“Gleaming skyscrapers built alongside medieval churches”

The City in 2013. Image: Getty.

The Corporation of London’s chair of planning, on the future of the City.

The capital faces a turbulent few weeks as the long-running Brexit saga plays out in Westminster and Brussels.  But amid this political drama, it’s important to not lose sight of how London is transforming itself for life beyond Brexit.

The City of London embodies this process, with gleaming skyscrapers being built alongside medieval churches.  Our draft local plan – which is open for public consultation until later this week – sets out proposals designed to deliver the next stage of the Square Mile’s evolution.

The City’s planning policy has not only historically led the capital’s agenda but the nation’s. In the 1930s, we were the first to protect the cherished views of St Paul’s Cathedral, London followed. In the 1950s, we were the first to introduce a smokeless zone after the great smog, with the City’s Clean Air Act followed by a national Act.

Today, the City of London is already home to the most sustainable office building in the world, Bloomberg’s European headquarters. But as a business district with a pipeline of more than a dozen office skyscrapers approved for construction, some of which can house up to 12,000 workers at a time, we know that there is more that can be done to enable development that is environmentally sustainable.

We started at the top. With limited space available at ground level, we’ve actively encouraged green roofs for decades. There are over 70 across the Square Mile and just over a week ago reaching new heights with The Garden at 120, a project that has been in the works since 2006.

Of course, great cities are not made from great buildings alone. Our proposed urban greening policy reflects that. It requires – for the first time – that all new developments include a greening element, but this extends not just to roofs, but to the ground level spaces around buildings, and, to the buildings themselves.

With 513,000 workers commuting in and out of the City every day, and tens of thousands more expected on the completion of the Elizabeth Line, part of the challenge for this great city is space. Businesses and residents frequently raise the issue of overcrowding on our medieval streets.

We have made significant progress when it comes to making the City a better environment for pedestrians. For example, the 1960s Aldgate gyratory is now home to drinking fountains, trees, flowing traffic and cycling facilities at Aldgate Square, one of the largest public spaces in the Square Mile.

The City’s local plan proposals take this pursuit of space even further, so that walking routes will be available through and under new buildings – similar to the existing routes through One New Change, Bloomberg and Fen Court and the future 100 Leadenhall Street building, and the space under buildings such as the Cheesegrater and the approved 1 Undershaft. This will enable the workers that pour out of their office buildings at lunch time, to use convenient and direct routes between the incredible examples of architecture that line our City streets. You won’t see this on such a scale anywhere else in London.

These are some of the most uncertain times that we’ve lived through, and our draft local plan is designed to ensure that the City and wider London remains attractive to investment, talent and business well beyond 29 March.

Chris Hayward is planning chairman at the City of London Corporation.


The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.