'Overheating audit': How the Mayor of London is crafting extreme heat adaptation plans

EXCLUSIVE: City Hall has today set out a programme of work to help London adapt to a changing climate, focusing on the elderly and young children who are less able to control their environment

The sweltering temperatures and sweaty nights that have gripped the capital this week are further testament to the fact that London’s climate is changing. With temperatures set to steadily increase over the decades to come and the 10 hottest years on record occurring since 2002, it is clear citizens and organisations in the capital must brace for repeated and regular stints of extreme heat over the decades to come.

Such prolonged periods of extreme heat brings with a raft of significant challenges, presenting a threat to health, a drag on productivity, and further evidence that much of the UK’s urban infrastructure is not fit for neither desert temperatures, nor the tropical rain storms that can follow heat waves.

As such, City Hall is today launching a fresh push to try and better prepare London for even hotter summers ahead with the publication of a trio of resources geared at helping the institutions and individuals across capital adapt to future heatwaves.

Following a series of audits of care homes and schools, the Mayor’s Office is proposing a range of potential measure to minimise the risk oif heat stress, including pushing school start and finishing times to earlier in the day to avoid teaching during peak heat and rethinking the construction of care homes to bring down indoor temperatures.

While rising temperatures cause significant challenges across the UK, London is particularly prone to overheating due to the ‘urban heat island’ effect, where buildings, concrete, transport, and a limited green spaces hike up temperatures.

City Hall said today that it was particularly concerned of the impacts of hot summers on old and young people, who are more vulnerable to extreme heat due to their limited ability to adapt to their behaviours and environment, and in the case of the elderly, frailty and chronic disease. During a heatwave last August, Public Health England reported 108 excess deaths in people aged 65 or older.

“We are already seeing the impacts of a warmer climate on our city, with record breaking high temperatures becoming almost an annual fixture and the hottest August day in 17 years occurring this summer,” said Shirley Rodrigues, deputy mayor for environment and energy. “At City Hall we are concerned that it is vulnerable children and elderly Londoners that will suffer the most. These audits for care homes and the guidance for schools and Early Years settings offer advice on how London can prepare for, respond to and recover from a changing climate.”

The Mayor’s Office has set out a number of recommendations to help care homes for the elderly prepare for hotter climes. These include simple measures, such as switching off unnecessary heat sources, such as not-in-use lights electrical equipment and radiators, prioritising ventilation from outdoors during night-time, and keeping curtains closed and replacing halogen lightbulbs with energy-efficient alternatives.

However, the report warns that “passive solutions” may not be adequate in the future as temperatures continue to rise. More expensive and complex adaptation measures must be considered as long-term solutions, it argues, such as investing in living roofs that moderate the heat island effect and using ‘high albedo’ finishing materials on buildings so as to ensure they absorb less heat.

The findings have been drawn from a pilot “overheating audit” of five London care homes undertaken by the Mayor’s Office alongside UCL and Oxford Brooks University in the autumn of 2018.

It found that care home building age plays a critical role in overheating, with staff and residents of older care homes constructed with heavyweight materials less likely to feel overheated. Unnecessary circulation of hot water through space heating pipework due to heating systems being left on for hot water was identified also identified as a “main source” of overheating.

Thermal modelling undertaken on one of the care homes featured in the study suggests that internal temperatures will rise by 2C in the 2050s and 4C in the 2080s.

The Mayor of London has also today published separate report containing guidance on how schools and nurseries can prepare for high temperatures, summer heatwaves, and increased risk of drought and flooding.

Among the recommendations included in the report include relaxing dress codes to introduce ‘no tie’ or ‘no blazer’ days for students, ensuring water fountains are widely available, limiting outdoor activity and encouraging students to wear hats.

Schools should also consider pulling forward school start and finish times to avoid teaching during periods of very high temperature, and closing altogether when classroom temperatures exceed 30 degrees, according to the report.

A number of operational and control measures can also be introduced, according to the report, including automatic lighting, isolating heat sources such as cold drinks and fridges, and the introduction of night-time ventilation practices.

In addition, school buildings can also be made more ‘climate ready’ through the introduction of living, light-coloured or reflective roofs, introducing ‘windcatcher’ ventilation systems that harness the wind and introducing solar shading on windows.

The report stresses that schools must adapt given that children are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because of their limited capacity to respond to severe weather events.  It also notes that long-term preparation for a changing climate and severe weather events will not only protect children’s wellbeing and safety at school, but will provide learning and play opportunities for young people.

The final plank of the Mayor’s new programme of work is geared at all citizens of London. It has today launched a pilot ‘Cool Spaces’ map – a resource that will guide Londoner’s towards green and shaded outdoor spaces where they can find refuge from the sun during a heatwave.

In order to promote social distancing, City Hall said that it scrapped its original plans to include indoor, climate-controlled spaces on the map – such as mosques, churches, synagogues, shopping centres and other civic amenities. But the hope remains that such spaces could be promoted once the virus is fully under control.

The initial focus on the new initiatives may be on schools, care homes, and individuals, but the lessons for businesses are clear. Many offices and much of the capital’s transport infrastructure faces similar over-heating challenges, which can be addressed through a combination of improved design, new technologies, and behaviour change.

Deputy Mayor Rodrigues stressed that adaptation measures would be complemented by city-wide efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate London’s impact on the climate. “We also need to tackle the situation at source which is why the Mayor is redoubling efforts to tackle the climate emergency, lead a green and prosperous recovery, and bring London to net zero carbon by 2030,” she said.

While it remains to be seen whether the particular recommendations of the report for schools and care homes will be widely embraced, it is abundantly clear that businesses, organisations, and people need to start thinking seriously about measures that will allow them to adapt their operations and lives to increasingly hot temperatures. As London scorches this week, the case for climate change adaptation is more evident than ever.

Read more: businessgreen.com