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Archive for the 'Climate Week 2014' Category

Climate Change and Water – A Link to Engender Action?

By ucftpdr, on 5 March 2014

Blog by Paul Drummond, UCL ISR Researcher

As is well known, the climate system and hydrological cycle are inextricably linked. A warmer atmosphere melts water stored as ice at high latitudes and altitudes leading to sea level rise, which in turn allows more of the sun’s radiation to be absorbed, further accelerating warming. A warmer atmosphere is able to hold more moisture, increasing the frequency of heavy rainfall events in areas of previously moderate conditions, whilst shifting climatic zones may either reduce the intensity and timing (or even remove) heavy rainfall in areas that rely upon it. Water vapour itself, of course, is the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

Might it be this relationship that eventually spurs the world into action to reduce emissions to prevent the worst effects of a changing climate?

It certainly seems possible. The recent drought in California and flooding in the south of England have both bumped climate change to the top of the political agenda in the USA and UK once more. The current Californian drought has so far lasted for nearly three years, with 2013 the driest year since records began. Reservoir levels are dangerously low, with fires running rampant across the parched landscape. The large agricultural economy has been hit extremely hard. The situation in the south and particularly south-west of the UK couldn’t be more stark. England and Wales saw the most winter rainfall since 1766, bursting river banks and overcoming defences to flood over 6,500 homes and around 50,000 hectares of farmland.

These opposing sides of the same coin directly impact the lives and livelihoods of people living and working in these areas. Naturally, they seek reasons for why this is happening to them, who is at fault, and assurances that all efforts will be taken to make sure that it does not happen again.

At least some of blame has been focussed on government policy. In the UK, a lack of dredging of rivers and inadequate historic investment in flood defences has been blamed, along with long-term trends of removing upland vegetation for pasture and expanding settlements onto floodplains (or even reclaimed land in the case of the Somerset Levels). Of course, these aspects all combine to a greater or lesser extent to produce the damage experienced. But such factors may only control what happens to precipitation once it has occurred, and not the volume that must be dealt with.

This is where climate change enters the present discourse. Of course, an explicit link between these specific extreme events and climate change cannot be drawn, however a changing climate is likely to increase the frequency by which these events occur, and their intensity when they do. Despite this, both President Obama and David Cameron have voiced their opinions that climate change very much had a role to play in recent events (or in Cameron’s words, ‘very much suspects’). Such rhetoric, particularly in the UK from a government who it was felt were abandoning their ‘green’ credentials over time, reflects the extent to which climate change, and whether and how we should tackle it, has re-entered the public debate.

Of course, the USA and UK are not the only states in which water issues can be prevalent. In many countries, the absence or abundance of water is of paramount importance – a concern this is only likely to increase over time. However, it appears that developing nations are over-represented among this number. For example, small island states and low-lying countries such as Bangladesh are likely to be the first victims of a rising sea level, whilst the nations of the North Africa are likely to be among the first to feel extended periods of chronic water shortages, in parallel to expected rapid increases in population.

Unfortunately, these are not the nations that hold the key to meaningful global climate action, and they broadly do not have the financial resources to adapt to their new climate regimes if such action is not taken. It is the developed nations, along with the BRICS, which are pivotal. It is only when these countries decide that mitigation action is indeed necessary that significant steps will be taken, and this is unlikely to happen until climate change ceases to be an abstract concept in the mind of the general populous, but a real and present issue – with the most likely manifestation of this to be when previously extreme flood and drought events become increasingly normalised.



Climate Change and Water: Stores have a response in store

By zcfad21, on 5 March 2014

Blog by Simon Damkjaer, UCL ISR PhD student

Substantial increases in the combustion of fossil fuels over the 20th Century have led to a shifting climate, whose impacts on global water resources are best experienced through changes in the global hydrological cycle.  As part of a series of posts related to the 2013 UCL Energy and UCL ISR Climate Week, this blog post provides an overview of the most direct impacts of climate change on water resources and highlights my Doctoral Research on the importance of hydrological stores under a changing climate.












Ice sheets and glacier retreats
Climate change has been popularly coined “Global Warming”, and as the name itself suggests, means rising temperatures.  The first way, in which rising temperatures impact global water resources is through the transfer of freshwater from a state of solid snow and ice into water as a fluid state.  The ice-sheets of Greenland and Antarctica have been melting at alarming rates over the past decades [1], which has led to an increase in the mean rate of sea-level rise of 3.3 mm/year relative to a 20th Century average of 1.7 mm/year [2].  The effects of rising sea levels, simply put, will exacerbate the risk of storm surges at coastal areas.

Furthermore, snowfall over the polar ice-sheets is predicted to be reduced.  This, in combination with melting ice-sheets, will decrease the ice-sheets’ albedo effect – that is the amount of surface that deflects incoming solar irradiation.  A reduction in albedo effect risks triggering so-called feedback mechanisms, a system of circular loops, in which the warming of the global surface is enhanced, as less incoming heat is reflected due to a reduction in albedo which is caused by ice-sheet retreat due to rising temperatures and so forth.

Although alpine glaciers are currently melting at rates three times lower than that of ice-sheets, their impacts are still felt through effects on river flow, whose influence range from moderate in mid-latitude basins, to major influence in very dry basins.  The main issue related to an increase in glacier melt rate is that it causes a mismatch and unpredictability in the timing of dry period river flows, which has implications for access to water for agricultural purposes.

Precipitation, Evaporation and Transpiration alterations
The second way in which the global water cycle is affected by a shifting climate is experienced by the ability of hotter air to hold more water, which in return affects precipitation and evaporation rates.  The effects of increasing precipitation rates are felt at two extremes.  At the one end, rainfall events will be more extreme, short-term and variable, which will lead to increased run-off and thus higher flood risks.  At the other end, the intervals between these short-lived and heavy rainfall events, will get longer, which increases drought risks.
As temperatures rise, more water evaporates back into the air, which means less water availability for crops – “less crop per drop”.  Additionally, from a biological point of view, higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere, cause terrestrial plants to transpire less, thus lowering the amount of water they use – “less drop per crop”.    It, therefore, becomes evident that the impacts of climatic changes will have severe implications for food security in the future.

Uncertainty: a key challenge
The biggest challenge to the water resources community in modelling the impacts of a shifting climate on water resources is the extreme uncertainty associated with the exercise.  Apart, from the general well-known processes, how these shifts will affect water’s wider environmental interconnectedness still remains unclear.  In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have taken a long time to properly include the effects of climate change on water resources into their annual reports, which is evidenced by only dedicating ten pages in their 4th Annual Report.  The reason for this has not been to downplay the importance of water, whose scarcity indeed was declared the second biggest global risk at the 2013 World Economic Forum, but simply because predicting the effects of climate change on water resources, continues to prove difficult, particularly on groundwater, where data is scarce.

