broadly, that the UK will see warmer, wetter winters, and hotter, dryer summers," they added. "The seasonal amount of rain summer will become less, but in more concentrated bursts."

Bob Ward, a policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on climate change and the environment also warned, following the Whaley Bridge incident, that Britain's infrastructure is "not up to scratch and we are not acting quickly enough to upgrade it." 

"It is a warning to [Environment Secretary Theresa] Villiers that she has got to put climate resilience at the top of the government's list," he added. "We are going to see more record rainfall, more flooding along our coasts and rivers, and we are just not prepared for that." 

Meanwhile, in May this year, the Environment Agency warned that England's flood planners had to prepare for the worst on climate change. 

"We can't win a war against water by building away climate change with infinitely high flood defences," said the agency chairwoman, Emma Howard Boyd at the time, warning that £1 billion a year would need to be spent on flood management. 

The agency too highlighted that it expected more intense rainfall in bursts, and coastal erosion too, as a result of climate change. 

The government reportedly said in May that it was seeking evidence for a flood policy in the autumn.