MPs push Government for clear heatwave resilience plan to save lives, boost economy

Pictured: The River Skirfare near Litton, Yorkshire, in drought conditions

MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) are this week pressing the UK Government to follow through on its Global Cooling Pledge commitment made at COP28 in Dubai last month. This compels the Government to develop a national cooling action plan with time-bound, new commitments.

Such a plan could help the UK mitigate public health risks, the EAC is emphasising.

In conducting its inquiry into the UK’s heat resilience, the Committee heard that heatwaves could claim 10,000 lives annually in the UK without concerted action. Deaths would be higher among vulnerable groups including the elderly and those in poor-quality housing.

Those dealing with existing mental or physical health conditions are also more vulnerable, the Committee heard, with previous tracking of suicide risks in the UK showing a doubling when summer days exceed 32C, compared with 22C levels.

As well as looking at the potential public health impacts of heatwaves, the economic impacts could be significant. MPs heard that interrupted sleep patterns due to high temperatures can cost the UK up to 2% of its GDP. This is before accounting for challenges such as transport and logistics disruptions and impacts to food production.

The report is timely. 2023 was recently confirmed to be the hottest on record globally and the record for the highest maximum UK temperature in January was set on Monday (29 January) with 19.6C recorded in Kinlochewe, Scotland.

The UK Government’s climate advisors at the Climate Change Committee (CCC) have already warned Ministers that summers are likely to get hotter and drier, while winters will get warmer and wetter, as the global temperature increases.

Previous CCC analysis has highlighted significant shortcomings in the UK’s existing national climate adaptation frameworks both before and after updates were made last summer.

‘Win-win’ interventions

EAC chair Philip Dunne MP said there are “a number of relatively simple ways to mitigate overheating risk” which would “simply be a no-brainer” to implement.

Moreover, they could be embedded into existing and forthcoming programmes to retrofit existing buildings for energy efficiency, as well as into building standards for new builds.

Changes recommended focus on passive cooling –  interventions which would not lead to increased energy use. They include fitting external shutters to windows and adding reflective white paint to buildings, which could reduce heat-related deaths for occupants by up to 40%.

For cities, the report highlights the potential benefits of nature-based solutions such as parks, on-street tree cover and green roofs. These could boost biodiversity as well as providing shade and combatting the urban heat island effect.

While these solutions are readily available with good payback periods, the challenge will be rolling them out in a coordinated manner to achieve scale and pace, the EAC is warning.

A key pinch point is likely to be finding certified staff to carry out retrofit and maintenance work. Dunne pointed out that the Committee heard evidence of a looming shortfall of 250,000 people in suitable roles by 2030, dubbed a “net-zero tradespeople crisis”.

Dunne said: “Tackling overheating at scale will not be a quick or easy undertaking. Clear collaboration between Government departments and local authorities is necessary, supported by a clear messaging campaign and a pipeline of funding and skilled retrofitters to undertake the work needed. Existing Government policy fails to grasp the urgency of the task at hand. A Minister with oversight on heat resilience must be appointed to oversee this important work.”

Related news: London unprepared for ‘lethal’ climate risks, Government warned

Related news: Should Ofgem and other regulators have a climate adaptation remit?

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    These matters are all under the general title of sciences physics and chemistry.
    Whom have we in Government who has graduate knowledge in this area???
    I simply do not know, but some information could be quite interesting.

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