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Climate Crisis Warning: How London and Major Cities are Facing Imminent Environmental Threats

climate change

Climate change is a worldwide occurrence, significantly affecting urban environments. Elevated global temperatures result in rising sea levels and a heightened frequency of extreme weather phenomena like floods, droughts, and storms, facilitating the proliferation of tropical diseases. These ramifications substantially burden essential urban services, infrastructure, housing, livelihoods, and public health. Primarily, marginalized, and underprivileged communities bear the brunt of these consequences, lacking adequate resources to mitigate them effectively. The confluence of heightened susceptibility and increased exposure underscores the growing risk urban populations face due to climate change impacts. 

As per the United Nations, urban locales are experiencing the impacts of climate change while also playing a significant role in exacerbating the escalating environmental challenges worldwide. Moreover, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) asserts that urban activities are a pivotal contributor to climate change due to their substantial generation of greenhouse gas emissions. With the escalation of natural disasters in frequency and intensity attributable to the ascent in global temperatures, cities previously not considered primary focal points of the climate crisis are now witnessing extreme and occasionally fatal weather phenomena. Such a case is the city of London. 

The interim findings of the London Climate Resilience Review, an independent study commissioned by the Mayor of London, have substantiated that London and the United Kingdom lack adequate preparedness for significant climate-related impacts, including severe flooding, extreme heat, and wildfires. These findings underscore a critical deficiency in readiness, posing a potentially lethal threat to the most vulnerable communities. 

The Review’s Key findings include: 

  1. Despite making strides in readiness for extreme heat and surface water flooding, London still needs to prepare to contend with the heightened frequency and severity of climate change currently being experienced. 
     
  1. Climate change poses a considerable menace to the inhabitants of London, with specific communities facing greater vulnerability than others. These include low-income households, the elderly, minority communities, children and adolescents, and individuals belonging to vulnerable health demographics. 
     
  1. The adaptation efforts undertaken in London will yield benefits for the entire United Kingdom, considering the capital’s pivotal economic significance and its hosting of critical national infrastructure, such as transportation hubs and vital medical facilities. 
     
  1. Finally, numerous domestic and global cities encounter comparable challenges. Through demonstrating leadership in the capital, London has the potential to become a pioneering city on a worldwide scale, setting an example and encouraging international investment in climate change preparedness initiatives. 

London’s main climate risks are:

Emma Howard Boyd CBE, Chair of the Review, highlighted that: “London has many good plans and programs to prepare for climate hazards, but we need to recognize that Londoners now face lethal risks, and a step change is needed. Last year was the hottest on record and this is causing chaos and disruption all over the world. London is not immune, as shown by the flash floods in 2021 and a 40-degree heatwave in 2022. “ 

  1. According to a 2021 report by risk analysts of Verisk Maplecroft, almost all of the 100 cities facing the highest environmental risks are located in Asia, with Jakarta identified as the most vulnerable. The low-lying coastal capital of Indonesia is mainly affected by severe air pollution, exacerbated by frequent seismic events and flooding. Additionally, as reported by Vox, Jakarta is confronted with the unique challenge of being the world’s fastest-sinking city. The city’s more than 10 million residents often rely on groundwater due to limited access to water, further exacerbating the issue of subsidence. 
     
  1. Lima has been identified as the most vulnerable city in the Americas. A notable factor contributing to this assessment is the significant impact of air pollution stemming from vehicle emissions. The city’s population also faces heightened vulnerability due to substandard housing conditions and infrastructure deficiencies. 
     
  1. According to CNN, Lagos, Africa’s most populous city, is facing the prospect of becoming uninhabitable in the near future. Despite Nigerians being accustomed to annual floods during the country’s rainy season, Lagos Island witnessed unprecedented levels of flooding in 2021. This inundation severely disrupted economic activities, with estimated yearly costs reaching approximately $4 billion (£2.9 billion). The Climate Change Vulnerability Index by Verisk Maplecroft indicates that African cities are particularly vulnerable to environmental threats due to their high exposure to severe climate conditions. Furthermore, the continent’s limited capacity to mitigate these impacts exacerbates the situation. In contrast, South Africa’s relatively higher wealth and lower exposure levels offer greater resilience to its major urban centers. 
     
