|by Piotr Matczak and Darryn McEvoy|
Climate change is likely to result in more frequent extreme weather events in the future, with sudden and intense precipitation events of particular concern. Recent flooding events in Europe provide a portent of the problems societies may have to face in future decades, with considerable material losses and political ramifications having been experienced by several European countries (Munich Re, 2008). Socio-economic change is compounding increased flood risk; with urbanisation, development in flood plains, and changes to rural land use all influential. Urban areas are considered particularly vulnerable to heavy rainfall events as the water cannot drain away as quickly as it can in rural areas due to permeability constraints (Pitt Review, 2007). There are also concerns that this situation may worsen in the future as urban infrastructure and drainage systems aren't designed to cope with climate change and an increase in the variability and uncertainty of flow conditions (Ashley et al, 2007). However, an increase in rainfall intensity also has implications for more rural settings, with impacts likely to adversely affect the quantity and quality of different forms of agricultural production. These direct impacts may be further enhanced by damage to farm buildings, equipment, etc.
Changes to rural land use may not only affect immediate environs but can also have consequences for urban areas downstream, with any loss in permeability or 'sponge effect' acting to increase flood risk elsewhere. An improved understanding of how systems are interlinked, i.e. activity upstream potentially having detrimental impacts downstream, has been one of the main drivers in the shift towards a catchment-wide approach to water resource management (illustrated in policy terms by the recent introduction of the Water Framework Directive). Another important driver has been the argument that traditional management practice, in particular an over-reliance on structural and hard engineering measures, is likely to be inadequate in responding to the complex challenges posed by future climate change. For example, concerns are voiced by Milly et al (2008) that climate change undermines the basic assumptions that flood protection has been relying on, and consequently a reconstruction of infrastructure and re-conceptualisation of the dominant approaches is required, whereas others have pressed for a greater emphasis on the role of learning and adaptive water management approaches (Pahl-Wostl, 2007).
Sustaining the traditional system of dams, levees and other flood prevention measures would appear to be too costly for the Hungarian government, and more importantly, is likely to be ineffective in dealing with the increased occurrence and intensity of extreme events in the future. However, it is clear that adaptation responses will need to give full consideration to all aspects of sustainability - environmental, social and economic - if they are to be effective.
© 2009 ADAM, Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies: Supporting European climate policy