Heat resilience and sustainable cooling: UK Government Response to the Committee’s Fifth Report

Date: 05 May 2024
Heat resilience and sustainable cooling: UK Government Response to the Committee’s Fifth Report
The Environmental Audit Committee published its Fifth Report of Session 2023–24, Heat resilience and sustainable cooling (HC 279) on 31 January 2024. The Government response was received on 9 April 2024, and is appended below.

Introduction

The Government welcomes the Environmental Audit Committee’s report Heat Resilience and Sustainable Cooling, published on 24 January 2024. We are grateful to the Committee for delivering such a comprehensive report at an opportune time.

The Committee’s report and the policy matters associated with heat resilience and sustainable cooling are wide ranging and cover responsibilities that sit with several Government departments and arm’s length bodies. Therefore material on the recommendations relevant to those departments or bodies has been provided by; the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Cabinet Office (CO) the UK Health Security Agency (UKSHA), the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) programme within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Met Office.

The structure of this paper corresponds to the conclusions and recommendations section of the Committee’s report. 

Recommendation 1

We have received compelling evidence that heat is having serious and widespread impacts on health, wellbeing and economic productivity. This is already costing the UK thousands of lives and billions of pounds annually, a situation which is set to get worse without concerted action. The social and economic case for accelerating heat adaptation measures in the UK is clear-cut. We recommend that the Met Office and UKHSA incorporate explicit messaging and/or metrics regarding the effects of humidity levels as well as temperature into weather forecasts and heat-health alerts.

Recommendation 2

Nature-based solutions to climate change, such as parks, trees, water bodies and green infrastructure, have significant cooling effects as well as multiple co-benefits (for example, for health, wellbeing, air quality, flood resilience and biodiversity). Increasing the amount of green space is one of the most important tools in tackling the impacts of heat, especially in urban areas. Natural England’s Green Infrastructure Framework, incorporating the Urban Greening Factor, is therefore a significant and welcome step forward in setting out how green infrastructure can be best designed and implemented; however, the framework only applies to new developments, and evidence suggests that it is not yet being put into practice at scale by local authorities.

We recommend that the Government take action to expand urban green space, particularly in disadvantaged areas. At a minimum these actions ought to include: (i) introducing a statutory requirement on local authorities to protect green space; (ii) mandating local authorities in urban areas to use the Green Infrastructure Framework; and (iii) introducing measures to incentivise the installation of green roofs as new build or retrofit on appropriate residential or business premises.

Recommendation 3

We recommend that the Government evaluate the case for amending Part L of the Building Regulations to encourage the use of ceiling fans (for example, by including locally controlled air movement in the definition of comfort).

Recommendation 4

We support the extension of Part O of the Building Regulations not only to cover material changes of use to residential, but also for refurbishments of existing properties. We recommend that the Government clarify whether it is intended that Part O of the Building Regulations be expanded to refurbishments. If that is indeed the case, we recommend that Ministers, in their response to this report, set out when, and by what mechanism, this is to be achieved. If it is not the case, we recommend that Ministers explain how the UK is to achieve Commitment M5 of the Global Cooling Pledge.

Recommendation 5

We recommend that measures taken under Part O should be subject to post-occupancy evaluation within the first year of their installation.

Recommendation 6

We therefore recommend that the Government establish a comprehensive national retrofit programme to adapt the UK’s housing stock for both net zero and thermal comfort. The programme should include the following elements to maximise its impact and minimise costs:

  • Local delivery via local authorities, underpinned by adequate long-term funding;
  • Prioritisation of vulnerable households;
  • A fabric-first approach focusing on insulation and ventilation;
  • Adoption of a cooling hierarchy prioritising passive measures, and then fans, above active cooling mechanisms;
  • Consideration of the benefits and drawbacks of installing reversible heat pumps, bearing in mind such factors as: (i) whether or not active cooling is likely to be required following installation of passive measures and (if appropriate) fans; (ii) the vulnerability of the building occupant(s); and (iii) progress on decarbonising the national grid at the time of installation.

