How can we learn to live with rising UK temperatures, and what steps should we take to adapt to their effects?
3 July 2023
As the UK swelters in heatwaves driven by the El Nino weather pattern, which has pushed up global temperatures in recent weeks, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) today launches a new inquiry on heat resilience and sustainable cooling.
Climate change is causing warmer summers, and in the predecessor Committee’s 2018 report on heatwaves, MPs reported that carbon emissions from human activities had doubled the likelihood of severe heat events.
Building on the evidence base of the predecessor Committee’s report, the new inquiry will focus on three overarching issues:
- The relationship between heat and health, and which communities are most affected. Between June and August 2022, the five heat-periods resulted in excess mortality of 3,271 deaths, of which 2,803 were those aged over 65. MPs will be seeking to understand better how the most vulnerable can be better protected;
- Government policies in relation to current and future need for cooling. The Climate Change Committee has previously warned that the Government’s progress on adaptation fails to adequately address the risks identified, and that the effect of increasing temperatures on human health was highlighted as a particular weakness;
- What measures could be taken to increase adaptation and resilience to rising temperatures. MPs will aim to uncover sustainable cooling solutions and adaptation strategies that minimise overheating, reduce energy consumption and prevent overloading the electricity grid. Many look to air conditioning units in warmer temperatures, but there could be less energy-intensive alternatives such as solar protection devices, ceiling fans and nature-based solutions.
MPs are aiming to understand how communities can better adapt to increased temperatures without relying on energy-intensive solutions, such as air conditioning units. Last month Britain’s 46-day run of coal-free electricity generation was broken as coal power stations were brought into action to meet the demand for air conditioning.
Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:
“Climate change is causing hotter summers for us all, and we must learn to adapt better. The number of heat-related deaths is already too high, and the trend seems to be upwards.
We need to break the cycle of using energy-intensive cooling solutions – like air-conditioning – to manage the higher temperatures we are experiencing. There may well be better and more sustainable alternatives, and our Committee will seek to explore these further.
I would like to thank Associate Professor Radhika Khosla and Dr Nicole Miranda at the University of Oxford for bringing forward the suggestion to launch this inquiry at our Committee's 25th anniversary event. It is a timely investigation following the recent warm weather, and will act as a 5-year update on our predecessor Committee’s report on heatwaves.”
In February, during the Committee’s 25 Year Anniversary event at Imperial College London, University of Oxford academics Associate Professor Radhika Khosla and Dr Nicole Miranda pitched an inquiry for the Committee to launch this inquiry considering heat adaptation.
Associate Professor Radhika Khosla, Director, Oxford Martin School Future of Cooling Programme; Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, said:
“We are excited to be contributing to this inquiry into an important and often overlooked area of energy and climate change policy. Interventions will be necessary to mitigate the worst impacts of rising temperatures in the UK while preventing a knock-on impact on health, well-being, energy demand, and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Terms of reference
The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the issues raised in the following terms of reference, by 17:00 on Thursday 17th August 2023.
- What evidence exists on the relationship between heat and human health (mortality and morbidity), and which communities are worst affected?
- How can sustainable cooling solutions and adaptation strategies be implemented in such a way as to minimise overheating, reduce energy consumption and prevent overloading of the electricity grid during peak demand?
- What actions can be taken to protect those most vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat?
- To what extent do the Government’s Climate Change Risk Assessment and National Adaptation Programme (as well as other related strategies such as the Net Zero Strategy and Heat and Buildings Strategy) identify and address the risks from extreme heat?
- Does the current planning framework do enough to encourage heat resilience measures such as cooling shelters, water bodies, green infrastructure and shading to be integrated into urban planning? Where such measures are incorporated, how accessible and successful are they?
- What can be done to protect the UK’s existing public and private sector housing stock from the impacts of extreme heat while ensuring that homes are sufficiently warm in the winter months?
- What role might reversible heat pumps (which can act as both heating and cooling systems) and other emerging technological solutions, such as the development of smart materials, play in meeting future cooling demands?
- How can cleaner refrigerants with low or zero global warming potentials support the UK’s cooling needs while contributing to the national emission reduction targets?
- Does the Government’s Future Homes Standard adequately consider overheating in homes? If not, what additional elements should it include?
- How effectively is the Government working across departments and with local authorities to ensure a coordinated approach is taken to heat resilience?
- Does the UK need a dedicated Heat Resilience Strategy? What lessons can be learned from other nations when it comes to national strategies for heat resilience?
- Environmental Audit Committee
- About Parliament: Select committees
- Visiting Parliament: Watch committees
Image credit: Pixabay