London mayor unveils climate crisis plan

LONDON (Reuters) - Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled a plan on Friday to help London tackle the challenge of climate change with less carbon dioxide, more trees, better drainage and increased water efficiency.

London mayor Boris Johnson speaks after signing the "Declaration of Acceptance of Office" for the Mayor of London, at City Hall in central London May 3, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Some 15 percent of London is deemed at high risk from flooding due to global warming -- an area including 1.25 million people, 480,000 properties, 441 schools, 75 underground and rail stations, 10 hospitals and one airport.

At stake is an estimated 160 billion pounds ($293 billion) worth of assets, not just in London and its vital financial district, but all along the banks of the Thames estuary where vast new housing developments are being planned.

“We need to concentrate efforts to slash carbon emissions and become more energy efficient in order to prevent dangerous climate change,” Johnson told reporters at the iconic Thames Barrier flood defense system.

“The strategy I am launching today outlines in detail the range of weather conditions facing London, which could both seriously threaten our quality of life -- particularly that of the most vulnerable people -- and endanger our pre-eminence as one of the world’s leading cities.”

Global warming is expected to give London and its surrounding area longer, hotter summers as well as warmer wetter winters with the added problems of more frequent heat waves, droughts and flash floods from rising sea levels and downpours.

Some 600 Londoners died as a result of the 2003 heat wave that killed about 15,000 in France alone, while low rainfall in 2004/05 led to water shortages in the capital.

The plan, which builds on Johnson’s predecessor Ken Livingstone’s aim to cut London’s carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2025, is to help the city prevent climate change, prepare for its consequences and recover from its effects.

“London is not unique -- all major cities such as New York and Tokyo are at risk from climate change. By producing this strategy, we put London in a position of strength,” Johnson said.

He wants more trees to be planted around the city both to absorb excess rainwater and offer more shade from heat waves.

Areas of the city at high risk of flooding must be identified and protected and the Victorian-era drainage system, which cannot cope with torrential downpours, must be extended and improved.

But water shortages are also a potential problem -- the London area has less water availability per head than Morocco -- and water usage is above the national average.

Johnson’s plan calls for compulsory water metering which has been shown to cut consumption by up to 10 percent, homes to be made more water efficient and greater use to be made of rainwater harvesting.

It also calls for urban designs that can cope with rising temperatures in a city whose centre is already on average significantly hotter than the surrounding area.

Editing by Mary Gabriel