Andy Atkins, CEO of A Rocha UK, looks at a new report on the impact of global heating on our homes.
February’s unusually intense rainfall – 141% of the month’s average rainfall had fallen by mid month – has led to widespread flooding. This has damaged thousands of homes and caused trauma and loss to tens of thousands of people. The new Minister of the Environment George Eustace blamed climate change. It looks like global heating is hitting home and homes.
Tragically, there is more to come in the years ahead, and potentially the weeks and months ahead too. A new study, published in February, points to a range of emerging threats to UK homes from global heating, but it also gives hope. Written by scientists from The Climate Coalition, of which A Rocha UK is a member, Home Truths, draws on the latest data from the UK’s leading climate research centres. You can download it here.
The report warns not just of increased surface and river flooding, but coastal flooding too as sea levels rise. Average sea levels around Britain have already risen 17cm since the early 1900s. 1.8 million people’s homes are currently estimated to be at significant risk of one or other source of inundation. This figure could rise to 2.6 million by 2040 at the current rate of global heating.
Then there is heat stress on the people in the houses: more intense and frequent heat waves are killing people, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. The summer 2019 heat waves are estimated by Public Health England to have led to almost 900 ’excess deaths’ from heat stress in England alone. Heat and drought also damages buildings not just people, drying out clay subsoils especially and triggering subsidence.
Not only does it cost householders dear to fix flood or subsidence damage to their homes, but their insurance premiums also rise once they have suffered the first hit on their homes.
There are solutions and the Climate Coalition is calling for them to be rolled out much faster. Among other measures, we need a radical switch away from building on flood plains. We need housing design standards which keep homes naturally cooler in searing summers, and reduces the need for energy-guzzling air conditioning.
Significantly, for a nature conservation organisation like A Rocha UK, the research demonstrates the benefits of working with nature to combat climate impacts on our homes and communities. We can restore green space in towns and cities, to better absorb rainfall and reduce runoff. We can restore our upland peat moors to slow the discharge of rainfall to populated valleys below. We can plant more trees in urban areas to combat the ‘heat island’ effect. And all this would be good for wildlife too.
Churches have been providing practical and pastoral support to flood victims. This is absolutely right and part of the Church’s mission. So too is raising our collective voice. This year is a perfect time for us to do so – with the UK government hosting the UN climate talks (COP26) in November.
Let’s urge our government to bring in policies now to protect people and their homes from global heating and to cut the UK’s emissions faster. The UK is off track to meet its own emissions targets. Getting on track will give it greater influence in persuading other countries to agree the bolder emissions cuts we all need, at COP 26.