The importance of stores
The effects of climate change on the global hydrological cycle may appear to only lead to situations of disadvantages.  However, studies from East Africa [3], which my Doctoral Research is grounded in, suggests that climatic effects in this part of the world, will cause an intensification in rainfall, which benefits groundwater recharge.  As research in the domain increases, so does the realisation that our understanding of groundwater resources remain limited.
Groundwater stores will become increasingly important in the future, as they possess a slower response-time to climatic shifts than that of surface water.  These resources, therefore, should be considered a key adaptation strategy to a shifting climate.  However, a history of legislative neglect of the resources, means that notions and understanding of sustainable management and utilisation of groundwater stores remain in their infancy.  Thus, it remains to be seen what the water the resources community has in store for the future.

[1] Rignot et al. (2011), Geophys. Res. Lett., vol. 38, L05503

[2] Nicholls and Casenave (2010), Science, vol. 328, 151 7-1520.

[3] Taylor et al. (2012) Nature Climate Change, Vol. 2, doi: 10.1038/nclimate1731

Climate + Water: Living with Flooding

By Sofie L J Pelsmakers, on 5 March 2014

Blog by Sofie Pelsmakers, PhD student at UCL-Energy
Join the conversation and follow Sofie on Twitter

In England, as many as 5.2 million dwellings may be at risk of some kind of flooding; that is 1 in 6 dwellings (Vardoulakis, 2012).

The UK is particularly vulnerable to flooding: as an island it is surrounded by a large body of water and is vulnerable to rising sea-levels and exposed to extreme weather and rainfall events.

In the UK, flooding can be from (see diagram below):

  1. Sea and rivers at high tide (tidal flooding)
  2. Rivers swollen from excessive rainfall or ice melting (fluvial flooding)
  3. Rainwater or snow melting (pluvial flooding) causing localised ‘flash-floods’
  4. Sewer flooding
  5. Other causes such as failing infrastructure or rising ground water.

Fig 1







Fig.1  Different causes of flooding and flood risk zones – copyright (Pelsmakers, 2012)

Flood risk is expressed as the likelihood that a flood will occur in a given year. There are four flood zones, ranging from zone 1, the lowest risk, to zone 3b, the highest, as indicated in the diagram above (Fig. 1). Zone 1 is at risk of flood less than once every 1000 years and all development is suitable, while in zone 3a, no ground floor dwellings should be built; and flood zone 3b, which has a flood risk of more than once every 20 years,  is effectively a floodplain, so building here should be avoided as this land is used and needed for the storage of excess water when floods do occur, simply to avoid flooding elsewhere.

The factors contributing to increased flood risk are:

  • pressure to build on new land, which decreases surfaces where water can be absorbed by the soil, but instead runs-off from hard surfaces to streets and sewers, which in the event of extreme rainfall may become overwhelmed, creating flash floods locally or contributing to already swollen rivers
  • increased run-off from hard surfaces as described above
  • increased intense rainfall events due to climate change, particularly on already saturated soils (usually in winter) and also after periods of extensive drought (rainfall runs over the dry soil as it cannot absorb the rainfall quickly enough)
  • Rising sea-levels caused by a warming world, which means an increased risk of coastal defenses being breached during storm surges

Impact of recent floods

This winter (2013/14) – while not over yet – is already one of the most exceptionally wet in the past 248 years (METOFFICE/CEH, Feb 2014) while in the summer of 2007, more than three times as much rain as normal caused exceptional summer flooding of 55,000 properties and significant damage to infrastructure (Vardoulakis, 2012). Unlike the 2007 summer, during this winter the majority of flooded properties have been those located in floodplains, which exist to act as water storage; and properties in less-dense rural areas .

While fewer people and properties have been affected than in 2007, flooding is not only disruptive at an operational level, causing damage and problems to property and infrastructure (water and electricity supply damage and failure), but has significant financial implications and leads to economic losses. The economic cost of infrastructure damage alone in the 2007 floods was estimated at £3.2 billion (Vardoulakis, 2012), while £130 million has already been allocated for emergency repairs and helping those affected during this winter’s floods (CCC, 2014b).

And of course it also affects – directly and indirectly – public health: while infectious disease from flooding in the UK is limited, health risks from flooding include hypothermia, accidents and injury, significant stress and mental health impacts from the exposure to dirty, sewage and debris contaminated water and loss of property and having no access to clean water, electricity and heating (Vardoulakis, 2012). Water as shallow as 15cm deep can be threatening to those at risk, particularly the elderly or young, and in some cases even leads to disease and death, with morality rates highest in flash floods (Vardoulakis, 2012).

In addition, risk of fungal growth after floods may be increased. Fungal growth affects occupant health (H. Altamirano-Medina, 2009) but this risk reduces with faster drying of a building after flooding (Taylor et al., 2012). Taylor et al. (2012) modelled flooding of properties and reported that drying out times of constructions was accelerated when properties were heated and naturally ventilated (i.e. with windows open). Evenso, drying out still takes ~ 1-3 months for solid wall constructions and much longer where the wall is of newer cavity construction (which is much of post-1930 construction in the UK) and where they are insulated with mineral wool (Taylor et al., 2012).

Heating a building with windows open is likely to be expensive and of course will have a significant environmental impact from the high space-heat demand required for the drying out of the structure. In addition, it is unknown how long properties with cavity walls and floor voids from suspended floor constructions and present in much of the UK’s pre-1919 building stock, take to dry out after flood events. Such constructions may be wet for much longer, even if the surfaces may appear dry. Yet fungal spores can be transferred from such voids and cavities to internal spaces (Airaksinen et al., 2004).

Flooding and a changing climate

There is no definitive answer whether these exceptional rainfall events were caused by climate change, due to the variable nature of the UK weather and climate, (METOFFICE/CEH, Feb 2014) but recent events provide a glimpse of what the future holds (CCC, 2014a, Vardoulakis, 2012).

This is because there is consensus that future predicted changes in climate are likely to increase the risk of flooding(CCC, 2014a, IPCC, 2013, Vardoulakis, 2012, ABI, 2009), as global warming will:

  • continue to alter the intensity, duration and distribution of rainfall, resulting in more urban and flashflooding;
  • increase extreme coastal high water levels in the future as a result from rising sea-levels.

Particularly at risk of exceptional floods are South Wales, Northwest Scotland, East Anglia, the Thames Estuary, Yorkshire and Humberside regions (Vardoulakis, 2012).

Yet there has been a reduction in staffing and investment in The UK’s flood-risk management (CCC, 2014b) in addition to an increase in building on flood risk areas in England: 12,000 to 16,000 new houses every year in England are built in flood-risk zones, though they may have been built more resilient to flooding (Vardoulakis, 2012).

Furthermore, this increased risk is acknowledged by the insurance industry and while risks are increasing, flood-defence cutbacks threaten to make home insurance unaffordable for many (ABI, 2009, ABI, 2010, Vardoulakis, 2012). For example, it is usually impossible to insure dwellings located in Flood risk zone 3.

