The UK Isn’t Ready for the Heat That’s Coming
The world is getting hot. Last month was the planets hottest June on record, according to an analysis from the European Unions Copernicus Climate Change Service, with substantially higher-than-usual temperatures recorded on land and sea. The highest average daily global temperature was reached on Monday, July 3, smashing a record held since 2016. A new highest-ever was reached the next day, then broken yet again two days later. Considering were only in very early El Nino, a naturally occurring warming weather pattern, we can expect more heat records to come. Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, has warned that the recent spate of broken records is a sign that climate change is out of control. Indeed, we are racing toward the 1.5C warming target set in Paris in 2015. As the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) made clear at the end of last year, theres still no credible pathway to 1.5C in place. Ideally we never get to that point, and we must take radical, urgent action to limit warming as much as possible. But we also need to start adapting to the world that lies beyond 1.5C. This means leaders must start thinking about sustainable cooling, which has so far been a blind spot in net-zero strategies and in the UNs sustainable development goals. A new study, published in Nature Sustainability, took a look at how going to 2C from 1.5C of warming would affect cooling demand, and found stark lessons for us all. The paper looked at increases in cooling degree days, a widely used indicator to examine warming and quantify the demand for cooling. CDDs are calculated by comparing the mean daily outdoor temperature with a standard temperature, in this case 18C. A day with a mean outdoor temperature of 28C, for example, has 10 CDDs. The more CDDs, the hotter the place. The countries with the largest absolute increase in cooling demand between 1.5C and 2C are the ones that are already really hot Central African Republic, Burkina Faso and Mali. There will be huge implications for human health and livelihoods in these regions that are already bearing the brunt of climate change and lack the resources needed to adapt. Thats a climate justice issue: As of 2021, Africa had contributed just 2.8% of the worlds cumulative CO2 emissions. Yet heat will be a huge barrier to its development. A 2022 study found that extreme heat has already suppressed economic growth by more than 5% a year in tropical countries such as Mali. But that doesnt mean developed nations are insulated from the heat. The research also found that the UK, Ireland and Switzerland will face the highest relative increases in uncomfortably hot days, excluding extreme events such as heat waves. With life and architecture in these countries traditionally steered toward staying warm, a huge adaptation challenge lies ahead as people will increasingly need to keep cool. Last years heat waves across Europe really brought home how ill-prepared we are for hot days. A paper, published on Monday, revealed that more than 61,000 heat-related deaths occurred in Europe between May 30 and Sept. 4, 2022. When the mercury in the UK breached 40C for the first time in July 2022, the London Fire Brigade had their busiest day since World War II. Though heat planning has advanced since 2003s devastating summer, its clearly not kept pace with climate change, and plenty of infrastructural issues remain, such as the proliferation of overheating houses and care homes. Our concern is that the go-to solution will be air conditioning, says Radhika Khosla, co-author of the CDD paper and an associate professor at the University of Oxfords Smith School. As Ive written before, air conditioning is a disaster for the planet, containing coolants with more global warming potential than CO2 and drawing on precious energy resources which in fossil-fuel reliant grids only leads to a vicious cycle of more warming and more air-conditioning demand. Better options are more passive solutions, some of which have been used in traditional architecture for a long time, such as artificial or natural shade, building features such as wind catchers and solar chimneys to create sufficient ventilation, and new innovations including ultra-reflective paint. If we do use air conditioning, Khosla tells me, its important that the units are of the most efficient standard and powered by renewable energy, in combination with passive and low energy options. But those interventions will take time to roll out, and the problem is that sustainable cooling hasnt really been widely discussed yet. Much of the focus in the UKs net-zero strategy has been on decarbonizing heat. Though the heat and building strategy does acknowledge the potential future demand of cooling, it doesnt lay out any associated policies. Meanwhile, on the global stage, demand for cooling doesnt appear in the UNs 2030 sustainable development agenda, its 17 goals or 169 targets. Considering the established links between heat and its negative impacts on well-being and economies, thats a major oversight. The good news is that the tide appears to be turning. On July 3, the Environmental Audit Committee opened an inquiry into UK heat resilience and adaptation strategies. The UNEP also hopes to make cooling a priority at COP28, launching a Global Cooling Stocktake Report alongside developing a Global Cooling Pledge with conference host the United Arab Emirates. Its reassuring to see focus shifting toward sustainable cooling, but theres no time to waste. In many countries, the heat is already here. More From Bloomberg Opinion: The Corporate Bankruptcy Wave Will Get Even Uglier: Chris Bryant A Made in Germany Solution to a Climate-Crisis Problem: Javier Blas Meet the $4 Billion AI Superstars That Google Lost: Parmy Olson This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. Lara Williams is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering climate change. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com/opinion 2023 Bloomberg L.P.