Published On: August 1, 2023

This article by Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the London Climate Resilience Review, discusses the growing impact of climate change in Europe, particularly in London, where extreme weather events like heatwaves and wildfires mean that climate change is no longer a distant issue, but a present reality affecting communities and infrastructure. The article highlights the crucial role of financing in addressing climate change, and London’s financial sector has the potential to become a global hub for adaptation finance. However, local projects and actions also play a pivotal role in building climate change resilience and preparing for more frequent and intense future climate shocks. The London Climate Resilience Review will make important recommendations for affordable action for change, and the call for evidence is now open to businesses, communities, and individuals to take part.

On 27 July 2023, UN Secretary General António Guterres said: “Extreme weather is becoming the new normal. All countries must respond and protect their people from the searing heat, fatal floods, storms, droughts and raging fires that result.” And “We can still stop the worst. But to do so we must turn a year of burning heat into a year of burning ambition.”

More than 60,000 people died of heat related causes in Europe last summer, and we already know this July is the world’s hottest on record. Wildfires have blazed all over southern Europe. In the past, climate impacts may have been seen as something that happened on the other side of the world, but now they are here and here to stay: the World Meteorological Organization says that Europe is warming faster than anywhere else.

Climate change is not just on our doorstop, it’s in the house. It’s just over a year since London reached 40C for the first time. Schools had to close; hospital operations were cancelled at Guy’s and St Thomas’ as IT systems crashed; trainlines buckled; the London Fire Brigade received 2,496 calls, and there were 3,000 heat related deaths nationwide. Many people would have been alone.

That severe heat lasted just two days, so what happens if it lasts five days next time? Or if it’s even hotter?

The Mayor of London has asked me to lead the independent London Climate Resilience Review to look at how we are preparing for climate impacts including wildfires, extreme heat, floods, droughts, storms, and sea level rise. I will make recommendations to stay ahead of these risks.

The National Preparedness Commission website says: “The dramatic impact of Covid-19 shows that our societal structures are fragile. It has demonstrated why nationally and internationally we need to be better prepared to withstand, recover and ‘build back better’ from major disruptions.” That is absolutely correct, but alongside the shocks and extremes we also need to prepare for a country that is persistently much hotter in the summer and wetter in the winter.

Those preparations should create benefits now. That doesn’t always mean dramatic interventions, but simply good maintenance and investment in people with skills to carry it out: public spaces need places for communities to keep cool, and transport links need good drainage. Without such work, we risk becoming overwhelmed. The novelist Kurt Vonnegut said that a “flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” Climate impacts shine a light on that flaw with devastating clarity.

I want the London Climate Resilience Review to make recommendations that improve the experience of being in London whatever the weather. I need to understand how we are planning and preparing, and I will suggest affordable action for change. That change needs to work for everyone, not just wealthier communities. The call for evidence is open to businesses, communities, and individuals. Please take part.

Having spent most of my career in finance I am acutely aware that this all requires investment. Last month, the government released the third National Adaptation Programme, its latest five-year plan for dealing with the physical impacts of climate change in England. With climate impacts all around us, you’d expect this to take a lead, but Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Chair of the Adaptation Committee, said: “We are at the stage where promising further action is not enough.” And “Sadly, this is not a plan containing extensive new commitments.”

The National Adaptation Programme should send a clear signal to the private sector about where the country is going and what needs to be done. This would help investors get behind that effort. Unfortunately, there are no commitments on finance beyond those already in the Green Finance Strategy, and no commitments on engaging with business and finance to set plans.

Protecting the capital is a nationwide opportunity. London accounts for 23 per cent of the UK’s economic output. The City of London, as a global economic hub, should be leading the world in financing solutions to these risks, but a recent report called “Mission Climate Ready” from University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute and the Green Finance Institute showed that gaps in government policy mean this isn’t happening.

Investment is needed at all levels, from upgrading homes, businesses and schools to cope with heatwaves, to ensuring public transport systems keep people moving against increasingly unpredictable weather and investing in greening London for cooling and flood protection. Dr Nicola Ranger, Director of the Global Resilience Hub at the Environmental Change Institute says “The UK financial sector has the appetite, expertise and capability to become the leading global hub for adaptation finance, both at home and internationally. Investing in resilient homes, businesses, green spaces and infrastructure makes sense from both a commercial and social standpoint. A resilient and prosperous UK economy makes this an even more attractive place for global business”.

Local projects may seem small in comparison to “Global Boiling” but this is what people need. As emergency planners get ready for more shocks in a hotter UK, the capital must become more resilient.

Share this story

Related posts