“[…] planning for those climate-related changes and, where possible, adapting to their likely effects, is critical.” (Vardoulakis, 2012) So how can we prepare? Historically we have been defending our urban areas from water, but will this still work? After all, defending one area and increasing and/or improving flood barriers and defences may simply move the problem elsewhere, such as lower down in the valley or along the river. We probably need to start thinking about our land differently: can we work with water rather than against it? How do we reduce people living in flood risk areas  rather than increase this as more land may become at risk of flooding? And how do we protect people and property already present in flood-prone areas?

Living with Water

As a result of present and increased risk, we need to ‘flood-proof’ our buildings, villages and cities. The good news is that while the predicted conditions will be new to the UK, they are already a fact of life for much of the world and building precedents in the Netherlands, which has more than 50% of its landmass below sea-level, could teach us how to adapt our cities and how to work with water, rather than against it.

We need to do this with a combination of improving water storage at a macro-scale and managing water run-off at higher land before it flows into rivers and valleys and into our urban areas. Additionally, we need to:

  1. undertake flood risk assessments and build less, not more, in areas at risk of flooding from sea and rivers. This means not building in flood risk Zone 3; and instead managing this land to store water more naturally.
  2. allow a minimum of 5% space on urban land for water storage and the provision of efficient water flow channels
  3. Increase green spaces, permeable surfaces and urban reservoirs to collect rainwater. This can reduce localised flash flood risk and can provide recreational areas and support local wildlife.
  4. design flood resilient buildings: adapt existing building and build new buildings differently to protect and minimise damage to property (and life) and to allow easier repair and drying out in the event of floods. For example we can build new properties on stilts, or floating buildings as they do in the Netherlands.  In the UK we tend to built ‘sacrificial ground floors’ with dwellings above a ground floor car park, which can store water in the event of floods without damage to the properties at high level. Additionally, most existing structures can be ‘wet-proofed’, which means they are designed with possible future flooding in mind and result in only minimal damage to the property should this happen. This can be achieved through the use of water-resistant materials for floors, walls and fixtures, and the siting of electrical controls, cables and appliances above 1 meter from the ground. Fig.2. illustrates some of these options.

Fig 2


Figure 2. Flood mitigation: building typologies that work with water. Copyright (Pelsmakers, 2012).

Whatever the future holds, we cannot afford to be complacent – especially as the measures above, and many more, can and should be easily incorporated into current design, policy and planning procedures.

Neglecting to future-proof our buildings will only result in a country ill-adapted to the future needs of our society within a changing local and global environment. Buildings will fail to function effectively under extreme weather conditions leading to increased, wasteful energy use, and exacerbating the effects of global warming. At worst, the inability of our built environment to cater to the demands of its inhabitants might simply result in a stock of obsolete, unhealthy buildings unfit for purpose, while also increasing the necessity for costly and carbon-intensive interventions in years to come.

To safeguard our built-environment from extensive damage we need to start designing for these changes right now. With sufficient foresight and planning, we can provide buildings which support climate change mitigation efforts and, when needed in the future, also support the on-going climate change adaptation of our cities for years to come.


The above is based on The Environmental Design Pocketbook (2012), Pelsmakers, S., Riba Publishing and Pelsmakers, S. 2013. Future-proofing London. In: Bell, S and Paskins, J. (eds.) Imagining the Future City: London 2062. Pp. 73-83. London: Ubiquity Press, which can be downloaded for free from DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/bag.k


ABI. 2009. Rising global temperatures will put the heat on insurance as flood costs rise [Online]. Available: https://http://www.abi.org.uk/News/News-releases/2009/11/Rising-global-temperatures-will-put-the-heat-on-insurance-as-flood-costs-rise–new-research-from-the-ABI [Accessed Feb 27th 2014].

ABI. 2010. Climate Adaptation – Guidance on Insurance Issues

for New Developments

 [Online]. Available: https://http://www.abi.org.uk/~/media/Files/Documents/Publications/Public/Migrated/Flooding/Climate adaption guidance on insurance issues for new developments.ashx [Accessed Feb 27th 2014].

AIRAKSINEN, M., PASANEN, P., KURNITSKI, J. & SEPPANEN, O. 2004. Microbial contamination of indoor air due to leakages from crawl space: a field study. Indoor Air, 14, 55-64.

CCC. 2014a. Latest post: Climate change and the UK floods [Online]. CCC. Available: http://www.theccc.org.uk/ccc-blog/ [Accessed Feb 27th 2014].

CCC. 2014b. More money for flood defence (repairs) [Online]. CCC. Available: http://www.theccc.org.uk/blog/more-money-for-flood-defence-repairs/ [Accessed Feb 27th 2014].

H. ALTAMIRANO-MEDINA, M. D., I. RIDLEY, D. MUMOVIC AND T. ORESZCZYN 2009. Guidelines to Avoid Mould Growth in Buildings. ADVANCES IN BUILDING ENERGY RESEARCH 3, 221-236.

IPCC 2013. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis – WORKING GROUP I CONTRIBUTION TO THE



METOFFICE/CEH Feb 2014. The Recent Storms and Floods in the UK. Devon: METOFFICE.

PELSMAKERS, S. 2012. The Environmental Design Pocketbook, London, RIBA Publishing.

TAYLOR, J., BIDDULPH, P., DAVIES, M., RIDLEY, I., MAVROGIANNI, A., OIKONOMOU, E. & LAI, K. M. 2012. Using building simulation to model the drying of flooded building archetypes. Journal of Building Performance Simulation, 1-22.

VARDOULAKIS, S., HEAVISIDE, C. 2012. Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2012 – Current evidence, recommendations and research gaps. In: HPA (ed.). Didcot: HPA.



Understanding the impact of climate change mitigation on health

By ucftiha, on 5 March 2014

Blog by Ian Hamilton, Lecturer and Senior Research Associate in Energy Epidemiology, UCL-Energy

Is there a benefit to our health from undertaking actions to mitigate climate change?  The answer is complicated (as most things are), but generally speaking there are both potential benefits and risks to our health.

If we focus on buildings, where we now spend the majority of our lifetime in the UK, and in particular housing, there are a several mitigation actions that we might consider what the impact on our health could be.  These include actions to reduce the heat lost by insulting and draught proofing the building fabric and powering our lives with low-carbon fuels.

First, it is worth considering what a future of climate change could mean to health.  In 2009, a joint UCL-Lancet commission explored the potential impact that climate change could have on health including: changing patterns and spread of disease, habitat loss and animal extinction and impact on food production, changing rainfall and drought that risks access to safe and clean water, infrastructure failure and access to energy, and the increased risk of extreme events.  They noted that these events would lead to exacerbating inequality by increasing instability and competition for resources with most of the burden falling to the poor.  The commission concluded that climate change was the greatest threat to human health of the 21st century.(1)

The UK has a large burden of excess winter mortality and morbidity (upward of 25,000 excess winter deaths EWD each year)(2), which is greater than that of many comparable northern European countries with colder climates(3).  While a portion of winter excess is attributable to influenza and other seasonal infections, several studies have also suggested that a substantial part of the seasonal burden is still related to exposure to cold(4,5).  Evidence from the UK, New Zealand and elsewhere does suggest that housing energy performance may play an important role in determining that risk(6,7) (i.e. inefficient homes are also cold homes).  Though it should also be recognized that exposures to cold from excursions outdoors could play a role.

