London, 2030: Rising floods threaten Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Lewisham

The future? Earlier this month, Extinction Rebellion installed a sinking house into the Thames as a protest against current planning by councils. Pic: Guy Reece

Areas in Hackney, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets will be below average flood levels by 2030 due to climate change, according to an investigation conducted by Climate Central, an independent environmental reporting organisation.

In the short term, local boroughs are at risk of severe flooding. In the long term, the areas could fall permanently below the high tide line, stripping people of their homes and displacing entire communities forever.

Climate Central’s research demonstrates that north-east Hackney, north-east Lewisham, and east Tower Hamlets, will be the first areas to be hit as sea levels rise.

Given current projections, iconic areas and landmarks are under threat, including The Tower of London, Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market. Elsewhere, green spaces such as Queen Elizabeth Park and Hackney Marshes will be lost, whilst the entirety of Deptford will be wiped out.

Canary Wharf, London’s centre of commerce, will also be submerged, threatening the economic stability of the country.

Land projected to be below annual flood level in 2030. Pic: Climate Central

Katey Burak from Extinction Rebellion told Eastlondonlines: “I think it is so important to have these really easy to understand images to show, ‘look we’re up shit creek just around the corner.’ It makes it so much more accessible for people to understand rather than these endless lists of obscure climate facts.”

Pollution levels are high across all Eastlondonlines boroughs. For example, Tower Hamlets is London’s third highest emitter of carbon dioxide, and 40 per cent of residents live in areas that contravene EU and government air pollution guidelines.

A spokesperson from Tower Hamlets Council said: “The reality is that we need urgent action on a regional, national and global level to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. The council will continue to lobby for effective change at all levels of government.”

According to Climate Central, the only way to reduce the danger posed and save communities is for governments and councils to implement deep and immediate cuts to emissions.

All three boroughs have declared climate emergencies and have set varying targets to become carbon neutral over the next two decades. But many are unconvinced that enough is being done.

Let Lewisham Breathe Protestors. Pic: Patrycja Borecka

Shahrar Ali, PPC for Bethnal Green and Bow, and former deputy of the Green Party, told Eastlondonlines: “A lot of councils have declared a climate emergency, but I don’t feel like we’re in emergency mode.”

Sammie Cunningham, 23, a resident from Greenwich, which is also set to be below flood levels, told EastlondonLines: “More needs to be done to bring attention to [climate change] and save ourselves a little bit – if that’s even possible at this point.”

So, what action are councils actually taking?

Hackney has a robust Flood Risk Management Strategy which outlines how the council will mitigate risks and react in emergency situations.

The council is also campaigning against detrimental government policies, including fossil fuel subsidies.

Hackney Councillor Jon Burke, cabinet member for energy, waste, transport and public realm said: “Lots of political administrations around the world have declared a climate emergency, but I believe Hackney’s motion represents one of the most robust, science-based commitments yet.”

Lewisham Council are working with the Environment Agency, Thames Water, neighbouring local authorities, and emergency services to enact their Flood Risk Management Strategy.

Tower Hamlets have set up a Breathe Clean campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of poor air quality. Elements of the campaign include plans to lobby the GLA to strengthen their Air Quality Neutral policy, and funding to help residents set up their own eco-projects.

Even with these plans, however, there is still a belief that not enough is being done.

Shahrar Ali told Eastlondonlines: “There are a number of areas where councils are failing to show leadership… Green spaces are not being protected… Planning permission is not having environmental impact properly audited.”

Lewisham Breathe Protestors pic: Joe Twigg

Others believe that the real responsibility lies with the government, not the local councils.

A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion Lewisham told Eastlondonlines: “If politicians don’t take urgent action on the climate and ecological crisis, and if the government doesn’t take this emergency seriously, then local councils like Lewisham won’t be able to deliver on their climate emergency declarations.”

Regardless of which authority is best poised to act, Extinction Rebellion and Climate Central insist that immediate action is required.

Thuwaibah Basrael, a member of Extinction Rebellion Tower Hamlets, told Eastlondonlines: “This is yet more proof that the threats of the climate emergency are real….let’s not forget that these catastrophic events are already happening in the Global South and directly threatening the lives of the relatives of some of our local community – such as in Bangladesh.”

A Lewisham Extinction Rebellion spokesperson told Eastlondonlines: “It’s now or never to avert catastrophe.”

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