The record of international climate conferences does not inspire confidence. From the First Earth Summit in Stockholm back in 1972 through Geneva in 1990, Kyoto in 1997 and Paris in 2015, there has been a great deal of talk but very little action. And with such inaction will COP26 be able to save the predicted 3 million homes from flooding?
One major, well known figure (and now no longer leader of the free world) even famously announced his withdrawal from the Paris agreement, claiming climate change was a hoax. This was in 2017, which was the most expensive year on record for natural disasters in the US. His views on COP26 are easy to find online as are those of former President Obama’s.
Since then, the effects of climate change have increased and are no longer limited to countries where extreme conditions already exist.
Droughts, famines and floods have been tragically commonplace for years in countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Sudan. More recently, the news has been full of reports of wildfires in California, Australia and Greece, while flooding on an unprecedented scale has hit Germany.
The UK has been spared much of this devastating natural activity, but climate change is getting closer to home all the time. The country has had its fair share of floods over the centuries.
In places, these might have occurred because we are an island nation; however, in the last 20 years, records have continually been broken in Somerset, Yorkshire, the Midlands, Lincolnshire and the Peak District, with even the lower Thames region falling victim.
To coincide with the Glasgow COP26, the location intelligence provider Gamma has released an alarming map projecting that one in ten homes in the UK – more than 3 million – will be at risk of flooding should the government fail to meet its latest targets for 2050.
Even regions that are miles from the sea are in danger. This is no longer a set of localised problems; now, it is a potential crisis of national proportions.
Let’s look into this in more detail.
In coastal areas such as Worthing and Portsmouth, the percentage risk to homes is currently 5%; by 2050, this could increase to 14% and 21% respectively. Great Yarmouth can contemplate an increase from 24% to 33%.
Inland, the rise is similarly pronounced in London boroughs such as Merton – from 7% to 18% – and Kensington and Chelsea – from 4% to 13%.
In the UK’s richest borough, this means an additional 14,000 properties will be vulnerable to flooding. The Gamma map shows large areas along the Thames underwater.
These predictions are calculated on the basis of nothing or very little changing in the level of our carbon emissions. Thousands of negotiators at COP26 have tried to persuade world leaders to make the necessary investment that will limit the global rise in temperature to 1.5°C.
Many climate experts say that beyond this figure, many natural systems will pass through points of no return. While humans may survive what sounds like a modest increase, the ecosystem on which we depend could be fatally damaged.
No national government can have a global impact through the implementation of unilateral measures.
But every nation will suffer the consequences of passing these tipping points. This is why events such as COP26 are essential.
Despite the inevitable politicking on such occasions, such as the very public non-attendance of Russia’s President Putin, China’s President Xi, Brazil’s President Bolsonaro and Turkey’s President Erdogan, there are slight but encouraging signs that international cooperation may be on the horizon.
Although the four leaders mentioned did not attend, their negotiators did.
This suggests that despite not wishing to be associated with something seen in some quarters as a project of the ex-colonial industrial west, their governments understand that inaction is not an option.
The difficulty for the UK is nevertheless intractable. The flood forecasts are predicated on an average temperature rise that is global rather than local.
Whatever measures we take at home, we remain at the mercy of the rest of the world. It is imperative that we play our part, but our own problems with flood risk will not disappear even if we succeed in achieving carbon net-zero by 2050 in the UK.
We are truly all in this together.
Which is why an event such as COP26 is essential to our own future. COP26 alone may not have gone far enough to avert the flooding of 3 million homes; however, if it is the beginning of a new and serious global approach to the problem, its influence may achieve what the conference alone cannot.
This is of little comfort to individual householders, homeowners, landlords and tenants. It is hard not to feel helpless in the face of such far-reaching problems; however, everyone can contribute to reducing carbon emissions in ways that seem insignificant on an individual scale but collectively can make a considerable difference.
It is vital to protect properties against both present and future hazards as effectively as we can.
Inventory Base provides fully customisable property management software that can be adapted to take account of the various flood protections available to property owners as well as mapping sensors and identifying risks within the property.
Simple and not so simple measures include installing non-return valves to drain pipes to prevent the backflow of water, raising damp proof courses and sealing floors, fitting covers over ventilation bricks, and even having guards at the ready that can quickly be applied to doors if flooding is imminent.
Making preparations of this kind is sensible even if your property is not in one of the familiar flood plains. Including such measures in any routine property inspection will ensure they will perform efficiently should the worst happen and at least minimise any damage if not completely prevent it.
Until the general lessons of recent climate disasters and the specific ones of COP26 are embraced and acted upon, the role of the individual is limited; however, being aware of the dangers at least makes preventive action feasible.