Improving our housing stock is a major part of the UK Government’s proposals of an ambitious strategy to reduce emissions from the building stock, which are part of its commitment to reduce UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050(8).  The Energy Efficiency Strategy(9) includes policies to reduce energy demand through improvements in building energy performance and aggressive decarbonisation of the energy supply system.  Under these plans, the Government has set out pathways that will see millions of energy efficiency retrofits installed in houses by 2050 at an estimated cost of £200bn(10).

By insulating our houses, there are benefits of being better able to maintain a comfortable temperature and save money by reducing the energy needed to heat.  It is recognised that following an efficiency retrofit, many households will take mixture of energy savings and improvements in indoor temperature(11).  Whilst this action may result in less than expected energy (and therefore CO2) savings, evidence suggests that those actions have resulted in improved thermal comfort(12), mental wellbeing(13), and reduced mould growth(14).  There may also be benefits from living in warm homes by reducing the risk to different diseases, including(15): cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma in children.

There is a risk, however, that if the air tightness of a home is reduced and there is not additional ventilation, the action will increase exposure to indoor pollutants(16). A recent study in the BMJ highlighted this risk to health from radon gases(17).  This preliminary work indicated that unless specific remediation is used, reducing the ventilation of dwellings will improve energy efficiency only at the expense of population wide adverse impact on indoor exposure to radon and risk of lung cancer.  There are, however, many possible unintended consequences of actions to improve energy efficiency(18).  To avoid these negative co-effects, more robust evidence, better policy formulation and actions to ensure effective implementation are needed alongside climate change mitigation.

A warmer climate may not even protect against cold related deaths.  Recent work by colleagues at UCL has suggested that a future warmer climate may not reduce excess winter deaths(19) (EWD) (i.e. the excess number of deaths during winter months compared to summer months).  By looking at past data from England and Wales, Staddon et al (2014) showed that cold days in winter was a strong driver of EWD up to the 1970’s and that improvements in housing, health care, have helped in reducing EWD.  They suggest though that future warming in climate is unlikely to hold much benefit for reducing this health risk and the risk may be greater from more extreme weather events.

Decarbonising the power supply sector also holds both risks and benefits for health.  The direct benefits centre on reducing exposure to air pollutants(20).  In the UK, the associated burden of air pollution from the power sector is estimated to account for 3,800 deaths per year, related to respiratory illness(20). In places where emissions from the power sector are not well controlled the potential impact is likely much higher.  The burden of disease in China related to air pollution is much higher than the European Union, with premature deaths from PM2.5 along at 7.4 times greater(21).  This year, particulate matter in Chinese cities across the northern part or the country has been exceeding the WHO guidance on safe levels.  The risks to health are more likely to be indirect; if decarbonising energy is also linked to excessive price rises, it could cause a situation of ‘heat or eat’.  When faced with sudden changes in the cost of heating fuel (which can be exacerbated by cold events), households have to make choices about what they spend their income on(22).  The effect is that households eat less and possible less nutritious foods, which will have knock on effects on health, particularly children(23).  It is essential that alongside plans to decarbonise the energy supply that policies are put in place that can mitigate the burden placed on vulnerable households, such as energy efficiency programmes.  Decarbonising the power sector can have major benefits to health by reducing outdoor levels of air pollution, which in turn will reduce both the outdoor and indoor exposure(21).

On balance, if properly implemented, actions to mitigate climate change in the UK through energy efficiency in housing and decarbonising the power supply can have benefits to health by reducing exposure to cold and reducing exposure to outdoor air pollutants(24).  It will also offer indirect health benefits by providing more resilience during extreme cold and heat events(25).

Further, while there may be health risks around the actions we need to take to mitigate climate change, the potential negative impacts of not taking action and facing the risks of an unknown future climate seem far greater.



1.        Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, Ball S, Bell S, Bellamy R, et al. Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet. 2009 May 16;373(9676):1693–733.

2.        Johnson H, Griffiths C. Estimating excess winter mortality in England and Wales. Heal Stat Q. 2003;20:19–24.

3.        Healy JD. Excess winter mortality in Europe: a cross country analysis identifying key risk factors. J Epidemiol Community Heal. 2003;57(10):784–9.

4.        Wilkinson P, Pattenden S, Armstrong B, Fletcher A, Kovats RS, Mangtani P, et al. Vulnerability to winter mortality in elderly people in Britain: population based study. BMJ. 2004 Sep 18;329(7467):647.

5.        Hajat S, Armstrong BG, Gouveia N, Wilkinson P. Mortality Displacement of Heat-Related Deaths: A Comparison of Delhi, São Paulo, and London. Epidemiology. 2005;16(5):613–20.

6.        Wilkinson P, Landon M, Armstrong B, Stevenson S, McKee M, Fletcher T. Cold comfort: the social and environmental determinants of excess winter death in England, 1986-1996. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. York, UK: Joseph Rowntree Foundation; 2001.

7.        Jackson G, Thornley S, Woolston J, Papa D, Bernacchi A, Moore T. Reduced acute hospitalisation with the healthy housing programme. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2011 Jul 1;65(7):588–93.

8.        HM Government. The Carbon Plan: Delivering our low carbon future. London, UK: DECC; 2011.

9.        DECC. The Energy Efficiency Strategy: The energy efficiency opportunity in the UK – Strategy and Annexes. London, UK: Department of Energy and Climate Change; 2012 Jun p. 109.

10.      BIS. Low Carbon Construction. London, UK: Department for Business Innovation and Skills; 2010.

11.      Oreszczyn T, Hong SH, Ridley I, Wilkinson P. Determinants of winter indoor temperatures in low income households in England. Energy Build. 2006 Mar;38(3):245–52.

12.      Hong SH, Gilbertson J, Oreszczyn T, Green G, Ridley I. A field study of thermal comfort in low-income dwellings in England before and after energy efficient refurbishment. Build Environ. 2009 Jun;44(6):1228–36.

13.      Critchley R, Gilbertson J, Grimsley M, Green G. Living in cold homes after heating improvements: Evidence from Warm-Front, England’s Home Energy Efficiency Scheme. Appl Energy. 2007 Feb;84(2):147–58.

14.      Oreszczyn T, Ridley I, Hong SH, Wilkinson P. Mould and winter indoor relative humidity in low income households in England. Indoor built Environ. 2006;15(2):125–35.

15.      Thomson H, Thomas S, Sellstrom E, Petticrew M. Housing improvements for health and associated socio-economic outcomes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan;2:CD008657.

16.      Bone a., Murray V, Myers I, Dengel a., Crump D. Will drivers for home energy efficiency harm occupant health? Perspect Public Health. 2010 May 28;130(5):233–8.

