Buildings and infrastructure ill-prepared for changing climate

The resilience of transport networks, homes, hospitals and water supplies in England need to be enhanced to counter the more frequent and severe flooding and heatwaves that can be expected in future. This is the key finding of a new report by the government’s official adviser on preparing for climate change.

Produced by the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) of the Committee on Climate Change, the report, Managing climate risks to well-being and the economy, considers preparedness to climate change in England related to major infrastructure, business, public health and emergency planning. It also provides an update to the ASC’s previous analysis of flood risk management.

The Committee is calling for a new building standard to be introduced to prevent an increase in the number of premature deaths that could result from homes and buildings overheating. Premature deaths from overheating could triple to 7,000 per year by the 2050s, as average temperatures rise and combined with an ageing and more vulnerable population. Extreme temperatures during severe heatwaves could have an even greater impact on people’s health and well-being.

The Committee found that new homes are being designed for yesterday’s climate, and not with the health impacts of higher temperatures in mind. One-fifth of homes could already be overheating, even in a cool summer. Forthcoming research from Cambridge University will also conclude that 90% of hospital wards are of a type prone to overheating, even in today’s climate.

The Committee is recommending that cost-effective solutions, such as improved ventilation, tinted windows, and external insulation, should begin to be installed in new and existing homes, hospitals and care homes to limit the health impacts of higher temperatures.

The storms of last winter highlighted the costs, damages and disruption that extreme weather can cause to homes, businesses and vital services. The Committee found that positive action is being taken to avoid future disruption to power supplies, and to some extent to train services, that could arise from severe weather. In other areas plans were found to be lacking. Infrastructure providers could not always explain how storms and flooding had affected their services in the past, or what steps have been taken to address potential vulnerabilities.

The Committee recommends that the comprehensive approach put in place by the power sector to protect their networks from severe weather should be adopted by water companies, for major roads, ports and airports, and by telecommunications providers.
Investing in flood defence to avoid future damage

Past investment in flood defences, and recent improvements in forecasting, early warning and flood emergency planning, helped limit the impacts of the tidal surge in December 2013 – the largest in sixty years. These efforts must be stepped up to prevent more damage in future as sea levels rise and development in the floodplain continues.

Limited budgets mean that three-quarters of existing flood defence structures are not being adequately maintained. Regulations to avoid surface water flooding caused by new development should be introduced, after repeated delay. This was recommended six years ago by the Pitt Review.

More must also be done by local councils to manage local flood risk. They should make sure that statutory local flood risk management plans and strategies are published, and agreed actions are taken. They should also enforce rules to avoid continuing loss of gardens to hard surfacing.

Lord John Krebs, Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “The impacts of climate change on the UK in the decades ahead are likely to include rising sea levels, more flooding, summer heatwaves, and perhaps more frequent storms and droughts.

“We have found good evidence of positive action being taken in a number of areas to safeguard public health and the economy from the impacts of climate change. Despite the disruption experienced by many in the storms this winter, the impacts would have been much worse if it hadn’t been for past investment in flood defences, and in flood forecasting and emergency planning. This is a clear demonstration of the benefits that result from investing in greater resilience, but there is no room for complacency.

“As our report highlights, there is more to be done to counter the increasing risks of severe weather that are likely to be associated with climate change. As well as making vital infrastructure services more resilient to flooding and storms, the country needs to adapt homes and other buildings so they are suitable for higher summer temperatures.”

This report is the last in a series that will feed in to the ASC’s first statutory report to Parliament on the National Adaptation Programme in 2015.

The report can be downloaded at www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Final_ASC-2014_web-version.pdf

www.theccc.org.uk

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