A plan to protect London from the growing flood threat

By Climate Champions | June 26, 2024

Partner: Resilience First

Implementer: Jacobs, Environment Agency and Balfour Beatty

Country and Region: London, UK. Europe

SAA Impact System: Infrastructure

Impact/ Beneficiaries: 229,000 people more resilience

On a grey afternoon in London, the skies open up and rain begins to pour. This is not an uncommon sight, but in recent years, these downpours have become more intense, leading to flash floods that disrupt daily life. Streets quickly transform into rivers, homes are inundated, and the city’s ageing infrastructure struggles to cope.

London, like many major cities around the world, is on the frontlines of climate change. Rising sea levels and more frequent, severe storms are no longer just future threats – they are happening now.

In response to these growing threats, TEAM2100, part of the Environment Agency’s Thames Estuary 2100 (TE2100) plan has been launched to improve London’s flood defenses. Led by Jacobs, the Environment Agency, Balfour Beatty and Race to Resilience partner, Resilience First, the initiative seeks to protect the city and its inhabitants through planning, cutting-edge technology, and strategic asset management.

The project covers a 330km stretch of the River Thames, home to 1.4 million people, and over £321 billion worth of property across London, Essex, and Kent. The initiative involves the maintenance and enhancement of more than 4,000 assets, including walls, embankments, flood gates, outfalls, and pumps. Many of these structures are over 30 years old, and some exceed a century.

The situation

London faces significant flood risks due to rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storms driven by climate change. The Thames Barrier, crucial for the city’s protection, was originally designed for a 1-in-1,000-year storm surge. However, with the current pace of climate change-induced sea-level rise, this protection level is diminishing, leaving the city more vulnerable.

The city’s infrastructure, including transport hubs, financial institutions, and cultural landmarks, is particularly susceptible to flooding. The London Underground, much of which runs below the water table, could face severe disruptions in the event of major flooding, leading to substantial economic losses.

London’s growing population and urban development increase the flood risk. New constructions often occur in flood-prone areas, and the added impermeable surfaces exacerbate surface water flooding.

Moreover, many existing flood defenses are ageing and need significant maintenance and upgrades to remain effective. Contaminated floodwaters can also disrupt ecosystems and water supplies, while vulnerable communities, particularly low-income residents, may struggle with displacement and prolonged recovery efforts.

Solution 

TEAM2100’s primary aim is to build London’s flood defenses against these escalating threats. The project involves regular inspections, upgrades and refurbishments, and asset management. Detailed assessments of all flood defense assets will be conducted to evaluate their condition and identify necessary improvements. Strengthening existing defenses ensures they can withstand future sea level rises and more frequent storm surges.

The project will be as adaptable as possible, continuously responding to new climate data and changing environmental conditions. Part this will involve investing in the right places at the right times to reduce overall costs and deliver greater value for public money.

At the core of the project is enhancing the resilience of the most vulnerable populations. The project aims to directly increase the resilience of 229,000 people living in high-risk areas along the Thames. This estimate is based on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation, a government measure that considers factors such as income, employment, health, education, and access to services.

Broader goals include enhancing public areas, promoting sustainable transport, and supporting resilient economic growth. This will hopefully entail creating better public spaces and reducing carbon emissions which will ultimately improve the overall quality of life for its residents.

As climate change accelerates, the need to protect London from flooding will only grow more urgent. Ensuring the city’s future resilience will require ongoing innovation, strategic investments, radical collaboration and a respect and consideration for generations to come.

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Main image: Strand-on-the-Green flooded at City Barge/Wikimedia Commons

 

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