17.      Milner J, Shrubsole C, Das P, Jones B, Hamilton IG, Chalabi Z, et al. Unintended consequences of climate change mitigation for radon-related lung cancer. Proceedings of the 2013 Annual UK Review Meeting on Outdoor and Indoor Air Pollution Research, 23-24 April. Cranfield, UK: Institute of Environment and Health; 2013.

18.      Shrubsole C, Macmillan A, Davies M, May N. 100 unintended consequences of policies to improve the energy efficiency of the UK housing stock. Indoor Built Environ. 2014;In Press(Special Issue).

19.      Staddon PL, Montgomery HE, Depledge MH. Climate warming will not decrease winter mortality. Nat Clim Chang. Nature Publishing Group; 2014 Feb 23;advance on.

20.      Markandya A, Wilkinson P. Electricity generation and health. Lancet. 2007 Sep;370(9591):979–90.

21.      Markandya A, Armstrong BG, Hales S, Chiabai A, Criqui P, Mima S, et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: low-carbon electricity generation. Lancet. 2009;374(9706):2006–15.

22.      O’neill T, Jinks C, Squire A. “Heating Is More Important Than Food.”J Hous Elderly. Routledge; 2006 Dec 18;20(3):95–108.

23.      Bhattacharya J, DeLeire T, Haider S, Currie J. Heat or Eat? Cold-Weather Shocks and Nutrition in Poor American Families. Am J Public Health. American Public Health Association; 2003 Jul 10;93(7):1149–54.

24.      Wilkinson P, Smith KR, Davies M, Adair H, Armstrong BG, Barrett M, et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: household energy. Lancet. Elsevier; 2009;374(9705):1917–29.

25.      Wilkinson P, Smith KR, Beevers S, Tonne C, Oreszczyn T. Energy, energy efficiency, and the built environment. Lancet. Elsevier; 2007 Sep 29;370(9593):1175–87.


Developing countries and climate change

By ucqbdwk, on 4 March 2014

Blog by Dan Kerr, Research Associate at UCL-Energy

The lack of reliable modern energy access is seen by many as a key barrier in promoting the development of low-income developing countries, both in limiting economic activity for the current workforce, and through limits placed on education for the future workforce. Constraints on economic activity, particularly in rural areas of developing countries, placed by the lack of energy access have severely limited the development potential of whole communities. The reliance on traditional energy sources (predominantly biomass) in both urban and rural has led to significant burdens on the time and resources of families, particularly women and children.

The UCL Energy Institute is currently involved in two research projects that seek to tackle this situation. “Supporting African Municipalities in Sustainable Energy Transitions” (SAMSET) and “Sustainable Thermal Energy Service Partnerships” (STEPs) are both funded jointly through the EPSRC-DFID-DECC. Dr Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from the Institute will be working on the projects.

Urbanisation rates in Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, are the highest in the world, and efforts to achieve the energy-related dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals has often failed to have a significant impact on cities. SAMSET seeks to address this by creating a knowledge exchange framework, through which to support cities in sub-Saharan Africa with sustainable energy transitions. SAMSET covers the entire gamut of urban energy sectors, from buildings to transport to waste management to electricity/heat generation. Through close partnering with six cities in three African countries (Ghana, Uganda and South Africa), as well as with global partner institutions, the project aims to develop an information base from which to support cities, undertake direct support for cities around strategy development and priority initiatives, and facilitate knowledge exchange and capacity building.

The STEPs project focuses on rural areas of developing countries, and the challenge of thermal energy service delivery to these areas. It is estimated that without intervention, 2.6 billion people will still lack access to clean, safe thermal energy by 2030. The STEPs project aims to directly address this through the development of a new model for thermal energy service delivery, the Sustainable Thermal Energy Partnership. This model is to be constructed as a pro-poor public-private partnership (5P) model, focusing on fee-for-service financing methods for thermal energy service equipment, for example solar cookers or LPG stoves. The research will study applicable energy conversion and end-use application technologies, analyse institutional arrangements, and develop business and enterprise models which need to be implemented to promote thermal energy services in rural areas developing countries.

Both the SAMSET and STEPs projects have significant potential to contribute positively to poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation in developing countries. The STEPs project in particular has wide-ranging potential to meaningfully provide a new framework for energy services in rural areas. Removing the burden of traditional biomass collection from the rural residential sector frees up vast amounts of time for income-generating activities, improving local economies and enabling further development. The provision of clean, safe thermal energy reduces indoor air pollution, which is a major contributing factor to national health issues in a number of sub-Saharan African nations, and also greatly improves quality of life.

For SAMSET, the accelerating pace of urbanisation in developing countries has been accompanied by an accelerating pace of energy demand and consumption. Making fundamental changes at the ground level when designing and managing new and existing urban areas, towards the use of sustainable energy across all sectors of urban energy consumption, will have significant effects on greenhouse gas emissions, total final energy consumption, the urban heat island effect and much more. Particularly in countries such as Uganda, where urbanisation rates are still low but increasing rapidly, the SAMSET project hopes to make a meaningful contribution to future urban development practices.

In summary, the number of ways that improving sustainable energy uptake can affect economic circumstances and climate change in developing countries are myriad. From lights in the home at night and a clean-burning stove, to street lighting, sustainably-powered shops, energy service companies providing employment, public transport, urban planning and power generation, sustainable energy use can have vast effects on the welfare of developing countries across the vast majority of sectors. The UCL Energy Institute and its researchers involved in these projects hope to be able to live up this potential.


‘Climate, resilience and adaptation’

By ucftaww, on 4 March 2014

Blog by Victor Galaz; Associate Professor, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University)
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The previous Lancet Commission of 2009 made the point completely clear, still the message tends to get lost in the climate debate. Climate change is fundamentally a challenge for human health. The message is worth reiterating. Policy-makers, non-governmental actors, business and civil society are in desperate need of trustworthy assessments of innovative policies, institutions and proposals which could help us stay ahead of human health challenges posed by climate change.

Working group 2 of the Lancet Commission is entitled “Resilience and Adaptation Responses”, and consists of an international interdisciplinary group of prominent scholars working at the interface of health, global change, and resilience (see membership). Our ambition is to bring together and feature promising adaptation approaches; discuss their costs and scalability; and identify possible win-win trajectories. This is far from a simple task for several reasons.

First, climate adaptation often entails a combination of several types of interventions. That is, they often include changes in economic incentives, the placement of new technologies, modifications in natural systems such as ecosystems, institutional reforms, and new forms of decision-making and funding arrangements. In addition, these interventions differ considerably across sectors (e.g. agriculture vs. energy production), and the scale of interest (e.g. local, national and regional).

Second, while some of the human health impacts of climate change can be partly predictable, gradual and even reversible, other might emerge as surprises. That is, events that fundamentally differ from expectations and with the potential to trigger health crises – events that require prompt interventions despite large uncertainties and limited time to act. Hence adaptation policies and institutions not only need to match known threats, but also need to be robust to surprising changes created by human, environmental and technological uncertainty.

