Image: Unsplash/Benjamin Davies

Climate resilience – an unprepared London?

London, along with other cities in the UK, is “underprepared” for the impacts of climate change such as the increasing severity of weather events like flooding, storms, and extreme heat and drought, according to an interim report released in January.

The London Climate Resilience Review was commissioned by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to assess how the capital can prepare for the effects of climate change. Twenty “urgent recommendations” were outlined to be implemented including for the national government to devolve to local governments more power over spending and funding to allow them to better fund climate change objectives.

Significant funding will be needed on a local level to make the necessary climate adaptations

Recent years have been marked by a series of extreme climate events. 3,271 heat-related deaths were recorded in 2022 in the wake of a record heatwave which saw temperatures rise above 40°C. Flooding has been occurring with increasing severity – London was hit by two severe flash floods in 2021, causing more than £100 million in damage.

In January of 2024, hundreds of homes across England were evacuated due to torrential rainfall. Flood defences upstream of the Thames Barrier will need to be replaced by 2050 according to the Environment Agency, 15 years earlier than expected due to the effect of rising sea levels. “We need to recognise that Londoners now face lethal risks, and a step change is needed”, said Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the London Climate Resilience Review. “It’s time for the UK, led by its cities and regions, to take action and prioritise adaptation.”

Local government finance emerged as a major issue from the report, as significant funding will be needed on a local level to make the necessary climate adaptations. “In the absence of national leadership, regional government has a more significant role to play”, stated Boyd.

There is concern over the availability of funding for longer-term investment in climate resilience

However, the report has been released in the context of an ongoing crisis in local government finance. According to the Local Government Association, nearly 1/5 English councils are at risk of bankruptcy. As councils are forced to sell assets to fund essential services, there is concern over the availability of funding for longer-term investment in climate resilience. This is an issue affecting not just councils in London but across the UK. Last year, Birmingham Council was forced to effectively declare bankruptcy.

More locally, both Coventry and Warwickshire councils will need to make tens of millions of pounds in cuts to avoid insolvency for their annual budgets, which are set to be released imminently in February. A government spokesperson commenting on the report’s release stated that the government has “set out a clear five-year
adaptation plan to increase the country’s resilience to the effects of climate change and protect people, homes, and businesses against climate change risks such as flooding, drought, and heatwaves.”

203,000 houses are at increased risk

However, a recently released report by the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee revealed that the Environment Agency had been unable to meet its targets on flood defences due to a lack of government funding. Due to the deteriorating condition of the UK’s flood defences, 203,000 houses are at increased risk.

The government has been further criticised recently for backtracking on its environmental policies. Conservative MP, Chris Skidmore, resigned over them government’s decision to greenlight new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea. The Labour Party also recently dropped its £28 billion green investment pledge.

Responding to the Climate Review’s release, Sadiq Khan said: “I welcome these recommendations and have proposed in my latest Budget an additional £3 million to accelerate climate adaptation work in London … I can also confirm today that the London Resilience Partnership will carry out an exercise later this year to test London’s preparedness for a severe heat episode and that my green finance programme will begin work to consider how adaptation finance, including nature-based solutions, can be accelerated in early 2024.”

Now that the interim report has been released, feedback will be collected. The full report and findings will be released by the end of 2024.


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