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Jeremy's Blog 9th July 2021: Extreme Heat

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 8th July 2021.

Government announcements will see yet more focus not only on mitigating climate change (just now modelled by the Office for Budget Responsibility to cost Government less than its Covid measures) but also on adapting to and preparing for the new conditions.

The UK, leaning into the Atlantic at median latitudes, appears better buffered from extreme change than many parts of the world but that is relative. The largest direct impact of climate change on property here is seen as being from more frequent flooding. The Environment Agency foresees some 3.6 million people at risk of annual flooding by 2050 and flood attenuation, flood protection and the flood resilience of buildings will be emphasised, perhaps especially as the domestic protection of Flood Re comes towards its end.

However, periods of extreme heat stress should also be considered. We have seen Australia and California burn. While Snowdonia had wildfires in February, we have little noticed large scale forest fires in Siberia and Alaska. The impact on southern Europe looks brutal with major pressures on urban living and agricultural production. Seeing Lytton in west coast British Columbia, just two degrees south of London, bake and then burn at 49.6oC (121oF) gives pause for thought when the fabled long, hot, dry summer of 1976 peaked at 96.6oF in Cheltenham.

Periods, even only of weeks, of such heat stress increase deaths (France saw that in 2003 as British Columbia, Washington and Oregon do now) and put new pressures on agricultural crops and livestock. That is more than changing what we produce but testing any production to its limits; we see parts of Spain and southern France become too hot for grapes.

When our buildings have not been designed to withstand heat but increasingly to manage it efficiently, temperatures do not have to match Lytton to disrupt normal life. We have seen Canadians sitting in the river or sleeping in their basements to keep less hot. Qatar has reviewed its heat working rules, extending the period when outdoor working is banned and ordering all work to cease when the wet bulb temperature exceeds 32.1oC. Greece is now looking at measures to reconcile business life with staff safety.

As we take decisions about farming, property, business, systems and infrastructure, how do we plan ahead to be ready for the risks of such extreme, if only intermittent, tests? How would we stand say 4 weeks pushing 105oF? As elsewhere, these issues are again of preparing to manage a wider range of risks and ensure resilience.

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