Third, there are likely to be limits to adaptation. Bluntly put: how far we push Earth’s climate and ecosystems before the human health repercussions are of such scale, speed and intensity that human societies will systematically fail to adapt? And if that is the case, when are policies, which support transformation, rather than adaptation, needed?

These are three major issues that this working group will try to address. There are no easy answers, nor magic “silver bullet” solutions. But as we intend to elaborate, innovative policies, institutions and proposals on possible means to adapt to future human health challenges do exist. And some of these are possibly scalable, effective and entail a potential to create multiple “win-wins” afar from improving human health. Our hope is that our work will contribute to a much-needed focus on health solutions, and not just health problems created by climate change.

Commissioners of WG2 of the Lancet Commission 

  • Prof. Yin Yongyuan, Tsinghua University (China), co-lead
  • Ass. Prof. Victor Galaz, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Sweden), co-lead
  • Prof Geogina Mace, UCL and Royal Society (UK)
  • Professor Bing Xu, School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Tsinghua University
  • Dr. Li Moxuan, Center for Earth System Science, Tsinghua University
  • Dr. Koko Warner, United Nations University
  • Prof. Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Sweden)
  • Prof. Delia Grace, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya
  • Dr. Sukaina Bharwani, Stockholm Environment Institute-Oxford and weAdapt

How Community Architecture may help Decarbonisation

By Harsha P T Kansara, on 4 March 2014

Blog by Tia Kansara, UCL-Energy PhD student

Decarbonised local communities

Can people be the solution to the decarbonisation challenge in UK communities? With present reduction targets of CO2 emissions, it is only a matter of time before there is a clear and defined role for residents to play in the bigger picture of low-carbon living.  Through intelligent, integrated strategies, community architecture methods of active learning and skill-deployment may provide a process for decarbonisation.

Sustainable communities living within a cradle-to-cradle environment, promoting transition town-mentality and growing local resources may have more to teach us. As with community architecture, could there be a resource architect in your local neighbourhood who could pool the resources?
People are the power: The community architecture way

Over many years of slum experience, Kansara Hackney Ltd. have highlighted, internationally, the long-term energy saving potential of tapping human resources within slums and communities. Rod Hackney (co-director) completed schemes, and those where others have followed, have had an impact on politicians, to such an extent that the mass demolition movement has been replaced with an openness to harness the latent energy of slum dwellers.

Poverty Reduction

The community architecture methodology has benefited sustainable urban development and influenced many countries around the world. In 1971, 37% of the world’s population of 3.7 billion lived in urban areas. In 2003 UN Habitat reported a sixth of humanity lived in urban slums. In 2013, of the world’s 7.1 billion human beings, 862.5 million live in urban slums. This figure would have been 200 million higher without the UN Habitat’s highlighting slum improvement methodologies and the vital latent human energy that is waiting to be encouraged within the World’s slums. The community architecture methods have shown, since 1971 that there is an alternative to the bulldozers. Further, after winning the trust of officials, banks and the wider community around the slum can help deliver sustainable and long-term solutions to resident’s former housing problems. These schemes are recognised as pioneering examples of how ordinary people can thrive if encouraged to do so.

If sustained, the community architecture approach augurs well for world peace and stability, and UN Habitat’s mission of reducing the anticipated 1.4 billion estimated slum dwellers by 2020. Something can be done to reduce this figure. Slum dwellers should be encouraged to accelerate their interest in, and adopt wholesale the community architecture approach. It can be applied to each and every slum in the world.

Social Inclusion and Reskilling

The growing international prevalence of slum communities and the huge human potential they offer the sustainability debate, is perhaps the 21st Century’s greatest challenge. In slums, no rubbish or sunlight is wasted. Bio fuel from human waste, self-help solar collectors, re-cycling of scrap materials (leather, tin, electrics, plastic), regular maintenance of buildings, all work towards healthy and profitable entrepreneurial environmentalism contributing a major part in the green revolution of saving the planet.

Cities in the Global South: A healthy climate for development?

By ucftsi6, on 4 March 2014

Blog by Mitakshi Sirsi, MSc Environmental Design and Engineering at the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies

Urbanization has spread rapidly in the past decades and Humanity has chosen it as the path it intends to take in the coming future. Cities are undoubtedly going to be a defining factor in the way we progress into a new era. Hopefully,  In a utopian world – aan era of climate-change mitigation and adaptation and clean energy.; A more sensitive, equitable, rational and well, nicer era!

The first impression one might have when considering cities, developing countries and climate change is, “it’s complicated!” It might just be! I had a similar reaction when I asked myself that very question as a rookie architect trying to build “green buildings” in a developing country. I hardly imagined that the question would throw up so many aspects to explore, so much hope and so much despair all at the same time; because the climate-change story is not just a story of numbers and statistics or problems and solutions – it is a story of people and the planet, of humanity, and that is probably the most complicated bit of it all.

Through this short article I hope to outline some of the major ideas I have come across with respect to climate change, cities and the promising, developing, global south to give the reader a brief glimpse into the current complex situation the way I see it.

Why do we need to talk about cities in the developing world?

Urban areas currently host more than half the world’s population,population; cities allegedly use up 67% of the world’s resources, produce 75% of the world’s carbon emissions but only take up about 3% of the world’s land mass. The UN estimates that people living in cities will go up from 3.2 billion to about 5 billion by 2030 and up to 7 billion in 2050. This roughly translates to about 7 out of every 10 people on the planet living in an urban area by 2050. Currently, most of this growth is in the developing world (so around 5 of these 7 people are going to be in a developing country), three-fourths 3/4th of the largest cities in the world are now in the global south and the between 2000-10 the developing world accounted for more than 90% of the growth in cities in the past two decades!

Data varies , so does its interpretation, but whatever these varying numbers are, they indicate a clear trend-shift which requires a good bit of attention. It is important to understand that some of the challenges that these cities and countries face are likely to be very different from the post-industrial revolution cities. Needless to say, developed countries currently face their own set of problems; there may be a lot to learn from their experience and by not repeating past mistakes.

Adverse impacts of climate change are already being recorded in different parts of the world – in the past decade, floods and sea level rise have affected up to 40% landmass of cities like Dhaka, these extreme events not only have direct immediate impacts like loss of life, and property, livelihoods but also indirect, long- term impacts requiring us to focus on making cities more resilient to uncertainties like loss of fertile land and impact on food security.

Climate-change may be taking over the conversation space on your lunch break, but isn’t it scary to imagine that it is taking over homes, agricultural lands and lives in some other parts of the world? (In the past few months, it has been doing that just a few kilometres south of London too!)

What does our future look like?

We don’t really know.

