LAST week’s horrifying floods in Germany make Alok Sharma, president of COP26, just about the most important man in Britain – possibly even in the world.
It’s his job to bring competing nations together as mankind confronts climate change at the conference due to be held in Glasgow from November 1-12.
We are currently dealing with the worst pandemic in living memory, but one day it will be over and normal life will resume. Except that it won’t. Compared with climate change, the pandemic will be seen in retrospect as a mere inconvenience.
London had a little taste of nightmares to come with flash floods in parts of the capital. The rainfall recorded in Kew Gardens last Monday (12) made it the wettest day there since July 6, 1983. The average monthly rainfall in July is 44.5mm, but 47.8mm of rain fell in a 24-hour period.
Putney Village in Wandsworth and Chipstead in Surrey both recorded more than 31mm of rain in one hour. Underground stations, including Chalk Farm, Hampstead and Wimbledon, were closed and lines at Euston station had to be shut down.
Flood waters poured through the streets and seeped into homes, shops and restaurants on Notting Hill’s Portobello Market. At the Portobello Star pub, staff member Jason Francis, said: “It’s unbelievable the amount of damage that has been done in just one hour.”
Few people understand the incredible power of surging water. Sly Augustin, who owns popular newly-renovated rum bar Trailer Happiness, explained the flooding left a river of water and sewage around the bar, destroying the interior. “Because it was dirty water, pretty much nothing is salvageable.”
Still, no lives were lost. And what had happened in London was quickly forgotten because of the floods in Germany, where nearly 200 have died. Parts of Rhineland-Palatinate and North RhineWestphalia were inundated with 148 litres of rain per sq metre within 48 hours in a part of Germany that usually sees about 80 litres in the whole of July.
Days of torrential rain left rivers overflowing, leading to water surging through streets – lifting up cars, tearing up power lines, and destroying homes.
Neighbouring Belgium, where at least 27 people have died, as well as the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland were also affected.
Imagine homes washed away in Southall, Ealing and Brent and bodies submerged under debris in Belgrave Road in Leicester, but that is what is in prospect. If it can happen in Germany, it can happen here.
Like coronavirus, climate change does not respect boundaries. The German chancellor Angela Merkel visited Schuld, one of the worst affected areas and said there were “nearly no words in the German language for the horrific scenes”.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, tweeted that rain and storms at the weekend were causing serious damage in his country. “I thank all first responders and volunteers who are doing everything they can to help! We won’t leave those affected alone and will support the reconstruction,” he said.
Climate scientists have long predicted that human emissions would cause floods, heatwaves, droughts, storms and other forms of extreme weather, but the latest spikes have surpassed expectations.
The seven hottest years in recorded history have occurred since 2014, largely as a result of global heating caused by engine exhaust fumes, forest burning and other human activities. Computer models predict records will be broken with more frequency in more places.
The monitoring station at Death Valley in eastern California registered 54.4ºC (129.92ºF) which could prove to be the highest reliably recorded temperature on earth this year.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California in Los Angeles, said: “The extremes that would have been newsworthy a couple of years ago aren’t, because they pale in comparison to the astonishing rises a few weeks ago.
“The US is often in the spotlight, but we have also seen extraordinary heat events in northern Europe and Siberia. This is not a localised freak event, it is definitely part of a coherent global pattern.
“Cities in India, Pakistan and Libya have endured unusually high temperatures in recent weeks. Suburbs of Tokyo have been drenched in the heaviest rainfall since measurements began.
“Events that were once in 100 years are becoming commonplace. Freak weather is increasingly normal.”
In the Himalayas, melting glaciers caused a dam to collapse in February. All of which brings me back to Sharma, who stepped down as business secretary so he could be full-time president of COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference.
His job is to ensure the world comes together to keep the average temperature rise below 1.5ºC.
Speaking recently at the London Climate Action Week, he set out the challenges facing the planet: “We’re going to have to halve global emissions by 2030 if we’re going to keep 1.5 within reach.”
“First, we want the world on a path to driving down emissions, until they reach net zero by the middle of this century,” said Sharma. “And we are pushing for action in key areas like clean energy, clean transport, halting deforestation, and of course, that very much includes supporting the clean energy transition in developing countries.
“We also want this to be the COP that calls time on polluting vehicles and we’re working with governments around the world as part of our zero-emissions vehicle transition council to ensure that happens. And we also want this to be the COP that tackles deforestation by making sustainable production pay, and again we’re working closely with partners around the world.
“Our second goal is to protect people and nature from the effects of our changing climate. And again this is a particular priority for me. Colleagues will know that I was born in India. I have served for a period of time as an international development secretary in the UK government.
“I have been deeply moved by … visiting communities around the world who are suffering the effects of climate change. They are on the frontline and quite frankly, these are not communities that have contributed largely to the problems we all face collectively. I say again that developed countries must deliver the $100 billion a year they have promised to support developing countries to respond to the climate crisis.”
But what do all these ambitious global plans mean for ordinary people? Buying electric cars or replacing gas boilers is easier said than done. I did ask British Gas when replacing our ageing boiler last November whether an electric option was possible. The consulting engineer merely shook his head.
Our Saj tests positive
PERHAPS Sajid Javid was just unlucky or perhaps he should have been more careful.
Our Saj is self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19. It makes you think that if the virus can catch even the health secretary, the rest of us should wear masks, maintain social distance and observe all the normal precautions, even though lockdown was technically lifted on Monday (19).
Incidentally, I wouldn’t be bothered if prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak didn’t have to self isolate for 10 days after being “pinged” by the NHS app.
It’s more important for all of us that they run the country if they haven’t actually caught Covid.
Rajan: Here, there, everywhere
AMOL RAJAN is ubiquitous, not only fronting the Today programme but also presenting a suitably profound series on education on Radio 4 and flying to California to talk cricket and other things with Google boss Sundar Pichai.
The Daily Mail has just done a flattering double-page spread on him, describing him as “the
Beeb’s hottest star”. Knowing the Mail, my old paper, as well as I do, he should be careful and unobtrusive for a while.