London shows how unprepared northern cities are for a warmer world

LONDON – As storm clouds rolled over London on Tuesday night, the rain brought much-needed downpours for the stuffy city dwellers after a day break record The heat caused wildfires, disrupted train travel and strained the city’s infrastructure and health services.

The heat dissipated on Wednesday but it left behind a new city full of worries about how London and other European cities can cope with the increased frequency of such extreme weather events.

Philipp Rode, chief executive of LSE Cities, a research center at the London School of Economics, said that criticism preceded the heatwave that prompted warnings from meteorologists, the media, and experts. Urban planners and climate scientists have been proven wrong. Tuesday.

“That idea was completely scrapped, because the effects were quite dramatic,” says Dr. Rode. “The fires in particular became very symbolic not only because of the lack of preparation but also because of not really appreciating what has been said for decades – that this is going to happen.”

The heatwave has led to massive wildfires in France, Spain, Italy and Greece, and parts of the UK reaching 40 degrees Celsius – 104 degrees Fahrenheit – for the first time on Tuesday, while Paris just hit the mark that’s the third time.

This is part of a worrying trend, driven by global warming, with average worldwide temperatures about 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they were at the end of the 19th century, before emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases were released. Other heat preservation became popular. Scientists say that heat waves have increased in frequency and intensity faster in Europe than in most other parts of the planet.

Dr Rode said that London and other European cities in northern latitudes, where heat was previously a rare threat but frequent colds, need to adapt to be livable.

“We have prepared a very complex infrastructure system, railways, energy systems, down to the way we design school buildings and hospitals – for very specific climates,” he said. ,” he said, with plans across the UK for temperatures around minus 10 to 35 degrees Celsius. “And yesterday, we exceeded that, and that then led to these collapses. .”

London Ambulance Service said in a statement stated that there was continued demand for its services, which put the organization under “extreme pressure”, as a direct result of the heatwave. Initial data shows that on TuesdayThe number of emergency calls for heat exposure incidents increased tenfold from last week.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said on Wednesday morning that Tuesday was the city’s busiest day for the city’s fire service since World War Two. The fire has destroyed about 41 properties, many near grassy areas that have turned to burn in the devastating heat, causing the fires to spread quickly.

“It shows the consequences of climate change with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees,” Mr Khan said in an interview with BBC News.

Firefighters and their union say years of deprivation have left them unprepared, with some crews on duty for 14 hours without breaks, with food or water unavailable and unavailable. preventive. London’s fire brigade said staffing shortages left more than a quarter of its fire trucks out of service on Tuesday.

At the time every engine in operation was in use – not a single engine was used to respond to the new emergency, a union official said.

Extreme weather caused by climate change has also caused European cities to be severely flooded. A year ago, fierce summer storms wreaked havoc from England to Croatia. West Germany hardest hit, with nearly 200 people killed and London seeing a whole month’s worth of rain in a single day, brought much of the city to a standstill.

Dr Rode notes that there is little political will involved in extreme heat, as there will be in places like Australia or California, where damaging wildfires are frequent.

“But here we don’t have that, so I think what we can hope for is that it’s a wake-up call,” he said. “People have to appreciate that while of course you could be better prepared, but this is just a taste of what’s to come.”

Nordic homes are primarily built to trap heat rather than dissipate it, and many homes are poorly ventilated. In a crowded city like London, poor air quality, numerous sidewalks and relative absence of trees all reinforce each other’s impact, says Léan Doody, who leads an integrated city and planning network for Europe Europe for Arup, a British engineering company, said.

However, major cities remain largely unprepared for this new extreme reality, leaving city officials struggling to cope.

“I think things need to happen a lot faster,” Ms. Doody said. “It’s important to know that there are risks, but I think it’s the same as anything – day in and day out.”

A spokesman for the London mayor’s office said in a statement that he “has been clear that urgent action is needed to combat climate change and that he is taking some of the most radical action of any. any city in the world for London to adapt to our changing climate.”

However, the statement added that the UK national government was “preparing for this heat event and the fact that we are facing the effects of climate change” and it said it was necessary to Take action now to “address the risk of overheating in London. “

The mayor’s office said it was working with local authorities across the city to ensure that the most vulnerable residents could get somewhere to cool off during the heat wave. Its “London Plan”, a long-term development plan for the city, encourages builders to design for extreme weather situations.

Cities, where natural landscapes have been replaced by dense buildings, concrete and corrugated iron roofs, are hotter and retain heat longer than the surrounding areas – the “urban heat island” effect, a relationship of great concern as the climate warms.

Britain’s massive heatwave plan, published by the government this monthincludes advice for individuals on how to stay safe and guidance on how to protect infrastructure.

But critics say it doesn’t go far enough to tackle the problem with the urgency it needs. And if greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly curbed, no change in the number of cities will be enough, Dr. Rode said.

“Adaptation at some point has physical boundaries,” he said. “There are certain conditions, which you simply have, with all the wisdom and all the investments that we have and the technology, where it is beyond our capacity to adapt.”

This week’s heat makes it clear that adaptation has barely even begun. Nursing homes, many of which are older, poorly ventilated buildings, struggle to keep residents hydrated and cool. Parents grapple with whether it’s safer to keep their children in overheated apartments or send them to overheated schools.

London’s underground network can be stuffy on a normal summer’s day – most trains don’t have air conditioning and older tunnels have few shafts for ventilation. During a heatwave, the system can become unbearably hot.

Train tracks can expand, warp and warp in extreme heat, a risk that will force some rail services to cancel this week and cause others to slow down. Following that disruption, Britain’s rail network has started a task force on how to cope with future heatwaves – tackling a long-awaited crisis long after it hit.

Simon Fox, an academic who was stranded in London for two days after his train to Leeds was cancelled, said he felt “the tiring resignation of a citizen so used to the infrastructure”. rotten floors.”

Mr Fox was again waiting for a train at Kings Cross station on Wednesday, along with a crowd of others trying to figure out how to continue their journey amid severe delays.

“It only takes a strong wind to knock it over,” he said.

Isabella Kwai and Euan ward contribution report.

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