Three people died and almost a million lost power during Storm Arwen (Picture: Getty/PA)
Britain’s national security is in danger due to the government’s ‘lax’ approach to extreme weather events like Storm Arwen, a report has revealed.
The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy has found ‘overwhelming evidence’ climate change is already impacting critical national infrastructure (CNI).
Major blackouts, floods, landslides blocking roads, floods and train lines buckling to extreme heat have the potential to create a series of ‘cascading’ risks affecting other infrastructure elements.
Climate change has already been recognised as Tier 1 or ‘highest priority’ national security risk.
But ‘no minister has been taking responsibility’ for ensuring the resilience of vital power, transport and communications networks in what is described as a ‘severe dereliction of duty’.
‘We have found the government has very little grip on a critical national security risk,’ the committee, which is made up of senior MPs and peers, reported.
‘Climate risks have previously been categorised as Tier 1 national security risks, but a grave lack of ministerial responsibility and accountability has left a gaping hole at the centre of government on this pressing future risk to UK CNI.’
Massive waves crash into the seafront in Dawlish, Devon, during Storm Barra (Picture: SWNS)
Emergency services inspecting the scene near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, following the derailment of the ScotRail train (Picture: PA)
Amongst other disasters, the committee highlighted Storm Arwen last November when almost million people lost power.
Dubbed the worst storm in the country in decades, it caused large-scale damage and at least three people lost their lives.
Evidence was also taken during last summer’s heatwave when the UK was facing significant rail disruptions, flight delays and power cuts due to another extreme weather event.
The committee said it was astounded the minister nominally responsible for CNI resilience – the then Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis – refused to appear before it due to his ‘lack of command’ of the issue.
‘This acknowledgment of his lack of command of this issue – the reason given for his refusal – was in itself shocking, and suggests a severe dereliction of duty on the part of the government,’ it said.
Stormy seas at the breakwater on the Headland, Hartlepool, County Durham as Storm Arwen battered the north east coast (Picture: Getty)
Teams from Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) work on reconnecting homes affected by Storm Arwen
‘It appears that no minister is taking responsibility for this topic, and there are no cross-cabinet committees driving forward the government’s work on adaptation and CNI resilience.
‘It is hard to imagine the government taking such a lax approach to any other recognised national security risk.’
The committee has made three recommendations to the government, including the appointment of a minister of state for CNI resilience with a team within the Cabinet Office to focus on the issue.
It said there should be a programme of regional exercises to ensure locally-based responders – such as the emergency services, the NHS and local authorities – are properly prepared for extreme weather events.
Committee chair, ex-foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett, said: ‘Storm Arwen showed how quickly the effects of a power shutdown can impact on other sectors.
‘These cascading crises are a major danger to the functioning of the UK economy, and to society – that’s why this is a serious risk to national security.
‘This government must finally recognise that prevention is better than cure and move on from their dangerously reactive approach to risk management.’
A government spokesperson stressed there are ‘robust systems’ in place to protect CNI from the effects of climate change.
This includes work through the national adaptation programme led by Defra, and the National Infrastructure Commission led by HMT.
A statement added: ‘In the Cabinet Office, we have created a standardised approach to help departments capture and mitigate risks to critical infrastructure.’
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‘It appears that no minister is taking responsibility for this topic.’