Not that I’m speaking from any personal experience of crystal gazing, but ‘uncertain’ is the term everyone is using. What climate scientists say they know for sure is that global mean temperatures will increase, more ice will melt, sea levels will rise, oceans will acidify more and that reaching a 2 degree C shift may push us to a tipping point – but what that means in exact terms is variable.  and may be different across the planet. Developing countries will face more water stress, rain-fed agriculture will suffer, floods and droughts might increase, and monsoons might fail or get more intense. The IPCC (2007) notes that “Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.”

However, even these extreme predictions have been criticised by many as conservative. Al while some argue that an alarmist view might accelerate necessary measures to mitigate. Societies and ecosystems are likely to be impacted in different ways depending on where you are on the planet. though iImpact on societies and ecosystems may be different depending on your location, developing countries may face more water stress, rain-fed agriculture will suffer, floods and droughts might increase, and monsoons might fail or get more intense. GgGlobally. It means an it means an increase in the likelihood of impacts on food security and health, possible conflict, more migration from stressed areas, intensification if the energy crisis and more extreme weather events.

The general consensus is that (poor) people in cities of poor countries will face the brunt of anthropogenic emissions related climate- change  (incidentally, developed countries are largely responsible for GHG emissions till nowhistorical data proves that these emissions are by the developed countries), and the global inequity related to energy use and energy poverty gets highlighted in this context. Some of these complicated and difficult issues are what global alliances and meets like the COP 19 and previous UNFCCC protocols are currently trying to address.

What are the core issues developing cities face?

Environment related challenges: Rapid growth increases stress on the physical structures of our cities – polluted air and water, degradation of ecosystems, overcrowding leading to health problems and such. It also puts more stress on surrounding natural systems as cities become more resource intensive when they grow. Current urban economic systems tend to be unsustainable and in the race for quick economic development, holistic sustainability goals get left behind. Some of these are evident in recent air quality reports in megacities like Delhi “Children in Delhi have lungs of chain-smokers!”

Economic and Social inequity, Governance and management: Urbanization has always brought with it a range of possibilities – cities are thriving, resilient places with ample opportunity, jobs, education, education for women, social upliftment and escape from degraded agricultural land and rural unemployment. They have been centres of migration for these very reasons but these opportunities and upliftment also brings with it them poverty, hunger and disease. Large populations in developing megacities live and work informally, about 40% of the population of cities like Bangkok and Manila live in slums. These places may be centres of economic and social activities despite the poverty, but basic infrastructure suffers, leaving them more vulnerable to extreme events. Governance and planning also play a very important role.Governance is difficult and civil systems in developing countries are not yet equipped to manage these issues.

Energy, Emissions, buildings and urban climate issues: Cities require lots of energy in different forms. Most cities still use fossil based energy and this can increase emissions greatly,. it also highlights direct impacts on energy security. The building sector is linked mainly to energy use, carbon emissions and waste, (global: 40% of energy consumption, 12% fresh water & 40% waste volume) and these numbers sometimes make us forget that buildings essentially support city activities, they are the metaphorical “core organs” of cities and are fundamental to the functioning of any city. Housing deficits, construction technology knowledge, infrastructure and “prosperity” are all a part of this equation.

The IEA estimates that Asia’s share of global energy consumption is expected to increase three times by 2030. These increases may be largely attributed to cities, and a big large chunk of that to buildings. Urban climate issues like overheating (due to the heat Island effect) can have adverse impacts on energy use,use; especially in the tropics where cooling needs are already high (anthropogenic heat added to this equation in buildings just makes it worse). Density in cities may not allow the full use of renewables and reliance on fossil fuels may be inevitable.

Water and Waste: Access to clean water, sanitation facilities and sustainable physical infrastructure for these systems is one of the biggest challenges cities face. The already overloaded and sometimes crude existing systems are not equipped to serve such rapid growth and may often fail, resulting in health outbursts and other social and economic problems.

Who is dealing with the problems and how?

Despite all these problems cities are growing and are very important and thriving economic, cultural and social centres. With climate-change and energy security bagging important places in the list of current global challenges, many steps are being taken to manage these complicated issues. Agencies such as The World Bank, ADB ACCCRN and UN have several programs that address these problemsissues, research bodies and universities (like our very own UCL!) are creating knowledge in the field and industry pioneers are testing solutions. Although investment in climate proofing and resilience building is currently low, the sector is growing, partly for the sake of the environment and largely because it is starting to make economic sense. Policy is changing too, local groups are starting to address problems from grassroots and governments through top-down approaches. This is especially important because both problems and solutions are contextual, but also need to be brought together as a whole.

Having said this, the situation is far from ideal. As a community of people addressing this large scale global challenge, we seem stuck between a future we cannot predict and a past we seem to keep ignoring while we jump from managing one crisis to the next, reacting and not necessarily pro-acting.  Knowledge in the field is vast and we come up with new, innovative ideas often. Experts and groups from multidisciplinary backgrounds are not coming together to look for more answers.  So iIt seems that the time has come for us to put more effort into applying this knowledge to the real issues through more policy, governance and management. Do we have an answer? Are we doing what we can? I don’t know. But then again, I don’t, but mmaybe it is not just about doing what we can, but about soldiering on and doing what we must.

Notes and Further reading:

The terms Global South and developing countries and developing world have been used interchangeably; population and other data are from UN and WHO sources.

This article is a short collection of what I have learnt in my exploration of this complex topic, I would be very happy to learn more, please email me at mitakshi.sirsi.13@ucl.ac.uk with any comments or observations you may have. Conversation is always welcome!
•    A Guide to Climate Change Adaptation in Cities: Web toolkit, World Bank http://www-esd.worldbank.org/citiesccadaptation/index.html
•    Climate Change Resilience, Rockefeller Foundation http://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/our-work/current-work/climate-change-resilience/asian-cities-climate-change-resilience
•    “Children in Delhi have lungs of chain-smokers!” http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/pollution-in-delhi-cng-children-in-delhi/1/344904.html
•    UCL and Future Proofing Cities http://www.futureproofingcities.com/
•    Some interesting scenarios people have come up with – Future Timelines – http://www.futuretimeline.net/21stcentury/2050-2059.htm

Climate change, extreme events and human health

By ucbtgma, on 3 March 2014

Blog by Professor Georgina Mace, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER)

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The past few months have highlighted the impacts that extreme events can have on people’s lives and livelihoods. Ranging from floods in England, storms in Wales, hurricane Haiyan’s devastating effects in the Philippines to extreme heat in Australia, we have seen striking examples of cases where large numbers of people are exposed to natural hazards with which they are poorly equipped to deal. Whether or not these events can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change, they highlight a few points about how vulnerable people are to natural events when those events occur on a scale and at a level of intensity that current systems cannot cope with. It is striking to observe how when infrastructure such as roads and electricity fail, people everywhere suffer a great deal, and the very young, the weak, the elderly and the chronically ill, suffer more than the rest.

