Designs to adapt all our cities to extreme weather must dovetail with mitigation
On Tuesday, the London Fire Brigade had over 2,000 calls on its busiest day since the Blitz. Extreme heat in the capital and across the nation sparked fires, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees celsius for the first time.
Sixteen firefighters were injured, 41 properties destroyed, our runways and railways melted, and the NHS remains under intense pressure. The UK Health Security Agency issued a Level 4 National Emergency, with even fit and healthy people warned about a risk to health.
This isn’t the summer of 1976, and the public know that. Around 68 per cent of people think we should take the recent high temperatures seriously, with only 24 per cent buying into the “it’s just summer” excuse , according to a poll for Opinium. The percentage who think the situation is serious is even higher amongst older voters (who might well remember the summer of 1976).
We’ve been warned, repeatedly about the risks of climate change, and yet failed to start investing in adaptation. We need to ensure our cities are well equipped to deal with these changes and redouble efforts to mitigate and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
For national and local government, the drive to plant more trees is one of the cheapest ways to reduce carbon emissions from the atmosphere but also provide shade and cooling, as a means of adaptation. This is particularly true for urban areas like London. Better still, trees provide cleaner air and reduce the risk of flooding during heavy rain. Let’s not forget during this heatwave that flooding is now increasingly a threat too, with downpours flooding the capital’s tube network, roads and homes in October last year.
Home efficiency is another tool that is both an adaptation and mitigation strategy. We can make homes more comfortable whilst using less carbon intensive energy. Insulation can keep your home cool because external wall and cavity wall insulation will stop your home from getting as hot in the first place. Meanwhile, electric heat pumps are cleaner and more efficient than gas boilers, cheaper to run, and can also be used for cooling as well as heating.
Despite repeated promises from government to grasp the nettle, movement is frustratingly slow – and costly too. Installation of energy efficiency measures fell dramatically from 2012 onwards, as part of a cost saving drive, but we are all counting the cost today. Energy bills in the UK are nearly £2.5bn higher than they would have been if climate policies had not been scrapped over the past decade.
Every year that we continue to rely on expensive and polluting fossil fuels is a year that we worsen the emissions in our atmosphere, hand over cash to autocratic petrostates, and leave household billpayers exposed to volatile fossil fuel prices.
In just eleven weeks’ time, twelve million families in the UK – almost half of the population – will struggle to afford to heat their home due to the price of gas. According to the latest predictions, the average annual energy bill will be £3,244 from 1 October this year, two and a half times more than October last year. The path we are on is unsustainable.
For the incoming prime minister, the choice is clear. We can cut the cost of living and cut emissions with a green economy, or we can delay action and pay a heavy price.