| Alex Morales |
LONDON (WP-BLOOM) – In designing new offices for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) along London’s River Thames, Norman Foster’s architecture firm spent an extra 1.2 million pounds (US$1.9 million) with an eye on climate change.
That wasn’t enough. Four years after moving in, PwC is paying 100,000 pounds for new barriers to protect against flooding below ground level.
“There’s a serious risk,” said Jon Barnes, head of building and technical services at PwC in London. The flood doors, which will be installed in the next few weeks, are for “critical plant areas so that if we do have a flood, we’re not destroying our transformers”.
With global climate-change talks in Lima, Peru, unlikely to make much progress in slowing rising temperatures, the incoming Republican majority in the US Congress threatening to stymie action and cities such as New York and Jakarta gearing up multibillion-dollar defences, Londoners are just getting on with it.
Each metal-plated and sealed door at PwC is among myriad steps by local officials and companies to counter the predicted effects of global warming in Britain: more heat, more intense rain and higher seas.
At least 167 cities and regions around the world – from Copenhagen to Cape Town and from Boston to Melbourne – are developing coping strategies, according to ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, a Bonn-based association of more than 1,000 cities and towns.
London has “one of the most advanced climate-adaptation plans in the world”, said Kerry Constabile, who leads work on cities and regions for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon’s climate-change team.
Kevin Reid, project manager for Mayor Boris Johnson’s Drain London programme, says he’s working with boroughs, schools and hospitals to make them aware of risks and preventive steps, even simple ones such as putting basement generators on platforms, raising door thresholds and stocking up on sandbags.
“No one’s sitting around with pots of money,” Reid said. “If they do need to do some more substantial work, they can then begin to plan those in their forward-looking capital investment programmes.”
Johnson has limited direct power and so is working with local agencies and insti-tutions, along with companies in the city, which contributes more than a fifth of the British economy.
Take Transport for London (TfL), which manages subways, buses and roads.
Climate-proofing is built into its work, ac-cording to Helen Woolston, sustainability coordinator at TfL.
One example: a programme to install white panels atop the capital’s trademark red buses to reflect the rays of the summer sun and keep the vehicles cooler. After 10 years, 98.5 per cent of the fleet of 8,700 has white roofs.
With droughts predicted to become more frequent, the agency has begun in-stalling tanks to collect rain at depots, said Woolston. That means trains will be was-hed even with water restrictions.
TfL also is looking at how to prevent torrential rain from bringing traffic to a standstill. From March, it will begin testing different road surfaces, including porous ones that can hold 26 per cent of their volume as water, a bit like sponges.
Increased downpours are also a con-cern for Thames Water Ltd, which provides drinking water and manages sewage. The utility is working with Southwark Council in south London on a 4-million-pound pro-ject to prevent surface water from over-whelming sewers and flooding basements.
Storage tanks called swales are being installed under landscaped portions of Dulwich Park to collect torrential runoff and release it gradually into the sewers. The tanks are slated to be completed next month, according to Kyle Robins, an infrastructure manager at the company.
“A peak of a storm lasts for less than three hours,” said Robins. “If we can let the whole thing drain down in 24 hours, we’ve reduced the risk of flooding because the same volume of water reaches the sewer but at a much slower rate.”
Plants also can help absorb rainfall and moderate temperatures. Retailer John Le-wis Partnership Plc last year replaced a rai-sed cobbled area outside its corporate office near Victoria Station with a sunken gar-den that can absorb runoff from the road.
Under a 2-million-pound “Pocket Parks” programme, the mayor is trying to mobilise local authorities and volunteers to create 100 green spaces on derelict land. He’s promoting plant-covered “green walls” and working to increase tree cover by 5 per cent by 2025.
“Planting trees has a multiplicity of bene-fits,” said Johnson’s environment adviser, Matthew Pencharz. “Trees help cool down the city and lower the urban heat-island effect. They improve the air quality. They attenuate floodwater.”