Phew what a scorcher!
Hononary University Fellow
The summer of 2018 is going to be remembered as a good summer by many, or a bit of a killer by a few. By those of us who are concerned about our planet it is yet another canary falling of its perch warning us of the need for climate action today.
Perhaps in time the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change will look at 2018 as becoming the new example year, taking over from 2003 which had previously been an example of a normal UK summer by 2040. However this prediction assumes the medium emissions scenario, which at the moment looks very optimistic.
According to the Met Office more than 20,000 people died after a record-breaking heatwave left Europe sweltering in August 2003. If we compare the summer of 2003 with 2018 using the recently published 1961 – 1990 Anomaly Mean Temperature maps, we see that 2018 heat covered a greater proportion of the UK and is regarded jointly the hottest year since 1910 along with 2006, 2003, and 1976 and is therefore likely to cause a similar number of fatalities as 2003.
During 2003, 2,045 heat-related deaths were recorded in the UK, approximately 900 above average.
With rising temperatures and a growing and ageing population, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said this number is projected to increase by two-thirds by the 2020. .
The effects of heat or the inability to control the temperature have both direct and indirect effects on human health. The most important direct ailments are disorders causing minor alterations or augmentation of respiratory, kidney, or digestive system diseases. The collapse of the ability of the individual’s body to regulate its temperature through the blood stream or by sweating is one of the most commonly reported effects leading to discomfort and death, in extreme cases.
In response to increased risks perceived by the CCC in its 2017 Report to Parliament, it states that:
“There are as yet no policies in place to begin to adapt the built environment and existing buildings for increasing temperatures and heatwaves. A lack of relevant standards means new developments, including hospitals and care homes, will add to the number of buildings that overheat in warmer weather”
The Environment Agency (EA) has published the second National Adaptation Programme (NAP), which sets the actions that government and others will take to adapt to the challenges of climate change in the UK. The risks associated with heat have increased and action is required now to mitigate the risks associated with health and wellbeing from high temperatures.
The Environmental Audit Committee are currently considering risks to health, wellbeing and productivity associated with heatwaves and are reviewing the level of UK resilience to them and assessing the Government’s actions to date. The Committee is also examining public health risks associated with higher temperatures as well as heatwaves.
It is welcome that the wheels of the UK government are beginning to rotate and start to look at the issue of climate adaption from a thermal perspective. Changeable weather is not new to the UK but the frequency and range of this change is likely to increase with many everyday essential parts of the UK infrastructure at or beyond their design capability.
During June 2018 Devon News stated that delays were being experienced on trains in the South West due to engineers painting the tracks white to prevent them from overheating. We should note that the rail network has had an extensive programme of tree clearance to prevent leaves on the track which, has only now been . However miles of track have been lost of natural shade.
In the built environment we see a similar picture of not looking at the issue as a whole, for example.
Therefore buildings need to evolve, adapt and develop strategies to protect themselves from the changes in the climate at a rate and scale proportionate to the increased prevalence of extreme weather such as heatwaves.
These climate change adaption measures have to be in alignment with the significant reductions required in energy and carbon used by the built environment and simply using more energy or larger powered equipment is not the way forward. Climate adaption measures needs to be seen from a “no more energy” resources point of view.
Personally I hope 2018 will be seen as a catalyst year when we start to understand the risks and weaknesses in the UK infrastructure and the built environment and start to do something about it.
Met Office UK actual and anomaly maps: (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/summaries/anomacts)