The number of heat-related deaths could triple by 2050 if action is not taken to make the UK’s homes better at keeping citizens cool during periods of extreme heat, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has this week warned.
A report published yesterday by the government’s climate advisors called on ministers to take urgent, cross-departmental action to ensure the UK’s building stock can be adapted to protect citizens from hot temperatures over the coming decades.
The report, published in the same week as the UK baked in a record-breaking heatwave, warns that without additional adaptation measures, there could be a trebling of health and productivity impacts, as well as heat-related deaths, by 2050.
To prevent this outcome, the government’s climate advisors have called on Ministers to implement policies that incentivise passive design and enhance ventilation in old and new buildings, whilst moving ahead with the planting of more trees and vegetation that can curb temperatures in built-up environments.
The report comes the day after a Cabinet minister acknowledged the UK would need to “learn to live” with extreme weather events like the heatwave that has led to wildfires and travel disruption across the UK this week.
The CCC argued “clear and quantitative targets” are required to prepare the UK’s building stock for a warming climate, and that a public energy advice service should be introduced to provide households with guidance on decarbonising and adapting their homes to climate change.
The report makes a string of specific recommendations for government departments, including unlocking more finance for adaptation measures in homes, introducing a new urban ‘greenspace’ target, ensuring that overheating is considered in energy efficient retrofit programmes, boosting provisions for urban cooling in the upcoming Planning Bill, and expanding overheating requirements in building regulations to cover refurbishment of existing buildings and conversions of non-domestic buildings into homes.
It also calls for local authorities to be given more powers and funding to tackle the issue of overheating, for the new building safety regulator to cover climate change mitigation and adaptation, and for existing policies on building decarbonisation to be updated to explicitly include adaptation.
BusinessGreen reached out to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the Treasury, and the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) for comment on the CCC’s guidance.
In an update to Parliament on the response to this week’s heatwave yesterday, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Kit Malthouse said the government was committed to bolstering the country’s collective resilience, framing this week’s events as “an exacting test of our national resilience and contingency planning “.
He confirmed that 13 people had died in rivers, reservoirs, and lakes in recent days, including seven teenage boys. And he said there had been 15 major fire incidents declared by the UK Fire & Rescue Services, with 41 properties destroyed in London and a further 14 in Norfolk as temperatures rose above 40C in the UK for the first time.
Malthouse acknowledged the UK was set to face more extreme weather events in the coming years, noting that the heatwave had exacerbated by climate change.
“We do recognise that we are likely to experience more of these incidents: and that we should not underestimate their speed, scope and incision,” he said. “Britain may be unaccustomed to such high temperatures but the UK, along with our European neighbors, must learn to live with extreme events such as these.
“The government has been at the forefront of international efforts to reach Net Zero, but the impacts of climate change are with us now. This is why we have a National Adaptation Program under the leadership of the environment department.”
Malthouse said it was the responsibility of Cabinet ministers to coordinate work across government in response to extreme weather events, adding that a National Resilience Strategy would be launched at the “earliest possible opportunity” by the incoming administration.
The CCC’s report on overheating comes just a week after the body raised the alarm that the UK’s electricity, digital, water, transport, gas, road, and airport operators were still failing to fully take in to account the risk climate change poses to infrastructure systems .
And in related news, a major report from risk consulting agency Verisk Maplecroft today warned the world as a whole is not prepared for how the secondary effects of climate change will impact societies, populations, and businesses.
The report, published this morning, explores the second-order impacts of climate change, such as civil unrest, political instability, mass migration, economic fragility, resource security, and conflict, which are all expected an increase in prevalence as extreme weather events become more frequent and acute.
The report found that many of the world’s richest nations, such as Japan, the US, and UK, are set to be largely insulated from these secondary risks thanks to relatively strong governance structures, low levels of historic domestic conflict, robust social policies, and their ability to provide sufficient food and high-quality infrastructure.
But it warns that many other countries lack these safeguards, noting that poorer nations, such as Mali, Syria, and Venezuela, are already hotspots for climate-driven migration and conflict and are set to continue to be most susceptible to these risks in the future .
The report also groups Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam in a group of ‘precarious’ countries, which share a number of the structural weaknesses of the more vulnerable group, but for whom the future is less certain. The situation in these countries could transform for the worse, it warns.
The interconnected nature of the the second order also means that impacts in developing and emerging economy, could quickly lead to significant impact for industrialized nations through migration supply chain disruption, and increased geopolitical instability.
Will Nichols, Verisk Maplecroft’s head of climate risk and resilience, urged governments to start preparing for the socio-economic and geopolitical risks of a warming world. “Organisations and governments have extensive risk mitigation plans for physical climate threats, yet the lack of investment in assessing secondary risks means most are woefully unprepared to deal with the political, economic, and developmental impacts of a warming planet,” he said.