A Critical Global Summit for flooding due to climate change

COP26: A critical global summit for flooding due to climate change

In News by Stephanie Brain

COP26: A critical global summit
for flooding due to climate change?

Amidst mounting pressure on governments across the globe to take urgent action to combat the climate crisis, the most significant environmental summit is about to take place in Glasgow. The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is set to begin on the 31 October and will run until the 12 November 2021.

Not only will the summit focus on plans to limit further global temperature increases, but it will also consider what adaption and mitigation measures national governments can put in place to limit the consequential effects of rising temperatures. A core component of these measures will be related to flooding risk. It is widely recognised that COP26 could be the final opportunity to make substantial pledges to reduce emissions and limit the devastating impacts of significant global temperature increases.

What is COP26 and why is it important?

COP26 is a summit that unites heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree on an extensive plan of action to tackle climate change. The 197 State Parties have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty with the aim of preventing “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. COP conferences have been held every year since 1995 except for 2020, where the summit was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A primary focus of the summit will be the 2016 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty setting long-term environmental goals. The primary aim of the Agreement is to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius whilst pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Further, the commitments by each country are to be reviewed every five years, meaning that COP26 is the first time these targets will be assessed.

The timing is very significant; the UN has just published the Emissions Gap Report 2021 which highlights that we are currently on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century – markedly exceeding the higher 2 degrees Celsius target in the Paris Agreement.

National climate change pledges in the run-up to COP26

Many countries across the globe, including the UK, have been setting new and ambitious environmental targets in the lead up to COP26. Perhaps most notably, Australia has recently pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050, a target which the UK passed into law in 2019.

However, most of the existing plans by national governments delay any action until 2030 – the point when the UN report claims a 55% cut in emissions is required to meet the ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius target. Rising global temperatures are already increasing extreme weather events including drought, wildfires, and flooding. COP26 is a critical opportunity for State Parties to commit to taking earlier action to avoid exceeding the Paris Agreement target and mitigate the likely impacts of a changing climate.

How is increased flooding linked to climate change?

Extreme weather events have permeated the news over the past year with a notable increase in the risk of severe flooding, having devastating effects on communities and towns. Whilst flooding has always been prevalent, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in their extremes report that anthropogenic climate change has “detectably influenced” several components of the watercycle, such as rainfall and snowmelt, which indirectly impacts flood trends.

Flooding is an increasingly real risk in the UK and globally, posing a significant threat to infrastructure, people and investments. In fact, six of the wettest years in history have occurred since 1998 and flooding is now considered the greatest natural disaster risk in the UK as one in six properties in England and Wales are at risk. By 2050 it is likely that another one million properties in the UK will be at risk of flooding so the UK will increasingly feel the effects of climate change in the next few decades.

Wales has already seen a 0.9 degrees Celsius increase in temperatures since the 1970s and is predicted to become a hotter, wetter place in the future. In 2020, Wales experienced storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge which impacted 3,130 properties across the country. The rising temperatures predicted in the Emissions Gap Report suggests the risk of flooding is only going to intensify, placing communities across the UK (and globally?) at significant risk.

How could flooding due to climate change be impacted by COP26?

Whilst much of the focus in the lead up to COP26 has been on Net Zero targets – which are critically important if we are to try and curb rising temperatures – a core focus also needs to be on adaption and resilience measures. The effects of climate change are already being witnessed through heavy rainfall and severe flooding, highlighting the importance of investing in early warning systems, stronger defences, and resilient infrastructure.

A Europe-wide study focusing on the impacts of climate change on flooding has estimated that the total annual bill from flood damage is already $100 billion worldwide. This figure is only likely to grow as we face rising sea levels, increased snowmelt, and heavier rainfall.

FloodSat and COP26

At the COP 26 conference event Ambiental's FloodSat technology for monitoring floods in near real-time will be presented via an interactive display board as part of a Space for Climate exhibit. This innovative data service which monitors flooding from space was developed in collaboration with satellite data experts Telespazio Vega UK and funded through the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP). The capability to rapidly detect, downlink and distribute enhanced satellite data for the purposes of flood disaster response will become an important tool in the future for protecting people and property and for increasing flood resilience in the UK and globally.

COP26 is a pivotal moment in history for the climate crisis. It is seen by many as the final chance to substantially limit rising global temperatures to the 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees target in the Paris Agreement. Despite this, a crucial focus of the summit must be on adaption and mitigation measures to address the effects of climate change that are already being felt across the globe. Technology like FloodSat will be an important component of such measures, providing real-time data on flood risk to aid disaster response systems as we strive to allay the risks posed by rising temperatures.


Discover what Ambiental’s risk database of all UK properties is revealing about the current and future risk to properties built since 2009.

An analysis of flood risk to UK properties built since 2009

Discover what Ambiental’s risk database of all UK properties is revealing about the current and future risk to properties built since 2009
An Analysis of UK Flood Risk to UK Properties Built Since 2009

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