Submission to the Environmental Audit Committee Call for Evidence on heat resilience and sustainable cooling
This report consists of a submission to the call for evidence by the Environmental Audit Committee on heat resilience and sustainable cooling. It covers the relationship between heat and health, ways to adapt to hotter temperatures without increasing energy demand, current UK policies on heat risks, and the possibility of the UK Government developing a Heat Resilience Strategy.
Key messages include:
- Overall, the UK is unprepared to deal with the consequences of extreme heat and many sectors of society, including first responders, schools, workplaces and care homes, are poorly equipped to prepare for and adapt to this crisis.
- Excess seasonal deaths can start to occur when temperature thresholds exceed 24.5°C. However, three-quarters of heat-related deaths are caused by moderate increases in average temperatures. Adaptation should therefore be a year-round priority.
- Older people, those with pre-existing health conditions, younger children and outdoor workers in the agricultural and construction sectors are particularly vulnerable to climate-related heat mortality.
- Actions to adapt to heat risk without overloading the energy grid include investments in early warning systems, energy-efficient cooling systems, green spaces and urban shading, designing buildings to encourage cool air flow, and behavioural shifts to reduce heat exposure during the hottest times of the day.
- Policies should better consider a wider range of vulnerable people including rough sleepers, people with disabilities and people who work outdoors, and provide easily accessible indoor and outdoor cool spaces for use during heat events.
- Limited work has been done in the UK on addressing broader risks from extreme heat, such as impacts on agriculture and food security, productivity, infrastructure and buildings, and transport. Compounding climate risks, i.e. how extreme heat interacts with other climate-related hazards such as flooding, drought and wildfires also need to be considered.
- The Government‘s third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3) is too narrowly focused on overheating in buildings. A more holistic approach is needed that integrates heat interventions into numerous other policies.
- Resilience planning must be done collaboratively with community members through participatory design processes that align interventions with local priorities and foster social connectedness – a key protective factor during heatwaves.
- Stakeholder interviews indicate that there is no clear ownership of responses and resilience to extreme heat within central government and local authorities in the UK. A lack of collaboration and coordination among different departments is one of the main gaps in the UK’s response to the extreme heat.
- The UK Government should prioritise developing a comprehensive national Heat Resilience Strategy that brings together public health, emergency management, infrastructure and social service agencies at all levels to build a more coordinated and proactive approach to extreme heat risks.