North East scientists warn cities to act now on climate change

Cities should take climate change seriously and not simply pay lip service to tackling the threat, warn North East scientists

Flash flooding in Newcastle city centre
Flash flooding in Newcastle city centre

Cities should take climate change seriously and not simply pay lip service to tackling the threat, warn North East scientists.

Academics at Newcastle University have revealed a “postcode lottery of preparedness” across the country based on what each city is doing to not only reduce greenhouse emissions but also adapt to future climate change and extremes of weather such as flooding and drought.

Devising a new way of ranking cities, the team scored 30 cities based on levels of readiness.

They were marked on whether they had assessed climate change impact, their mission on the issue, plans drawn up, which measures had been implemented and if these had been monitored and reviewed to gauge their effectiveness.

Newcastle University’s Dr Oliver Heidrich, who led the research, said it highlighted at a glance the “state of readiness” across the country and how prepared we are for the future.

“Of the 30 cities we assessed, all of them acknowledged that climate change was a threat and all except two had a strategy or policy in place to reduce emissions and also adapt to cope better with future weather patterns, in particular flooding,” said Dr Heidrich, a senior researcher in the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences.

“But a plan is only any good if you implement it and then assess it to see how effective it has been, and this requires a long-term investment in the strategies.

“We found that in many cities this wasn’t happening. In some cases, plans were in place but nothing had been done about them.

“Many cities published plans and partially implemented associated schemes such as introducing electric vehicles or solar panels as well as making changes to the built environment to reduce the risk of flooding.

“But very often, no-one was monitoring to see whether it made a difference or had actually made things worse.

“The aim of this research is not to name and shame cities, but if we are to be prepared for the increased occurrences of floods and droughts then we do need to make sure that our climate change policies are in place, that they are working and that the consequences of implementing these strategies are being checked.”

Dr Heidrich said Newcastle just squeezed into the top 10 cities.

“There is always room for improvement but Newcastle is doing OK,” he said. “A lot of cities say they are tackling these issues but what people say and what they do can be slightly different. Some cities are producing plans but not necessarily implementing them.” Dr Heidrich said that financial and time constraints could hinder a city’s climate change approach, while some were not convinced climate change was happening.

“But there is scientific evidence that it is happening. There is no doubt and cities should take this seriously and not just pay lip service,” he said.

He said London was one of the best performers, partly due to its financial strength, while cities with universities tended to have a better record than those without.

Almost all cities had set targets for reducing CO2 emissions, although quite a few would not commit to an actual target, figure or timescale, rendering them meaningless. Reduction targets varied from just 10% to 80%.

Dr Heidrich said: “What this research highlights more than anything is the huge variations in the state of readiness for climate change across the UK.

“Although cities of all sizes across the UK acknowledge climate change is a threat, there is considerable spread of measures in place and huge inconsistency in policy between areas and against national and international targets.

“Local authorities are pivotal to the implementation of global climate policy so it is essential that we embed adaptation and mitigation strategies within the urban planning framework.”

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