Emma Howard Boyd on the Environment Agency's response to flooding, and net-zero targets

Written by Civil Service World on 3 January 2020 in Feature
Feature

As 2020 approaches, senior figures from across government reflect on their highlights and challenges of 2019, look ahead to the next 12 months and share their favourite festive memories

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What was your highlight of 2019?

Owing to increasing weather impacts around the world, the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5ºC report at the end of last year and effective campaigning, the climate emergency moved to the forefront of public life. In the recent floods in November, Environment Agency staff have been brilliant. When I visited Yorkshire, colleagues had come from Cumbria and Somerset to help the local team. Meeting local communities where we’re making a difference is always hugely moving. Also, the Global Commission on Adaptation, where I represent the UK, released its report on the state of international resilience this year. I think 2019 is a year the gears shifted on climate action.

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?

We launched our draft flood and coastal erosion risk strategy in May. This suggests fundamental changes to the way the country approaches climate risks. People have focused on protection or defence in the past, but the acceleration of climate change means we need to think more in terms of resilience.

When I visited Yorkshire, colleagues had come from Cumbria and Somerset to help the local team.

Alongside that, in October I announced the Environment Agency aims to become a net-zero organisation by 2030. This has huge implications for the way we work and will affect everyone in our supply chain. I’m excited about what we’ll find out in the next 10 years.  

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?

This September and October were among the wettest on record and then a month’s worth of rain fell in 24 hours on 7-8 November. The ground is saturated across the country, rivers are full and this means that it will now take less rain to have a significant impact. This is the new normal in winter and a huge challenge.

There are two others, one of which is staff pay. EA staff are hugely committed to their work, but we need to properly reward it. Also, COP26 in December is a huge opportunity to show leadership in dealing with the climate emergency. We need to make the most of it.

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