London flooding poses ‘significant risk’ unless immediate action taken
Expert report warns of dangers of relying on Victorian drainage system, lack of funding and awareness of risks
(Extract from The Guardian Sun 20 Feb 2022 06.45 GMT by Robin McKie)
There is now a significant risk of people drowning in London as the threat of major flash floods increases in the city because of climate change. According to a report by a London Councils taskforce published this month, the danger is particularly severe because there is no overall plan or authority to tackle the increasing threat of flooding in the city.
In its analysis of the citywide disruption that struck last July, when torrential rain swept across London on several occasions, the group says that more than a month’s average rain fell on the city in an hour on several different days. For example 48.5mm of rain fell on Shepherd’s Bush in an hour on 12 July while its average rainfall for that month is 46.8mm.
Across London, tube stations were flooded, hospitals closed, and more than 1,000 homes inundated. As deluges become more frequent as global warming takes hold, there is now a real risk that London could see far greater increases in devastation from surface water flooding.
The taskforce presented its report earlier to the London Councils, a cross-party group that represents the capital’s 32 boroughs and the City of London. It showed that the worst effects of the flooding were seen in the north and east of the city, adding that it was not clear “that residents in risk areas understand the level of risk that they now face and how to respond”.
This point was highlighted by Bob Ward, deputy chair of the London Climate Change Partnership. “There is now a real risk of people drowning, particularly in basement flats if a major flash flood occurred in the middle of the night,” he told the Observer. “The problem is particularly worrying because we have no idea how many people live in basement properties in London.”
The report also warned that “London has an increasing area of impermeable surfacing and still essentially relies on a Victorian drainage system that was not designed to cope with the city’s current and predicted future populations.” It highlighted the fact there was no single organisation in charge of tackling surface water flooding in London; there was insufficient funding to manage the risk, and a lack of understanding of the risks posed by surface water flooding. Major improvements in all these areas were urgently needed if the city is to cope with future serious inundations.
The danger facing the city is highlighted as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists prepare the final draft of a report outlining how nations must adapt to avoid the worst consequences of changes in storm frequencies and weather patterns that will occur in coming years.
Last month the government published its third five-yearly assessment of the risks that Britain faces from the changing climate, and painted a future of drastic disruption and costly impacts. It indicated that the climate crisis was likely to wipe at least 1% a year off the UK’s economy by 2045 if global temperatures were allowed to rise by 2C (3.6F).
Disruption to food production, and infrastructure were likely to cost more than £1bn a year each, the report warned. In all, at least eight areas of risk were judged likely to cost more than £1bn a year by 2050.
Environment groups reacted to the government report by warning that it showed that ministers needed to take more urgent action to defend the country against the effects of climate change.
“This report makes clear that even modest increases in global temperature will have profound impacts across every aspect of our lives,” Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK said. “Adaptation can no longer be an afterthought. Action on climate change of all kinds needs to be right at the heart of government policy and programmes.”