Back to the Future
Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency speech to Futurebuild 2019.
On the 3rd of November 1966, “an exceptional quantity of water” was reported in the Arno River, heading towards Florence, Italy.
The flood killed 101 people. Each one of those deaths would have been a private tragedy for the families affected.
It could have been many more. The 600,000 tonnes of mud and sewage hit Florence on a public holiday - so many more deaths were avoided.
Alongside concern for the people affected, the international community was horrified that the city of the Renaissance - the home of the Medici, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci - was devastated.
The feeling was that Florence’s cultural contribution to the world would have been an unacceptable loss.
Assistance was immediate. Picasso auctioned a painting; UNESCO launched a global appeal; the city of Edinburgh in Scotland sent double decker busses to help people travel around.
The funds raised have contributed to extraordinary developments in art and architectural restoration that continue over 50 years later.
It’s a striking example of the value people imbue in places, and of what we are not prepared to lose to extraordinary weather.
Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agreed there are 12 years to bring global temperature rise within 1.5ºC of the pre industrial era before climate change reaches a significant tipping point.
Even at 1.5ºC, the frequency, intensity, duration and timing of extreme weather - including flooding and heatwaves – will increase.
Do nothing and we are potentially heading for a 4ºC temperature rise…
When we talk about adapting to the impacts of climate change, we quite rightly focus on people’s safety and economic stability.
As impacts intensify, will we still be able to create places of lasting cultural value and aesthetic beauty?
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