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Climate change to bring big bills to Downing Street

Scientists project that London’s most iconic political buildings will face increasingly severe climate risks within the next decade.

From 10 Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament, government assets across the capital are already being impacted by climate change. Collective climate related losses to these buildings are projected to reach £1.7 million by 2030 and £1.9 million by 2050, according to a team of scientists at climate risk analytics provider Climate X.

Climate X has created a ‘digital twin’ of the Earth that projects how extreme weather events fuelled by the changing climate ­– including heatwaves, wildfires, flooding and landslides – can impact properties, infrastructure or assets under different emissions scenarios.

Climate X projects the most pressing risks to London’s political buildings:

10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office

By 2030, subsidence (caused by the shrinking and swelling of the ground) is projected to cause the ground beneath the Prime Minister’s home and the Cabinet Office to shift by 0.75 cm per year, causing substantial structural damage. Ten Downing Street and the Cabinet Office are each estimated to face £300,000 in annual climate related losses if protections aren’t put in place

This cost is projected to climb to £450,000 per building by 2050 and to £614,000 by 2100

Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament are already facing considerable subsidence and increasing exposure to storms.

By 2030, the ground in the building’s locality is expected to shift by 0.76 cm per year, resulting in substantial structural damage. Its risk of damage from storms is rated as moderate to considerable, threatening roof loss and disruption to activity. Combined with all climate risks, the palace is projected to face £104,000 in annual losses by 2030.

Annual losses are projected to increase to £116,000 by 2050 and to £151,000 by 2100.

By 2100, the ground in the building’s locality is expected to shift by 0.86 cm per year. The government is already spending £2 million a week on restorations to the Palace of Westminster. The growing risks posed by the changing climate is only set to exacerbate the scale and cost of these ongoing efforts/

HM Treasury

Damage from storms and subsidence are expected to significantly affect the HM Treasury over the next decade.

By 2030, the building is projected to shift by approximately 0.71 cm a year as a result of subsidence, risking structural damage. Combined with all risks, the HM Treasury is forecast to face £784,187 in annual climate related losses by 2030.

These losses are expected to reach £936,000 by 2050 and a staggering £1.4 million by 2100.

All of these buildings are at severe risk of river flooding without protection from the Thames Barrier. The colossal structure is expected to need significant upgrades or replacing by 2070 in order to continue protecting the capital. If the Thames Barrier were to fail, these government buildings would collectively face losses of an estimated £2.9 million by 2050 due to physical climate risks including flooding.

Other risks such as extreme heat are also expected to progressively impact the capital. By 2030, London will experience an estimated 20 to 30 days per year where the temperature will reach 30° C or more. The impact of this heat stress is projected to put a significant burden on the NHS, based on historical mortality rates from UK heatwaves over the past ten years.

James Brennan, director of Climate Risk and research and development at Climate X, said: ‘The impacts of climate change are now impossible to ignore – and the risks to our cities and infrastructure will continue to increase into the future.

‘One of the most severe climate risks facing government buildings in London is subsidence. Subsidence is a chronic issue in the capital due to the clay soil on which most of the city is built on – and government offices are not exempt. If London sees higher temperatures during summer and increased rainfall during winter, we will see more subsidence.

‘Chronic threats such as subsidence occur gradually – but as our data shows, it poses a serious problem to huge swathes of the city and must be urgently addressed.

‘Climate change will have an increasingly significant impact on our cities over the coming years. Understanding and accurately anticipating these risks will become vital to our collective resilience and adaptation.’

Lukky Ahmed, CEO and co-founder of Climate X, said: ‘In the UK, we see climate reports routinely being published and each report shows that most of the country’s progress in assessing climate risk, developing and implementing adaptation and resiliency plans are in red.

‘The world has so far been immensely focused on climate mitigation. Conversations around adaptation have been avoided for fear of undermining net zero efforts. However, as extreme weather events are starting to appear in people’s backyards, attention is now turning to the catastrophes that are already here and how to finance the adaptations that can address them. Our role at Climate X is to deliver meaningful, transparent data that can enable those adaptive measures.

‘Investing money into solving tomorrow’s problems will always be met with resistance – but understanding and preparing for climate risk is now a global priority. Every economy must adopt this thinking, or they will be left behind.’


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