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Karen Fletcher looks at what the UK needs to be doing to cope with extreme weather

I can’t help feeling that, if I were a member of the Climate Change Committee, I’d be finding it hard not to be on the phone to Number 10 this week saying : “Told you so…”

Reports of flash floods across London showed dramatic scenes: Buses trapped by rising water in the streets; passengers rescued from submerged cars; waterfalls bursting down into DLR stations.

At least two large London hospitals had to start turning away patients because of flooding.

And all of this was caused by rainfall that lasted less than half a day.

The problem of overheating is more than an issue of ‘comfort

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Content director for Rocket Content

Less prepared than ever

But as the CCC points out, this should not have come as a surprise.

Government has undertaken at least three comprehensive assessments of risk from climate change in ten years, with very little resulting action.

In fact, the CCC states: “The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.”

The CCC had already warned that these problems were increasingly likely to happen in its 2021 report, Progress in adapting to climate change.

This included warnings about higher likelihood of flooding because in spite of rising summer temperatures, there is also a pattern of heavier rains across the UK.

Ill-prepared for what’s to come

We have always benefitted from a relatively benign climate.

With the exception of some of the remote highlands and islands of Scotland, extremes of weather have been very rare.

That makes us very lucky compared to many nations, but also ill-prepared for what’s happening to our weather right now.

While a lot of attention is paid to our national Net Zero by 2050 goal, the issue of adapting to climate change is being overlooked.

And while we do need to cut our carbon emissions, we must also face the fact that our climate has already changed irrevocably.

The CCC predicts hotter summers, warmer winters and higher flooding risks. 

The problem of overheating in homes and other buildings is more than an issue of ‘comfort’.

The UK already sees 4,000 deaths each year caused by overheating. The CCC predicts that could rise to 7,000 annual deaths from overheating by 2050.

Adapt to survive

There are plenty of global examples of what this looks like.  

The Northwest of North America has seen hundreds of deaths caused by an unprecedented heatwave.

In an area unused to such high temperatures (as in the UK) homes and other buildings were simply not suitable for keeping people safe from the heat.

Buildings in the UK need to be adapted so that we can prepare for these inevitable changes.

This includes our building services, for example improved ventilation in homes and other buildings.

Retrofitting will be required for many of these buildings to make them liveable in the future.

Get your finger out

The CCC’s report is polite and restrained in its language, saying that: “A pattern has emerged of Government strategies that are later than planned and, when they do emerge, short of the required policy ambition.”

To put this into more everyday terms, it’s time the government got its collective finger out.

Standing knee-deep in rising water with transport at a standstill, hospitals closing and homes and business flooded is not the time to be making policy.

We have to re-set our thinking on the UK climate now and adapt our buildings to survive a very different future.

Karen Fletcher is former editor of Modern Building Services and CIBSE Journal