Climate change risk is often knocked down the priority list by seemingly more pressing needs. But costs of inaction can be staggering: in London, ageing infrastructure and buildings already struggle to cope with relatively minor heat waves and rainfall, and climate change is set to increase their frequency, as well as the probability of acute flood, droughts, extreme storms or heat waves. It’s critical that the city’s public service providers act to reduce these risks.
Managing London’s Exposure to Climate Change, a new report from Future of London, with the support of Arup, offers approaches and strategies to achieve this. The report emphasises the need for more involvement of financial and insurance industries; initiatives to encourage building retrofit; cross-sector, area-wide partnerships; and flexible, long-term planning. The report launch at Arup on 6 October brought together cross-sector guests and panellists to learn about and discuss our findings.
Cassie Sutherland, Principal Policy and Programme Officer (Environment) at the GLA, gave an overview of what is happening London-wide. She advised that in coming months we can expect to see Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ambitions for ‘A Greener, Cleaner London’ get underway, along with rainwater management in a higher proportion of new developments; a new seven-point heat risk management plan; the launch of the Sustainable Drainage Action Plan; more work with Business Improvement Districts; and an updated, integrated Adaptation Strategy. Key GLA roles in delivering a more resilient London are to identify partners, set tasks and targets, and build relationships with key organisations from the private and voluntary sectors.
Jo Wilson, Head of Policy at Future of London, presented the report headlines and recommendations before three panellists gave their perspectives and recommendations.
Bevan Jones, Managing Director at Sustainable Homes, noted that developers assume a level of acceptable risk including climate change impacts — and that building regulations aren’t sufficient for addressing this or for providing resilient, comfortable buildings. Ways to build resilience into new developments include a more robust Standard Assessment Procedure; mandatory building reviews after one year; cleverer, integrated building regulations; and clients demanding resilience through contracts. Relationships among key actors — policy makers, developers, landlords, investors, and insurers — already exist; they now need to start including resilience in their discussions.
For Derek Drew-Smith, Flood Risk Manager at LB Barking & Dagenham, funding is the key challenge for local authorities, as critical services take precedence over resilience and are still seen as separate. Local authorities can begin to create change with strong planning policies to guide new development. Creative approaches such as undertaking retrofitting as part of standard building maintenance cycles can tap into existing pockets of skills and funding. Reframing resilience to highlight its wider benefits and co-benefits is also crucial to getting cross-department buy-in.
Nadia Broccardo, Executive Director at Team London Bridge Business Improvement District, said the business community is keen to be involved in improving London’s resilience. She explained that the findings of the Roads Task Force in 2012 inspired TLB to think about how the BID area should function as a holistic place. TLB’s 12-point Green Infrastructure Plan was a direct response to this. Since 2012, the plan has delivered rain gardens and pocket parks, serving multiple environmental functions by attenuating runoff, reducing the Urban Heat Island effect and improving air quality. In addition to improving resilience throughout the area, greening makes London Bridge more attractive to businesses and users.
Paula Kirk, Director at Arup, summarised the morning by confirming that the evidence of London’s climate risks is clear; London now needs to use its skills, knowledge, and partnerships to respond. Cost-benefit methods that emphasise the cost of inaction outweighing the cost of improving resilience would help. Taking action is no longer about working towards separate private and public interests, but about collaboration and integrated responses.
Throughout the Q&A, a recurring theme was the design of new developments. Large-scale development offers a great opportunity for transformational change in terms of sustainability, but it’s not being taken up. For instance, steel-and-glass construction remains popular despite being less suitable for a changing climate. Getting the right building design, fabric and thermal comfort is integral — and building regulations need to be more responsive to different types of occupiers and uses.
The Q&A also highlighted other sector-specific actions. For example, a consultant’s job is to give solutions to clients, which should include advice around resilience and its benefits and co-benefits. Policymakers similarly should highlight individual and local benefits of resilience schemes to the public rather than focusing on messages about climate change, which people rarely respond to.
It is hoped that local authorities will use this report to engage elected members and help drive funding and political will towards resilience programmes. Future of London can help with this; contact Jo Wilson if you are interested in us presenting the report findings to your organisation, or if you would like to request a hard copy.Download the full report here.