  1. In recent years, Miami, Florida, has experienced significant threats from floods, storms, and extreme heat, particularly affecting densely populated areas such as downtown and Miami Beach. ClimateCheck highlights that these climate-related hazards have posed severe risks to both the city’s populace and its infrastructure. Some regard Miami as the most vulnerable coastal city in America to natural disasters due to the escalating dangers of climate change. The renowned beachfront of Miami has suffered substantial hurricane damage and recurrent flooding during high tides, primarily due to the rising sea levels. Consequently, this phenomenon has led to saltwater intrusion into the drinking water supply and has compromised the functionality of wastewater treatment facilities in the vicinity. Echoing these concerns, Boris Johnson cautioned at Cop26 that Miami could face submersion if global temperatures were to increase by four degrees. 
     
  1. According to Earth.Org, Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, has a history of dealing with floods, given that 26% of the country lies below sea level, and many urban areas are situated near bodies of water prone to flooding. Consequently, the city has developed sophisticated flood control systems, which have been continuously refined over the past five decades. However, with the accelerating climate crisis, Amsterdam faces heightened vulnerability due to projected sea level rise. While current infrastructure may withstand a one-meter increase in sea levels, forecasts indicate a 1.2 to 2-meter rise over the next 79 years if a quick effort to lessen greenhouse gas emissions is not taken and Antarctic ice sheet melting accelerates. In such a scenario, existing infrastructures are likely insufficient, and an estimated 700,000 individuals—equivalent to 97% of the city’s population—could be displaced by the end of the century. 

Urban centers are actively implementing measures to adapt to the effects of climate change. These initiatives aim to safeguard the constructed environment, enhance land-use planning practices, and bolster emergency response capabilities. Notably, cities are undertaking various actions, such as planting trees, implementing green roofs, and creating green spaces to mitigate climate impacts. These endeavors contribute to enhancing air quality and mitigating heat in urban areas. Additionally, the utilization of more permeable ground cover aids in absorbing rainfall, thereby reducing instances of runoff and flooding. Furthermore, certain governmental bodies are employing policy instruments such as building regulations and zoning ordinances to fortify urban infrastructure and protect city residents from the ramifications of climate change. 

“Cities are both a hotbed of climate threats and a hotbed of climate solutions. More and more cities are developing adaptation plans, and we’ve seen cutting-edge innovations across the world, from rainwater harvesting systems to green infrastructure. There’s no doubt that the need to adapt to climate change and urbanization can force us to re-imagine how our cities are built – and for the better”, says Jessica Troni, Head of UNEP’s Climate Change Adaptation Unit.

Cities represent significant contributors to climate change, as their activities constitute primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Estimates indicate that cities are accountable for approximately 75 per cent of global CO2 emissions, with transportation and building sectors ranking prominently among the primary contributors. Practical mitigation efforts necessitate a coordinated approach across international, regional, national, and local levels. Thus, cities must be integrated into the solutions framework for combating climate change.

Many cities are taking substantive actions by transitioning to renewable energy sources, adopting cleaner production methods, and implementing regulations or incentives to mitigate industrial emissions. Such measures not only contribute to emission reduction but also ameliorate local pollution stemming from industrial and transportation activities, thereby enhancing urban air quality and the well-being of urban inhabitants. 

At EcoSkills we aspire to equip professionals with the skillsets that they need to improve their climate strategy and align it with the global goal of reducing and eliminating emissions. Making the fight against climate change a default reflex for global businesses is not just about preventing environmental degradation; it’s also about securing a sustainable future for the business and the city in which it operates. Companies that recognize and act on this imperative can benefit from increased resilience, improved customer relationships, innovation, and compliance advantages, all of which can contribute to long-term success and profitability. 


 

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