Tackling the climate emergency is the primary issue of our time. It seems that every day new scientific evidence is released about the risks to us, the planet, and the wildlife with which we share it. Many Londoners will also be aware of the awful bush fires in Australia and those that tore through the Amazon rainforest a few months ago.
This crisis is not just happening overseas. While we in London have so far been protected from its worst impacts, our weather is changing fast and our infrastructure and communities are already suffering. Much of our city is not prepared for such the temperatures recorded in England in recent years, with buildings overheating, public transport being disrupted, and water supplies put under pressure. Public Health England recently released data showing that last summer, across the UK, there were 892 more deaths over the course of three heatwaves than would have been usual. Of these, 235 were in London with the vast majority older people. Overheating and dehydration are particularly dangerous for this group, especially if they have pre-existing health conditions.
At the same time our winters are becoming wetter and extreme rain and cold, more common. For example, in early 2018 we experienced the ‘Beast from the East’ which saw London temperatures dip below -6°. Provisional data shows that London had 2,000 excess winter deaths in 2018/19. Older people, those who are unwell and Londoners living in cold and damp homes – who are more likely to be on a lower income – are most at risk. The climate emergency will cause extreme and unpredictable weather across the spectrum, both warm and cold. We must act now to protect Londoners before things get even worse.
The buildings Londoners live in need to be fit for purpose and fit for the future. Too many homes are poorly insulated and ventilated, leaving them vulnerable to cold, damp and heat. As many as 39 per cent of London’s private renters have damp or mould in their homes, while 26 per cent endure poor insulation or excess cold. With nearly one-third of London’s homes being privately rented (compared to 18 per cent in the rest of the country) this is a particular problem in the capital. As a result of a report by the London Assembly environment committee, produced when I was its chair, the Mayor introduced London’s first ever Fuel Poverty Action Plan and during his current term he has retrofitted or contracted the retrofit of around 26,800 London homes, saving around 20,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum as well as making the homes warm.
It is also vital that new homes are built to the highest possible standards. The Mayor’s draft new London Plan contains provisions to ensure they are energy-efficient and use shading and orientation to limit heat levels inside. I would like to see greater use of natural solutions to limit heat risk in buildings, such as ensuring there is adequate green infrastructure to mitigate it and provide shade. Developers should take responsibility for building to the highest standards.
I am hopeful that Londoners can reduce our city’s carbon emissions and I’ve been thrilled to see so many people getting involved in the climate movement in the last couple of years – particularly so many inspirational young people. To that end, we need to be prepared for increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather, and to keep Londoners safe at home.
Leonie Cooper is London Assembly Member for Merton & Wandsworth. Photograph by Omar Jan.
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