It’s probably too early to deliberate whether COP 26 was a success, and if progress has been made since Paris. Glasgow will be remembered for the passionate speech from the Maldives representative, which reminded us (if ever we needed reminding) of the Armageddon-esque effects of climate change to the planet as a whole, and to small island nations in particular. The target remains to aim for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and to keep global warming close to 1.5 degrees.
The Guardian on Tuesday 30th March had an interesting article entitled “UK criticised for ignoring Paris climate goals in infrastructure decisions”. In summary, various luminaries, scientists, legal and environmental experts, have written a letter expressing concern about the UK’s infrastructure projects and the UK’s participation in the Paris Agreement.
The issue of pollution in major cities in the UK has again been highlighted by the tragic death of a child whose family lived near the south circular in Lewisham. In a landmark case, the second coroner’s inquest found that the levels of pollution were above world safe levels, and that air pollution was a material cause of her death. This tragic case will bring to the fore the national debate on pollution and climate change.
On Friday 28th February there was an incredibly well supported and organised Youth Strike for climate change protest in Bristol, at which Greta Thunberg addressed the masses. Thousands were there in support. There were safety concerns given the number of children attending this protest. There were clearly some mixed views given the disruption caused to locals, with anger at the damage to the college green in front of the Anglican Cathedral grounds.
What resonated with me was a local man’s comments during an interview for national news. He said that “it won’t change anything”. However, we then had the decision of the Court of Appeal in favour of climate campaigners that has sent a real wakeup call. The Court ruled that the transport secretary at the relevant time, who made the decision for the new third runway at Heathrow Airport, should have taken into account the latest government commitments on climate change before granting permission for the proposed expansion at Heathrow.
As of November 15, 2019, building owners in New York City are required to install “sustainable roofing zones” on all newly constructed buildings, expansions of existing roofs and roof replacements. The new laws were passed by the New York City Council on April 18, 2019, and became law on May 20, 2019. These new ordinances, known as Local Laws 92 and 94 of 2019, passed as part of a broad package of laws known as the New York City Climate Mobilization Act, whose goal is reduction of building carbon emissions. Because the sustainable roof requirements are effective now, plans submitted to the Department of Buildings for approval must include plans for sustainable roofs.
On January 30, 2015, President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring all federally funded construction projects to take into account flood risks linked to climate change. Federal agencies will now be required to account for the impact of possible flooding from rising sea levels resulting from global warming by meeting one of following three requirements:
- Use the best-available climate science.
- Build two feet above the 100-year (1 percent annual chance) flood elevation for standard projects and three feet above for critical buildings like hospitals and evacuation centers.
- Build to the 500-year (0.2 percent annual chance) flood elevation.
The objective of the new policy is to build federal buildings and highways at safe distances away from flood areas that are expected to deteriorate as a result of climate change. “By requiring that Federally funded buildings, roads and other infrastructure are constructed to better withstand the impacts of flooding, the President’s action will support the thousands of communities that have strengthened their local floodplain management codes and standards, and will help ensure Federal projects last as long as intended,” the White House Council on Environmental Quality said in a fact sheet.
Rachel Cleetus, the lead economist and climate policy manager with the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the President’s action common sense. Below is Ms. Cleetus’ statement.
“This should be one of the least controversial executive orders the president has ever released. Why would the federal government build or repair buildings in ways that continue to put communities at risk? And why would we waste taxpayer dollars rebuilding in ways that are likely to result in repeated future flooding damages? This executive order is simply common sense. In fact, many communities across the country already recognize this and have issued building design guidelines that call for two feet of freeboard above the 100-year base flood elevation.
“This standard hasn’t been substantially changed in 37 years. Meanwhile, flood losses have increased and will continue to get worse with climate change, which is increasing flooding risks by contributing to higher seas and more severe storm surge along our coasts, and also heavier rains in some parts of the country. At the same time, more development in coastal areas is putting more people and property at risk.
“We’re also now seeing flooding on sunny days. Flooding during high tides—something that rarely occurred in the past—is now common in some places on the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S. Tidal flooding is expected grow to the point that sections of coastal cities will flood so often they’ll become unusable in the near future, according to a study the Union of Concerned Scientists released in October. Most of the 52 coastal towns we looked at could see a tripling in annual tidal floods in 15 years and a tenfold increase in 30 years.
“It’s bad policy to rebuild in ways that perpetuate our risk of flooding and to sink taxpayer dollars into risky rebuilding efforts. Federal funds should instead be spent on making coastal communities more resilient to sea level rise and coastal flooding.”
To read the Executive Order, click here.
To read the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, click here.
To read the White House Council on Environmental Quality fact sheet, click here.