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UK weather: Government has 'no effective strategy' to protect country from extreme conditions, warns National Audit Office

The UK government has no "effective strategy in place" to protect the country from "severe disruption" caused by extreme weather, the National Audit Office has warned.

In a damning assessment of UK resilience, the watchdog said the government's lack of policy and targets was leaving the nation underprepared for extreme conditions like flooding, which costs the country £1bn a year.

The head of the public spending body, Gareth Davies, said the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the "vital importance of building resilience, and that lesson also applies to extreme weather events".

He added: "Government needs to place sufficient emphasis on prevention and preparedness - clearly articulating the level of risk it will tolerate - and making informed decisions about prioritisation to ensure efficient and effective investment for the long-term."

The report, called Government resilience: extreme weather, acknowledged ministers' processes and strengthening of plans to manage national risks in the last two years.

But it warned the lack of targets or standards meant the government doesn't know what it is trying to achieve.

Read more: Heatmaps reveal the warmest and coolest areas of five English cities

The Cabinet Office has hit back at the analysis, saying preparation for extreme weather events is well-practised and understood across government.

Wednesday's report follows a string of other warnings this year that the government is not adapting the UK to cope with changes to its climate and weather, following alerts from the Climate Change Committee and the National Audit Office.

It says water efficiency, and heat alert and heatwave planning measures provide a 10:1 average benefits to cost ratios.

How climate change affects extreme weather in UK

The NAO's report assessed four extreme weather risks: droughts, surface water flooding, storms, and high temperatures, some of which risk getting worse in the UK due to climate change.

Global warming is expected to make extreme heat, such as the 40C temperatures seen in July 2022, normal within 20 to 30 years. The link with drought is yet to be determined, but scientists hypothesise that higher temperatures will drive the dry conditions for drought.

The risk of surface flooding - as opposed to from rivers - is also rising as hot air holds more water, and as rainfall becomes concentrated in shorter downpours.

But so far, there is little to link windy storms and climate change, according to the Met Office.

Ministers urged to 'step up' preparation

The NAO said the government has dedicated response arrangements in place for extreme weather events when they strike, including protocols to escalate action and working closely with forecasters.

The government has also taken some action to reduce the risks posed by extreme weather events, including establishing the third national adaptation programme.

But it warned that ministers need to step up preparation to limit the impact on people, businesses, and communities.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The best way to protect people, businesses and communities from extreme weather events is by having systems in place that are both robust and flexible.

"This is core to the UK's resilience strategy, which has been proven to allow us to effectively coordinate the government and wider resilience community's response to a diverse set of risks - having successfully dealt with a series of severe weather events this autumn.

"As the deputy prime minister [Oliver Dowden] set out this week, we are making excellent progress on building flexible and agile capabilities, systems and strategies which ensure the UK is prepared for emerging threats.

"This includes constantly improving our systems, for example vastly increasing the number of datasets being fed into the National Situation Centre, and launching a new 24/7 Emergency Alerts system in April, which is able to deliver warnings and information to the public."

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