Friends of the Earth press release
BIRMINGHAM: New analysis finds areas with fewer trees and green spaces in city are over 3 degrees warmer during UK’s hottest days
- 19 July marks one year since the UK’s all-time temperature record was broken in Coningsby in Lincolnshire, where 40 degrees was breached for the first time.
- Striking new heat maps from five major English cities – including Birmingham – show that areas with higher levels of tree cover, green space or both were much cooler – download the images here.
- Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to green our streets by boosting tree cover to at least 20% in urban areas and protect existing trees from felling, to help shield communities from the impacts of climate change.
- ***Spokespeople available on request***
A year after the UK broke national heat records and reached a new all-time temperature high, a striking new heat map of Birmingham reveals the huge benefits of trees and green spaces in helping to cool urban areas.
The innovative new analysis, carried out by mapping experts TerraSulis on behalf of Friends of the Earth, helps visualise the stark temperature variances felt by communities living in different areas of five major cities – Birmingham, Bristol, London, Manchester and Newcastle. The cooling abilities of green space and trees have been well-researched, but this is the first time their combined effects on built up areas have been modelled.
In Birmingham, the research finds that inner-city areas with fewer trees and green spaces were 3.15 degrees hotter than those with more tree cover and plant life during last year’s hottest day on record.
The new mapping brings this to life, showing the hottest areas in the very built-up city centre, particularly around Smithfield, appearing dark red where there are little trees and green spaces. Moving outwards, the city parks such as Kingston, Hill Park and Small Heath Park, appear lighter. The larger and more numerous parks around Edgbaston create a more intense cooling zone in blues and light yellow.
Marginalised communities are most impacted by the climate crisis in the UK and overseas. The research finds that people of colour make up 65% of the population in neighbourhoods with the least cooling. People living on lower incomes are also disproportionately affected by a lack of natural cooling near their homes. Air pollution is also worse in the hottest areas.
Libby Harris, a campaigner for Birmingham Friends of the Earth, said:
“Birmingham prides itself on the huge number of trees and green open spaces that exist across the city, but this coverage is not consistent. There are large areas of the inner city which do not have access to green space and lack in tree cover. What is also most apparent about this is that very often these are the most deprived areas of the city where these natural air conditioners and providers of shade and peace are most needed.
“Birmingham has given up much too much space to the car and as such is dominated by road danger and poor air quality. This space needs to be repurposed and given back to the residents of the city and to nature.
“While much of the city centre has been pedestrianised it is lacking in nature and many high-rise residential developments are in construction with little consideration for nature and biodiversity. A new city plan is in formulation and much more attention to the role of nature and tree cover must be a key plank of the future planning of the city.”
The maps build on previous research by Friends of the Earth and TerraSulis which found that a shocking 43% of neighbourhoods in English towns and cities have less than 10% tree cover, while over a third lack adequate access to green space – strengthening the case for increasing tree numbers to help shield communities from the increasingly hotter temperatures caused by climate change.
According to the UK Health Security Agency, 2,803 excess deaths occurred during the summer of 2022. Respiratory problems are thought to be the main cause of premature deaths during heatwaves, with heat and air pollution proving an especially toxic mix – and why action to curb air pollution, such as the London Mayor’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) scheme are needed alongside measures to cool our cities.
Hot weather can also place a particular strain on the heart and cardiovascular system. Those with pre-existing medical conditions, older people and very young children are especially at risk from the dangerous health outcomes associated with soaring temperatures.
Last month, the Climate Change Committee published its annual report to parliament, which warned of the government’s “worryingly slow” progress on tackling climate change – the same month which saw the UK’s temperature record for June broken.
Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to commit to three measures to help protect communities from the increasing risk of environmental harm due to climate change.
- Rapidly ramping up tree-planting in towns and cities, alongside protecting existing mature trees, by committing to no less than 20% tree cover across urban areas as part of the government’s upcoming Urban Trees Standard.
- Prioritising more than 3,000 neighbourhoods most vulnerable to scorching temperatures as part of a council-led, street-by-street insulation programme, to help keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter, while slashing energy bills and household carbon emissions.
- Rolling out London’s ULEZ expansion plans and Clean Air Zones in cities around the country.
Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, said:
“It’s remarkable to see such a striking visual representation of the cooling power of trees and green spaces in our towns and cities. Our mapping shows that access to green spaces provided welcome cooling of up to 5 degrees on last year’s hottest day.
“We know that extreme weather, including heatwaves, is become more frequent and severe due to the climate crisis. But not everyone is affected equally, with the most marginalised communities the hardest hit in the UK and overseas.
“Boosting tree numbers is such a clear win for our communities and our planet, not just because of their ability to cool urban areas, but because they capture planet-warming carbon too. This should be prioritised alongside a rapid programme of council-led, street-by-street insulation, which helps keep homes cool in the summer just as much as it keeps them warmer in winter.”
For more information and interview requests contact the Friends of the Earth press office on 020 7566 1649 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors:
- On July 19 2022 a new UK temperature record was broken. The Met Office reported a record-high temperature of 40.3 degrees Celsius in Coningsby in Lincolnshire. This is the first time the UK has ever seen temperatures breaching 40 degrees
- Heat maps for the cities London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle, produced by the mapping firm TerraSulis, are available for download. Please credit TerraSulis/Friends of the Earth. The mapping is based on a model of summertime night temperatures – night-time temperature is particularly important for health because when temperatures remain high overnight there is no relief from the heat, and the body’s ability to cool down and regulate its temperature is compromised. Buildings and surrounding infrastructure also can’t cool if temperatures remain high overnight. The modelling was based on a Forest Research model. A more detailed report and methodology is available on the Friends of the Earth policy website.
- Chris Kilby, who shared his story with Friends of the Earth about the impacts of extreme heat on his health, is available for media interviews on request.
- Recent research which provides the most accurately available picture of England’s tree cover can be viewed on the Friends of the Earth website.
- View Friends of the Earth’s 2020 research examining access to green space across England
- Last year, Friends of the Earth revealed that more than 3,000 neighbourhoods are highly vulnerable to the negative impacts of extreme heat.
- Analysis produced by Friends of the Earth in 2022 found that all English schools are exposed to air pollution levels that breach World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. 1,737 schools are in areas where air pollution is particularly toxic, at more than double WHO recommended levels for one or more pollutants
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