2023 will be remembered as the year that brought many extreme heat waves and as a result forest fires.
Europe in particular has been affected, with the effects being felt most severely in Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain.
Cerberus Anticyclone is one of the first major heat waves to be titled, temperatures have exceeded 48ºc and break all records.
Sadly this event also led to record breaking highs in the Arctic.
In June 2023 the European Environment Agency warned that even many schools and hospitals were to be at risk from the heat. Scientists have of course attributed the extreme weather temperatures this year to manmade climate change.
Data shows that heat waves are becoming more and more frequent and intense. In 2003 70,000 people died due to heat related illness, whilst 2022 saw a mortality rate of almost 62,000, 2023 is yet to conclude.
55% of our homes in the UK already have bedrooms that overheat
We need to adapt
Clearly, adapting to these extreme heat rises is imperative. Heat is different to other weather threats as it can last for weeks, cover huge areas and result in far more deaths.
Climate adaptation will need to take place in many forms. Urban areas with heat islands and less efficient housing will require major investment. Current suggested solutions range from complicated to simple planting.
Public money should be invested in retrofits, tree planting, and landscaping with cooling effects in mind. Our towns and cities going forward need to reflect the sun rather than absorbing the heat. Our bodies dysregulate around 101º and often the effects aren’t realised until it is too late.
The UK of course will have to adapt, our architecture is not yet in line with our hotter european neighbours, our homes have been built to retain heat during cold winters and we as a country will need to radically cool our buildings in the decades ahead.
The solutions seem obvious, so why don't we do it?
Retrofitting buildings with simple passive measures to introduce ventilation such as awnings and shades will help. Our gardens need to be gardens, planting, greenery and trees, more trees!
Internally fans and cooling will be imperative. Heat pumps can cool in the summer and heat in the winter. However if we have any hope of surviving the extreme heat, then immediate climate action is necessary.
A recent report commissioned by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) found that 55% of our homes in the UK already have bedrooms that overheat. Preventing overheating in all our homes is estimated to cost in excess of £250 billion!
However modest and passive adjustments will help.
As with Mediterranean houses, exterior window shutters block the intense sunlight before your home begins to heat. Roof insulation, ceiling fans and fully opening windows are also needed. Simply opening your window in the early hours can cool your home, however in London this can be mitigated by noise and pollution.
Spaces to be cool
London even has a ‘Cool Spaces’ map that highlights places in the city that are cooler. Areas with more planting, green species and shade structures, even fountains.
There is a map that shows areas and indoor spaces where Londoners and visitors can shelter from the sun and rest in high heat. The hope is that ‘Cool Spaces’ will contribute to reducing health risks in extreme heat.
Extreme heat without doubt is our new challenge, our European neighbours are literally firefighting as we watch on. It seems that currently there are insufficient measures in place to ensure that our communities and homes are prepared for this risk.
The cool spaces map or similar may soon become a lifeline…