The fight to save London from climate emergency

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It was like a scene from a low budget disaster movie. In just over an hour, it rained enough to form a lake in the streets of Mayfair, while people across London were warned of power cuts, travel disruptions and damage to homes.

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latest flash Flooding The last week to hit the capital was accompanied by fears of more to come. Residents of east London are still picking up pieces after floods in July destroyed homes and affected businesses. Pudding Mill Station submergedHackney Vic resembles Venice.

It was a wake-up call, which made it clear that Climate change No longer limited to scientific models and dystopian literature – it is happening in our city now. Indeed, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last July was the warmest since records began 142 years ago.


But what about London, the capital of a country that has historically endured mild weather? A Goldilocks climate—rarely boiling hot or freezing cold, neither too wet nor too dry, a people who have long thrived in a dreary, shadowless land, which author Bill Bryson once compared to “Tupperware’s”. living inside”? The answer is, of course, happening here too.

“NS Thames Barrier was designed for sea levels that no longer exist,” warns Professor Harriet Bulkeley of Durham University, who focuses on the impact of climate change on cities. The barrier, located two miles east of Canary Wharf, has protected London from high tides and storm surges since 1982.

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While the number of closures can vary due to long-term tidal cycles, it has been used more frequently in recent decades – and although the barrier protects the river from flooding, it does not keep the capital from falling directly from the sky. can.

In some ways, the July rains were unmistakable. Parts of London are well-known at risk of flooding, where planning permission is often granted only on the grounds that the ground level flats are elevated. But as rainfall becomes heavier and more unpredictable, some areas are becoming increasingly vulnerable.

Climate change means we are exposed to rain from severe storms. The reason is simple from a meteorological point of view – warmer air can hold more water.

Although the Thames barrier protects the river from floods, it cannot protect the capital from falling from the sky.

The scorching heat is also becoming a cause of trouble. The sun is so ingrained in the British psyche because we are hungry for it, but the result is that we are not prepared for the constant hot weather.

The issue is particularly acute in London, as the city experiences what is known as the heat island effect – essentially, urban areas experience significantly higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas, because of buildings, roads and other areas. The infrastructure retains heat.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to near-zero is critical if we are to limit the worst excesses of climate change. Yet even if we stop releasing carbon into the atmosphere tomorrow, London will have to be prepared for a changed climate.

So we need to do more than just achieve our CO2 goals to adapt – that is, adjust our ecological, social and economic systems. What can we do? “We will need to invest billions of pounds in new and advanced infrastructure,” says Michael Newman, Professor of Sustainable Urbanism at the University of Westminster.

Take the flood “Our drainage system was built in the Victorian era and cannot cope with it,” says Bob Ward, deputy chairman of the London Climate Change Partnership. The capital’s new super sewer – a 25km tunnel designed to “contain, store and eventually move sewage waste from the River Thames”, which is currently being built – will help drain the water.

But it is adding it to the network in the first place which is the problem. The more intense rainfall we are seeing is magnified by the sheer number of impermeable surfaces that characterize any given city. Rain in the field is one thing; The same amount of rain that hits concrete or tarmac just doesn’t go anywhere.

Britain is actually less prepared for a changing climate now than it was five years ago, a report found

And so while large infrastructure projects like super sewers are important, Professor Bulkley also points to local nature-based solutions, from green roofs to planting trees along roads, that could create a “sponge city”.

Such green features also benefit from widespread support – after all, some would argue against having more trees in their neighborhoods. Infrastructure plans in a city like London are expensive, and are rarely felt necessary until the day after a disaster has occurred. The capital is by no means internationally backward, but our efforts suffer from a lack of joint action.

Currently, we just aren’t doing enough. From planning to energy, housing and health policy, adaptation must be embedded at the heart of government, local and national. A recent report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) concluded that the UK was not dealing with increased risk and was in fact “less prepared for a changing climate now” than it was five years ago.

This plays into another major threat from climate change: extreme heat events. London’s massive housing stock is unsuitable for high temperatures. data from Public Health England Turns out that the death toll due to last year’s summer heat waves totaled more than 2,500.

1.2 billion people could become climate refugees by 2050

The south-east had the most deaths, followed by London. The CCC calls for new developments to be planned with warmer climates in mind, using more suitable materials, smart design and ventilation to naturally cool buildings without the need for expensive and energy-saving air conditioning. has gone.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has warned that if current trends continue, the tube could become unbearably hot for more than a month each year. On which note, Transport for London has long had to navigate the quirks of the city’s weather.

As well as cutting its own emissions, the organization is on the frontlines of climate adaptation. TfL’s Chief Safety, Health and Environment Officer Lily Mattson says it already works closely with environment agency, Thames Water and the Met Office to understand how a greater frequency of extreme weather events will affect the network.

However, whether it is extreme weather events or the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the message is biting. According to an Ipsos MORI survey in August, 78 percent of Londoners believe we are already feeling the effects of climate change. But a gap remains between the effort needed and the action taken, and London is not untouched by the global consequences.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noted that, in the past 10 years alone, weather events have forced an average of 21.5 million displacements each year – more than double the number caused by conflict and violence. And in a report last year, the Institute for Economics and Peace, a think tank, predicted that 1.2 billion people could become climate refugees by 2050.

What will be our city’s response to the impending deluge of climate refugees? And if global carbon emissions don’t drop in time, will Londoners be part of that group?

one thing is certain. What our future looks like depends on what steps we are taking now, not only to curb our emissions, but also to prepare for our warm, rainy future.

To read more and learn what action mayors are taking on climate change, visit go to


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