OPINION: Norwich must prepare for the effects of climate change now

Alexandra Road was closed for a street party to celebrate Norfolk's Car Free Day.

Alexandra Road in Norwich was closed for a street party to celebrate Norfolk's Car Free Day. Jamie Osborn says communities fare better when there are social links between neighbours like this - Credit: Ben Price

Norwich City councillor Jamie Osborn explains why he and fellow Green Party members proposed a motion last night for the council to begin work on a climate change adaptation strategy 

In August, Keith Skipper spoke of a “grim truth” in his column for this newspaper - as flooding, drought, and disruption to food supplies have shown this year, climate change is happening now, and it is going to get worse.

Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, the climate would still continue to warm, due to the time-lag that is inherent in the greenhouse gas effect. So, while we have to throw everything into trying to stop those greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, we also have to prepare for life in a changed climate.

To be very clear, saying that we should prepare for the effects of climate change is not to say that we should give up on trying to limit temperature rises.

If political leaders take bold action now, global temperature rises could still be limited.

In any case, many of the actions that are needed to reduce emissions will also help to protect people from the effects of climate change. More local and more sustainably-grown food will mean less reliance on precarious supply-chains.

Restoring green space in river catchment areas and planting trees can help to sustainably manage water and reduce both flooding and drought. Insulating homes and making them more energy-efficient can protect people from extreme heat and lift them out of fuel poverty.

Jamie Osborn, Green city and county councillor.

Jamie Osborn, Green city and county councillor. - Credit: Jamie Osborn

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Last night, Green Party councillors in Norwich proposed a motion to Norwich City Council to begin work on a climate change adaptation strategy.

There are some things that are directly within the city council’s control that must be started now.

For example, council housing must be adapted so that it can be kept cooler during hot summers and to minimise energy use. Planting and maintaining trees is essential to help cool the city and support wildlife.

The council must also reduce risks to staff from working in in more extreme weather conditions.

But a climate adaptation strategy must be for be the whole city, not just for the city council.

The council’s planning policies can set standards for how buildings must be fit for a climate-change future, but there needs to be training for a workforce who can retrofit housing to meet those standards, and that means working with businesses and with educational institutions.

Health officials, employers, and local government have to work together to prepare for disasters such as flooding or new diseases that could spread under more favourable (for the diseases) climatic conditions, and to track warning signs.

And adaptation is not just about trying to minimise the costs of disaster when it strikes. While “hard” measures to prevent flooding, such as flood barriers, or stockpiles of food in case of emergencies, can be important, adaptation is also about social interactions.

Communities fare better in natural disasters when there are social links between neighbours.

Enabling people to find shared ways of doing things, such as growing food in their estate or closing their street to cars so that kids can play, as was seen in Norwich in the recent “car-free day”, are a good way to encourage those social links.

Equally, more equal societies are better able to respond to disasters than societies riven by inequality.

In other words, effective and fair adaptation to climate change cannot just be about protecting our current way of life and current economic interests from damage.

It can – it must – mean building a society that is more fair, socially and economically, that is more connected, and that is more sustainable for us all.

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