Recommendation 7

We urge the Government to respond as soon as possible to its consultation on improving home energy performance through lenders which closed in February 2021. Ministers must rapidly bring forward proposals to encourage access to low-cost finance for householders to invest in home improvements which can increase energy efficiency and heat resilience.

Recommendation 8

We further recommend that the Government publishes any interim or draft recommendations made by the Energy Efficiency Taskforce before it was disbanded.

Recommendation 9

We urge the Government to set out, in its response to this report, the targets (if any) which Ministers have set for growth in the supply chain of competent retrofit installers, and the progress made against these targets to date. If no targets have yet been set, we recommend that Ministers seek to set ambitious targets for supply chain growth.

Recommendation 10

While sources of accurate, reliable and helpful guidance on dealing with extreme heat do exist, this information does not appear always to be reaching everyone who needs it, leading to avoidable health harms. We raised this issue in our 2018 Heatwaves report but little progress appears to have been made. We reiterate the recommendation from our predecessor committee’s 2018 Heatwaves report that the Government should launch a Minister-led public information campaign on the developing threat of heatwaves and their significant impact on human health and activities. This could be based on the information on the UKHSA’s Beat the Heat webpage. It should have a particular focus on vulnerable groups.

Recommendation 11

The naming of heatwaves could assist in helping the public to recognise such extreme weather events as a threat to health and wellbeing in the same way as named storms. We recommend that the Met Office trial the naming of heatwaves for 2024 with a view to making this permanent if the trial is deemed successful.

Recommendation 12

While there is potential for cooling centres to be an important part of future resilience measures for those most vulnerable to heat impacts, evidence of their effectiveness is not clear cut at present. We recommend that UKHSA evaluate the potential use of cooling centre initiatives as a policy response to excessive heat, with a view to developing and publishing advice to central government and local authorities on a suite of practical initiatives which can be taken to support populations which are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat.

Recommendation 13

We recommend that the Future System Operator make specific provision for the likely future demand for electricity for cooling purposes in all its future scenario planning.

Recommendation 14

We recommend that in its response to this report the Government set out what progress it has made on establishing Minimum Energy Performance Standards in relation to cooling equipment since COP26; what the future trajectory for establishing such standards is; and how the Government plans to meet the 2030 deadline specified in the Global Cooling Pledge.

Recommendation 15

We recommend that the Government evaluate the merits of introducing a takeback scheme in England to improve disposal practices regarding cooling equipment, thereby helping to minimise F-gas leakage, with a view to introducing a pilot takeback scheme in England and promoting its merits to the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Recommendation 16

Effective joint working is not just desirable but essential if the impacts of heat are to be tackled in a coordinated, holistic and cost-effective way. This does not seem to be happening to a sufficient degree at present in the UK. The establishment of a Climate Resilience Board, under the auspices of the Cabinet Office and DEFRA, is potentially an important development as long as it includes representation from all relevant Government departments, agencies and other organisations, and meets sufficiently frequently. The Government should set out, in its response to this report, details of the membership of the Climate Resilience Board; how often it has met since being established; and its expected meeting schedule in 2024.

Recommendation 17

We recommend that the Government appoint a lead Minister for Heat Resilience to act as a focal point and drive forward coordinated action across government departments, local government, community sector stakeholders and the private sector in this area.

Recommendation 18

We commend the UK Government on being among the first signatories of the Global Cooling Pledge, which represents a significant step forward in terms of heat resilience and sustainable cooling, and is a welcome demonstration of international leadership in this area. In particular we note the commitment under the GCP to produce a national cooling action plan. We hope our inquiry and the findings set out in this report assist in shaping what this looks like and we remain keen to continue to work constructively with all relevant Departments on this topic. In response to this report, we expect the Government to set out a clear and achievable timetable for the introduction of a UK national cooling action plan as required by the Global Cooling Pledge.


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