The likelihood that climate change will result in more frequent and heavier rainfall has promoted increased concern in the United Kingdom about the potential for much more severe flood losses

The UK government has now published further proposals for tackling the risk of flooding and coastal erosion over the next 20 years in a consultation paper Making Space for Water. Once agreed these plans will replace the current strategy for flood and coastal defence, which is now 11 years old.

In the consultation paper, ideas on what might be done to tackle all types of flooding - coastal, river, groundwater, sewers and urban and road drainage problems - across all areas of government policy have been brought together for the first time.

The consultation period closes on 1 November 2004. Depending on the results of the exercise, the government hopes to publish a final strategy, containing an action plan and commitments to regular reviews, in early 2005.

One group lobbying for a strong government response to the flood risk is the Association of British Insurers (ABI) which says that weather related claims on property insurance doubled to over £6 billion between 1998 to 2003, compared with the previous five years and could triple again in the years to 2050.

The ABI first response to the government's proposals was to welcome its promise of an investment of at least £564 million in flood management over the next three years. Not long previously, the ABI had released its own report, A Changing Climate for Insurance, on the effect of climate change on the UK insurance industry. It says without action to manage climate change risks, insurance costs are likely to rise.

Prepared by Dr Andrew Dlugolecki, an international authority on climate change, the ABI report highlights the impact that it is already having on the insurance industry, notably in changing patterns of claims arising from a greater incidence of extreme weather. It says that during the 1990s decade there were 34 months of extreme hot weather, compared to a previous average of just 12 months per decade, and that the number of winter storms crossing the UK has doubled over the last 50 years.

Separately, the ABI issued guidelines to help minimise flood risk in planned areas of new development, such as the Thames Gateway, and called on the government to fulfil its renewed commitment to increased spending on flood defences.

Local authorities in the form of the National Forum for Risk Management in the Public Sector (ALARM) have expressed concern that rising insurance premiums for flood risks could damage the spending plans of public sector organisations. ALARM believes that the only way to combat the expected rise in insurance costs is to manage out the risk of flooding and its subsequent damage, in the first place.