By Nina Chestney
LONDON (Reuters) - The risk of flooding for many English homes and businesses could increase fourfold by 2035 if more action to deal with the impact of climate change is not taken, government advisers said on Wednesday.
As severe floods continue to batter parts of Britain after the wettest June since records began, around one in seven homes and businesses face some kind of flood risk, the climate advisers said.
Around 160,000 properties would be at risk by 2035 if better planning and more investment was made in flood defenses, compared with 610,000 at risk if no action was taken, they said.
The cost of protecting more than half a million homes at risk of flooding will double to 1 billion pounds a year by 2035, according to estimates by the UK's Environment Agency in 2010.
The devastating floods of 2007 caused damage to homes and businesses, infrastructure and services, and resulted in lost work and school days, which cost the UK economy 3.2 billion pounds.
"We must take adaptation more seriously if we are to manage the growing risks of floods and droughts," said John Krebs, the chairman of the climate change advisory panel.
"This can be done by investing more in flood defenses, faster rollout of water meters and giving serious consideration to where and how we build our housing and infrastructure," he said in a statement.
"Without action by households and businesses to prepare for these inevitable weather extremes the country faces rising costs, unnecessary damage and future disruption."
Scientists believe extreme weather like heatwaves, floods and droughts are linked to climate change and likely to become more frequent in the future.
Flooding will be the biggest climate risk to Britain this century with damage set to cost as much as 12 billion pounds ($18.63 billion) a year by the 2080s if nothing is done to adapt to extreme weather, a government-funded study said in January.
Since the start of May this year, over 3,000 properties have been flooded, 55,000 have received flood warnings and 31,000 were protected by flood defenses, according to the UK's Environment Agency.
The government's advisers said in a report that property development in flood plains - or areas along streams or rivers that are likely to experience repeated flooding - has increased by 12 percent over the past 10 years compared with a 7 percent rise in other parts of England.
Public and private funding for flood defenses is falling and is 12 percent lower for the current government spending period compared with the previous one, after inflation.
However, the UK's Environment Agency estimates that funding needs to increase by 20 million pounds a year on top of inflation to keep pace with climate change.
"We are spending more than 2.17 billion pounds over four years to protect people from flooding and our successful partnership funding model will draw in around an additional 72 million pounds," said a spokesman from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in response to the report.
"The money for flood defenses is being spent more effectively than ever before and we now expect to exceed our target to better protect another 145,000 homes by 2015."
Apart from increased flooding risks, water scarcity is also likely to become more common in parts of the country due to climate change and population growth, the panel said.
Water scarcity is likely to be made worse by household consumption levels which are among the highest in north-west Europe.
Encouraging households to save water could cut total consumption by 700 million litres a day, which is two thirds more than is currently saved under initiatives by water companies, according to the report.
The government should take further steps to increase water efficiency through water metering and pricing, it added.
(Editing by David Cowell and Alison Birrane)