'A wake-up call': Havering climate activists respond to UK heatwave

Havering climate activists

Havering climate activists spoke to this newspaper about reversing its impact - Credit: PA/Havering Council/Supplied

A Havering eco-activist has said the extreme heat gripping the UK this week should be a “wake-up call” to the looming climate emergency.  

The Met Office has issued an extended amber heat warning of temperatures building this weekend and early next week across most of England and Wales.  

With the warning extending from Sunday through to Tuesday, temperatures are expected to peak in excess of 35C in the south east and more widely around 32C.

A level three heat-health alert has also been issued from Saturday (July 16) to Tuesday, advising people to keep an eye on vulnerable people and those with underlying health conditions.  

Events across the UK are being cancelled during the heatwave, including Hornchurch-based dementia charity Tapestry’s open days, which were planned to be held on July 19 and 20, but will be delayed to September this year.  

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report - Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – says the world faces multiple unavoidable climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5C.  

Chair of the IPCC, Hoesung Lee, said the report is a “dire warning about the consequences of inaction”.  

Most Read

He added: "It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet.  

“Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.” 

The Working Group II report is the second instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, and it notes that increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities.  

Ian Pirie

Coordinator of Havering Friends of the Earth, Ian Pirie - Credit: Ian Pirie

Ian Pirie, co-ordinator of Havering Friends of the Earth (Havering FoE), said he would like to see Havering Council do more to tackle climate change, branding its climate action plan “very broad”.  

The 78-year-old said: “As I see it, they’ve sacrificed breadth for depth and there are very few specific measures in the plan.  

“It needs more specific suggestions as to things that can be done.”  

He said his group believes the priority should be on “preventing the climate crisis and less on ‘adapting’ to it”.  

The Havering Climate Change Action Plan (HCCAP) was approved in November last year and it outlines initiatives, goals and objectives to meet the council’s ambition to be carbon-neutral by 2040 or sooner.   

Ian’s comments come after the first Havering Green Forum meeting was held on July 6. It is hoped the group will meet every two months.  

At the meeting, the Climate Coalition – which includes Havering FoE, Havering Cyclists, Havering Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Romford Quakers – shared their concerns with the council.

Ian told this newspaper the current heatwave “ought to be a wake-up call because groups like ours have been saying for a long time that there is a problem with the planet gradually warming and the weather getting more extreme”.

Cllr Ray Morgon

Cllr Ray Morgon - Credit: Havering Council

Leader of Havering Council, Ray Morgon, said the new administration is “committed” to doing all it can to deal with climate change.  

He said this includes appointing Labour leader Keith Darvill as cabinet member for the climate and "delivering policies to support the work such as consultations on additional electric charging points or access to grants to make homes more environmentally efficient”. 

Cllr Morgon said the council will be reviewing the HCCAP, “as set out by the last administration, to make sure it is delivering the best outcomes for the borough and the council.” 

Changes or actions will be announced to the public when the work has been completed, he said. 

Havering’s Climate Change Action Plan 

The HCCAP presents the council's strategy to becoming carbon natural by 2040 at the latest.  

It includes pledges such as supporting businesses to transition to sustainable modes of operation and promoting energy efficiency schemes to private sector housing and to vulnerable tenants.

An upgrade of its transport fleet, “with more fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly alternatives” was also promised.

Cllr Keith Darvill

Cllr Keith Darvill - Credit: Archant

Cllr Keith Darvill said he is “proud” to be Havering’s first climate cabinet member.  

He said since the new administration was formed, he has been meeting with council officers to “improve" the HCCAP and shared he will “soon be announcing initiatives which will impact on all departments within the authority”.  

According to Cllr Darvill, these initiatives range from improved insulation for council houses, planting more trees across the borough and the procurement of goods and services with the net-zero target in mind.   

He said the council has encouraged the Green Forum to be created, which he will attend in a bid to ensure a positive partnership is formed between the council and other groups.  

Climate activists

Rosina Purnell has written a book about her family leaving Poland due to the persecution of Jews. Ph

Founding member of Havering Friends of the Earth, Rosina Purnell - Credit: Archant

Rosina Purnell, a founding member of Havering FoE, said she believes the climate emergency “affects all aspects of our lives”.  

The 75-year-old said she worries about how it will “alter the future” for her grandchildren and also the problems it could cause with food production.  

She said the current heatwave will "probably be normal in ten years' time” and questioned if “drinking water will be a scarce commodity”.  

She said she has cut down on using her car, choosing to travel by public transport or walk where possible.  

“I shop locally in Hornchurch to save on car journeys. I have cut down on meat, as meat production is a driver of climate change.  

“I try to cook at least one or two vegetarian meals a week and we have set our central heating at a slightly lower temperature for the winter months.”  

Gina Must

Gina Must from Havering Green Streets - Credit: Gina Must

Co-creator of Havering Green Streets, Gina Must, said her biggest concern about climate change is the “damage we are doing to our wildlife and ecosystem by constantly taking away green spaces and habitats, and replacing them with concrete, houses, roads and tarmac”. 

The 33-year-old said: “There's no reason why we can't live alongside nature and ensure that all new builds provide houses that work together with the environment to provide space for everyone including nature, which was here long before us.   

“No-mow areas, wet areas like ponds or marshes and trees provide great space for wildlife and for us but we destroy them constantly.

"Not only is all of this crucial for wildlife - animal populations have decreased 68 per cent since the 70s - but without them, we are gradually causing our own downfall because we rely on insects specifically to pollinate the food we eat."   

Gina said Havering Green Streets works to “clean up and green up” areas around the borough on weekends in a bid to increase the number of green spaces for wildlife and residents.  

She added: “We are all volunteers who find unloved areas and plant them up with flowers."

Ruth Kettle-Frisby

Ruth Kettle-Frisby attends Romford Quaker meetings - Credit: Ruth Kettle-Frisby

Ruth Kettle-Frisby, who attends Romford Quaker meetings, said she is concerned about the “scandalous inequality and injustice with which climate change is affecting people”.  

She expanded: “In particular, climate change affects women and children in the global south, who have contributed the least to climate change, but suffer the worst impacts on the frontline of climate breakdown, such as floods and heatwaves.”  

Ruth said the “continued consumption of fossil fuels” has exacerbated climate change.

“At a local level, here in Havering, poorer people with much lower carbon footprints live at the sharp end of climate injustice," she said.  

“People of colour are affected disproportionately, because climate injustice is part of social injustice.” 

She added: “As part of the Havering Climate Coalition, I'm committed to making Havering an eco-friendlier place.  

“At the last overview and scrutiny meeting at which we as a coalition spoke, Romford Quakers wanted to highlight local social inequality, with a particular focus on poorly insulated homes in Havering.    

“We all need to work together to contribute to the protection of our planet, and I argued that our council have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable individuals in our community from the effects of climate change.”