Climate Change Minister Elliot Morley today (Mon) spelt out the Government's action on tackling climate change in urban areas at two major conferences.

With 80 per cent of the British population living in an urban environment – far higher than the global average – major changes have to be made in the way towns and cities are planned, built and occupied if carbon dioxide emissions are to fall.

Speaking at the opening of the Climate Change and Urban Areas conference at University College London, Mr Morley said the capital was particularly at risk from climate change. The 2003 heatwave, which saw a record UK temperature of 101F in Kent, led to 600 premature deaths in the capital.

The London Climate Change Partnership's study, “London's Warming” showed that the capital is particularly sensitive to future temperature increases, due in part to the large urban heat island effect it generates.

The city centre can be up to 8C warmer than the surrounding countryside. And although the capital is one of the driest in the world, the south east region can expect to see an increase in the frequency of both drought and heavy rainfall events.

Mr Morley paid tribute to the Mayor of London's Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, currently in development, which aims to propose a range of policies and actions to help London adapt to changes over the next few decades.

The Government is currently developing an Adaptation Policy Framework, which will feed into policy planning decision making at national, regional and local level over the next two years.

With around 50 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions caused by the construction, occupation and maintenance of buildings, Mr Morley stressed that action was being taken to make buildings more climate-friendly.

Speaking at the second international Solar Cities Congress in Oxford, Mr Morley highlighted action with particular relevance to cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said: “Since 1990 the energy efficiency standard of new buildings has increased by 70 per cent. From this month, changes in the Building Regulations mean that these advances in improving the energy standards of new buildings will be further extended, with energy efficiency for commercial and industrial buildings increasing by up to 27 per cent and households by 20 per cent..”

Mr Morley added that the Government was also undertaking a fear-reaching review to identify measures for improving the sustainability of existing buildings, stressing that he believed there was scope for considerable further emission savings.

The Government will also launch a Code for Sustainable Homes later this year, providing industry, architects, planners and developers clear direction for the long-term future.