Emma Howard Boyd – London Climate Resilience Review

Emma Howard Boyd CBE is the Chair of the London Climate Resilience Review, commissioned by the Mayor of London to take stock of London’s preparations for climate change and to make recommendations to advance London’s climate resilience. She was previously Chair of the Environment Agency and the UK Commissioner to the Global Commission on Adaptation. She is Chair of the Green Finance Institute.

With the Review’s interim report referencing recommendations from A Fresh Water Future, Alastair Chisholm grabbed a brief chat with Emma.

It’s not unusual for cities across the world to look at their climate risk exposure and resilience needs. The 100 Resilient Cities initiative was a flagship initiative before it wound down in 2019. C40 Cities brings together mayors of world-leading cities around climate action. Copenhagen’s Cloudburst management plan is a hugely-cited example of effective city response to extreme weather events, whilst at the other end of the scale, Phoenix, Arizona is planning how to adapt a fast-growing city to extreme heat.

Closer to home, Glasgow has produced an adaptation plan for 2022-2030. But few world cities the size of London have commissioned an independent review of its climate resilience in the comprehensive way London has. It was born out of the summer 2021 flash floods which hit the Capital but highlights a wide range of risks from sea level rise and flooding through heat, drought, wildfire and more.

Howard Boyd tells me that a fundamental tenet of the London Climate Resilience Review is that it’s not seeking to reinvent any wheels or repeat work already in existence which speak to the challenges the city faces. “If the National Infrastructure Commission has done its review, we don’t need another version, we need to get behind that but set it in the London context”, she says.

She explains there are a wide range of organisations who’ve done work looking at adaptation, all saying broadly the same things so there is benefit in pulling relevant strands together into a more cohesive and unified picture. Ultimately that should enable decision-makers to back the necessary direction of travel as well as pace of delivery to ensure London can cope with a rapidly changing climate.

There’s a real risk that water and adaptation are being forgotten in any debate and work being done on infrastructure and a green economy.


A need for more commitment from the top of Government is something that comes across strongly in the review’s Interim Report. It calls for a Cabinet Office Minister for Adaptation and Resilience reflecting, Howard Boyd says, the ongoing lack of visibility and ownership adaptation and resilience – as well as wider water issues – at the centre of government.

The review is critical of the latest (2023) National Adaptation Programme, produced under the Climate Change Act 2008. It says this needs to be driven centrally, with a more resonant vision to bed-in a genuinely cross-government approach to managing adaptation rather than it being considered largely a Defra issue.

Howard Boyd points to the scale of investment that could be made in infrastructure which isn’t resilient unless there is a profound change in commitment and pace.

She cites the latest National Infrastructure Assessment. This warns if resilience standards are not put in place quickly, then by 2030 a raft of regulatory planning rounds for infrastructure delivery will have concluded, locking in £400 billion of new infrastructure not optimised for climate resilience.

There’s a real risk, she says, that water and adaptation are being forgotten in any debate and work being done on infrastructure and a green economy.

This need for a step-change in considering water as part of policymaking and infrastructure delivery is also part of the reason why the review recommends creation of an independently-chaired Strategic Surface Water Authority for London.

This would coordinate priorities and allocate funding for surface water flood risk management London-wide, filling gaps in individual local authority capacity and enabling cross-boundary cooperation and action at a level not possible via a voluntary approach.

Often nature-based solutions are individually too small to easily access investment… Ironically, they often don’t get off the ground because they don’t cost enough.

Funding and finance

Further common ground between the Review and A Fresh Water Future’s findings is a call for an increase in fiscal devolution for regional and local organisations to mitigate against challenges local authorities in particular face in delivering beneficial outcomes (such as on resilience) which they do not have statutory duties for.

With so many authorities facing financial challenges the ability to prioritise and incentivise non-statutory activities is increasingly challenging.

A Fresh Water Future proposed catchment system management incorporating more devolved investment and solutions-prioritisation decision-making. This would aim to mobilise stakeholders and funders around regional, sub-regional or local priorities, some of which may not be fully-aligned with different bodies’ statutory responsibilities.

Whilst much of this would (initially at least) come through different channels of public funding, the aim would always be to mobilise more private finance. I note that despite government targets there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of an imminent tsunami of green finance to invest in resilience or wider water outcomes.

Howard Boyd notes that the recent Mission Climate Ready report emphasised the right enabling environment for making that mountain of money accessible. She says that often nature-based solutions (NBS) are individually too small to easily access investment. Part of this is to do with the administrative burden for small scheme funding applications being too high compared to the size of the investment needed. Ironically, they often don’t get off the ground because they don’t cost enough, a problem that has also been identified by the National Audit Office

London, summer 2022
Capacity, coordination and skills

On the subject of small, distributed measures, in London 160,000 holes are dug in the public realm a year. This is potentially an enormous opportunity for efficiency in delivering sustainable drainage (SuDS) – raingardens and so-on – instead of re-filling and tarmacking back over.

Even if a small percentage of those works could be harnessed to retrofit SuDS for reducing surface water flood risk and helping treat contaminated highway runoff there could be cost efficiencies. So the review proposes building on the GLA’s Infrastructure Coordination Service to create a marketplace in which SuDS works are paired with the city’s streetworks programme. Utilities companies would deliver reductions in impermeable surfaces to a range of landowners and businesses.

Despite this innovative thinking, Howard Boyd expresses concern over whether there is the skills-base to keep pace with such innovative approaches if they could be got off the ground. She says in conducting the review it’s become very evident that within local authorities, street works contractors and more there aren’t the skills and capacity to do the delivery at the necessary scale.

Even if you could crack the governance and the investment models there is a real need for more human resource, retrained and versed in appropriate planning, design and engineering approaches. The London Climate Resilience Review was conducted by Emma Howard Boyd with George Leigh and Johanna Sutton of the GLA.