Richmond flooding in 2009

Flooding, as seen here in Richmond in 2009, is predicted to become more common as the century progresses ©Iridescent/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

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Extreme heat and flooding risk in London due to climate change

Thousands of homes, schools and hospitals in London are at risk from climate change, the Mayor of London has said. 

A new analysis suggests that areas such as Vauxhall, Earls Court and Kings Cross are at high risk of floods, while Peckham, Limehouse and Shepherd's Bush face 'extreme temperatures'. Meanwhile, air pollution remains a concern, with areas of the city in breach of government targets. 

Calling for action at the Barbican, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said, 'London is at a crossroads. We either take bold action now or face the consequences - with catastrophic impacts on our environment, the air we breathe and the climate.' 

'I'm determined for London to be a world leader in tackling the twin dangers of air pollution and the climate emergency so that we can deliver a brighter future for London - one that's greener, fairer and more prosperous for everyone.' 

The speech comes ahead of the COP26 summit, the international climate negotiations happening in Glasgow in November. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for countries across the globe to 'do what posterity demands we must' and take action to limit a rise in global temperatures by 1.5⁰C. 

Speaking at the UN, Boris said, 'We need the world to come to Glasgow to make the commitments necessary. 

'And we are not talking about stopping the rise in temperatures - it is alas too late for that – but to restrain that growth to 1.5⁰C. 

'And that means we need to pledge collectively to achieve carbon neutrality - net zero - by the middle of the century.' 

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London

Sadiq Khan has called for action ©Frederic Legrand - COMEO/Shutterstock

'Unbearably hot'

Over the past few years the impacts of climate change have become more pronounced. From widespread bush fires in Australia to devastating floods in Germany, greenhouse gas emissions are taking their toll. 

In August, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that in all predicted scenarios average global temperature were likely to exceed 1.5⁰C. Rises over this limit open the world to more damaging impacts from climate change. 

The UK has been no exception to this. Flash flooding earlier this year inundated tube stations and iconic landmarks such as Tower Bridge, while the Met Office issued its first extreme heat warning in July as temperatures neared 32⁰C for large parts of England and Wales. 

The new analysis, carried out for the mayor of London and Bloomberg, predicts that six boroughs, including Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham and Tower Hamlets, are at 'high risk' from the climate impacts of flooding and high temperatures. 

A 2014 study found that the tube would likely become too hot for comfort for most passengers by 2050, even if steps to cool down the network were taken. 

Public transport will also take a hit from flooding, with 10% of the network and a quarter of stations at a high risk of flooding if water levels continue to rise.  

Data from the Environment Agency shows that the Thames rose by 15 centimetres between 1911 and 2008, and that this rise is accelerating. As water levels creep up, almost half of all hospitals and 20% of schools across London will be at risk of flooding. 

The Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier is due to be upgraded or replaced by 2070 as sea levels rise ©Arpingstone/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Turning back the tide

To avoid the most damaging aspects of climate change, politicians, officials and people across London and the UK are working to mitigate its impacts. 

During the speech, Khan launched a new environmental campaign to encourage everyone in the city to take action on climate change. This follows the previously announced expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone to the north and south circular roads which surround the capital. This scheme will be coming into force next month, and it is hoped the change will slash emissions and improve air quality in London. 

Sadiq Khan has also committed to making London a zero-carbon city, with more electric vehicles, better energy efficiency and increased reliance on renewable energy planned. 

Across the UK, the government plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990, accelerating previous proposals to reach net zero. 

This work complements efforts to mitigate the now-inevitable impacts of climate change, which will occur even if the world warms by just 1.5⁰C. The UK Government has announced plans to invest £5.2 billion over the next six years in flood prevention schemes across England. 

In London, flood prevention proposals include raising flood walls, opening up waterways at risk of floods and expanding flood plains. The Thames Barrier is also due an upgrade by 2070, which may involve improvements or replacement with a larger structure. 

While these changes will go a long way towards helping the UK in the face of climate change, the eyes of the world are currently focused on COP26. Following the landmark Paris climate agreement in 2015, countries will come together once more to update their plans to cut emissions.  

Boris Johnson has said the world must cut emissions 'further and faster' than ever before at this summit, the outcome of which will be crucial to how the climate changes in the coming century.