Climate change a ‘lethal risk’ to Londoners, as review finds capital unprepared

City not ready for dangerous effects of rising temperatures, potential wildfires and flood risks, review finds

A car negotiates a flooded section of road, as torrential rain and thunderstorms hit the country on August 17, 2022 in London, England. Getty Images
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Climate change in London will bring heightened risks to people’s health, homes and businesses without adequate adaptation, an interim report commissioned by the capital’s mayor has found.

Millions of residents in the capital and across the UK are already feeling the effects of climate change, with further warming locked in even if greenhouse gas emissions fell to zero overnight.

The review was led by Emma Howard Boyd, former chairwoman of the Environment Agency, and its authors spoke to the NHS, Transport for London, London Fire Brigade, the Metropolitan Police, councillors, politicians and NGOs, as well as representatives for vulnerable groups, sporting and cultural institutions and the financial services sector.

They found there to be a “lethal risk” to Londoners, especially among lower-income households and those with medical conditions, with central government lacking a strategy on how to adapt society to head off the coming threats.

“London has many good plans and programmes to prepare for climate hazards but we need to recognise that Londoners now face lethal risks and a step change is needed," Ms Boyd said.

“In the absence of national leadership, regional government has a more significant role to play. We need pace, not perfection.

“It’s time for the UK, led by its cities and regions, to take action and prioritise adaptation.

“That is an opportunity to make the UK economy more climate resilient, to protect the most vulnerable, to preserve all that we love about London and to show leadership to other cities nationally and globally," Ms Boyd added.

Recommendations include holding multi-agency exercises to test the city’s preparedness for extreme heat, improving houses to protect them from extreme heat and flooding, providing more money and power to local councils, raising flood defences to the west of the Thames Barrier before 2050 and building more sustainable drainage systems to alleviate flash flooding.

“I welcome these recommendations and have proposed in my latest budget an additional £3 million to accelerate climate adaptation work in London," the mayor Sadiq Khan said.

In 2022, the temperature in the capital hit 40°C for the first time, with hundreds dying due to the heat throughout the summer, while operations at Guy’s at St Thomas’ hospitals were cancelled because of IT systems breaking down.

Unprecedented destruction from grass fires left nearly 20 homes gutted on the nation’s hottest day on record, when London Fire Brigade had more calls than at any other time since the Second World War.

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Water consumption rose by 50 per cent during the record heatwave, Thames Water said, with reservoirs at their lowest level for 30 years.

Demand for water, especially in the south-east, is expected to outstrip supply within the next 15 years without radical action and the review said the cost to London could be as much £500 million ($632 million) each day.

Updated: January 17, 2024, 6:14 AM