The work for the Lancet Commission report, CLIMATE CRISIS: EMERGENCY ACTIONS TO PROTECT HUMAN HEALTH’ will focus on the potential health impacts of climate change on people. These may have often been eclipsed in many discussions by current concerns about economic growth and failing infrastructures. But health and wellbeing is our primary concern. We will review and highlight some immediate costs to people’s wellbeing that will be a consequence of climate change. We are concerned with people’s mental and physical health, their quality of life, and sense of place and security.

My own interest in this area has come about from studying the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and wild species. As for people, the same amount of climate change has very different outcomes for different ecosystems and species, and is generally related to their history (what they have experienced in the past), their biology (their life history and habits) and their geography. Certain kinds of species which have very low tolerances for environmental variability, poor dispersal capability or adaptive potential will be much more vulnerable to even modest changes to climate variables than those that are less sensitive and more resilient. We have mapped out areas of the world where the most vulnerable species are expected to be exposed to the most extreme changes (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0065427). I think this work has relevance to people in a couple of different ways. First, it is likely that the areas where there are sensitive ecosystems and species will also be areas where people may be most at risk because the world’s ecosystems are central to supporting people’s basic needs for a good life; for example, food, freshwater, protection from hazards and diseases. Secondly, a recent history of coping with extreme events prepares both ecosystems and people better, and geography is an important determinant of both environmental extremes and basic resources.

Considering extreme events and their impacts on people, it is very difficult to develop resilience to events when they occur at low frequency and when there is little personal experience or community history of dealing with them. By definition, extreme events are rare; perhaps one in a hundred years or more is what is expected on average. But given the local variability of weather and storm patterns, and the fact that we measure many different events, something unusual will be happening somewhere most of the time. In addition to that, recent increases in population numbers, in wealth and mobility means that people are moving to new areas more often, and they often choose to live near water or on coasts and near the sea. These are areas most exposed to many extreme events and are already home to most of the world’s people. Space is limited and so increasingly people are building homes and living in more vulnerable areas such as river flood plains and coastal zones. Recent increases in the impacts of extreme events are mostly attributable to an increased exposure of people to hazards such as earthquakes, floods and storms, rather than to an increased frequency of such events. So, in thinking about climate change and the impacts on people it is important to separate the intensity and frequency of the events themselves from the impacts that they may have on people.

Recent storm and flooding events have mostly been abrupt and violent. Such events are predicted to increase in frequency under climate change, so whatever the cause, they can show us clearly the kinds of problems that future generations will have to face. But of course, not all such events are so dramatic; there are also slow onset events that will ultimately be devastating for some people too, for example sea level rise causing coastal flooding and inundation, oceans acidulation affecting marine systems, heavier precipitation due to the greater amounts of water held by a warmer atmosphere and severe heat and periods of drought affecting food and water supplies.  All of these will have direct and indirect impacts on people’s lives and affect health and wellbeing in many ways.

Understanding how the climate will change, and how this will influence the frequency and severity of slow onset and extreme events is very important. We need this information to plan and prepare for what may come. But on its own this information is not enough. We also need to look at where the risks are greatest because there are large numbers people who will be exposed to the hazards, and maybe where these populations include people who are especially at risk.

Among the people exposed to extreme events, some are much more vulnerable than others. In the UK we might be concerned especially for the elderly and people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans it became clear that for some people affected by the event, their social and financial wealth made it easier for them to pick up a new life elsewhere; not often an option for the poor. The same comparisons are useful globally. We can ask where the most vulnerable people are, and which of these are most likely to face climate change related hazards that they will have difficulty dealing with. This was an approach taken in a recent report from the ODI, UK Met Office and Risk Management Solutions which examined the relationship between disasters and poverty, and concluded that:

– extreme weather linked to climate change is increasing and will likely cause more disasters.

– such disasters, especially those linked to drought, can be the most important cause of impoverishment, cancelling progress on poverty reduction.

– Up to 325 million extremely poor people will be living in the 49 most hazard-prone countries in 2030, the majority in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The ODI report highlights overlaps in geographical areas where poverty, climate-change related hazards and weak governance are likely to overlap, and hence areas of highest priority to consider to alleviate future suffering.

G Mace Blog









We are developing this approach for the Lancet report to consider the evidence that climate change will increase extreme events, what and where these may be, who they will affect most severely, and what the options are that people will have to avoid the worst impacts.

The work being undertaken here will also link to a report on Resilience to climate change related extreme event being prepared as a science-policy output from the Royal Society

The impact of human-driven climate change on human health

By zcfag57, on 3 March 2014

Blog by Phoebe Lewis, UCL-Energy MSc student
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Climate Change and Human Health 1





Weather-related events, including heat waves, storms and floods, killed more than 70,000 people in 2010.  These events and their impact are projected to increase in frequency and intensity as human-driven climate change makes its presence more obvious.  Among other repercussions, this will have major implications for human health and, in a number of cases, raise mortality rates.

Heat waves 1





Heat waves

The rising global surface temperatures associated with climate change make weather patterns less predictable.  This leads to an increased frequency of extreme weather conditions: both heat waves and freezes are seen more often.  While freezes do cause deaths in communities that are not accustomed to such low temperatures, mortality rates are higher in heat waves.  In fact, the heat wave in 2003 that saw high temperatures and aridity in many parts of the world led to around 35,000 deaths in Europe.

While these temperatures were indeed high, the main problem was not that they were outside the range in which humans can theoretically survive.  The problem was that the temperatures were outside the range expected. This trigger temperature varies between regions.  For instance, heat related deaths occur when the temperature exceeds 22.3°C in London while 25.7°C is the threshold in Athens.  Europeans were simply unprepared for such abnormal weather.  They therefore did not have the appropriate housing and ventilation to be able to accommodate such high temperature.

Air pollution 1






Air pollution

Such heat waves can in turn lead to increased problems of air pollution.  In rural areas, the aridity that accompanies these high temperatures can lead to forest fires.  The carbon released from these is not only damaging to human respiratory health, but can destroy the agriculture that locals depend on as well as causing deaths.  In urban areas, these higher temperatures can lead to the formation of volatile organic compounds and ozone, which are highly damaging to human respiratory systems.

Flooding 1





Storms and flooding

On the other end of the weather event spectrum, storms and floods will also increase in frequency.  Excesses of water can lead to cross-contamination and therefore the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.  Cholera is particularly related to wet weather.  Standing water creates breeding grounds for disease-carrying organisms including mosquitoes that will spread malaria and yellow fever.   Finally, sediment moved with the floodwater may carry soil-borne diseases with it, like anthrax.  Sediment can also transport toxic contaminants such as organic chemicals and heavy metals, which can be poisonous.  Southeast Asia will be hit particularly badly by these repercussions of climate change.  The number of cases in the region of malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition is expected to rise by 220 million people.  Africa follows closely behind with an increase of 190 million cases.

Malnutrition 1






Malnutrition will be exacerbated by the droughts and disasters associated with the weather variability that characterises human-driven climate change.  The unpredictability of rainfall will undermine the agriculture that we all, and especially the poorest of our global community, depend on for sustenance.  Furthermore, food production, accessibility and affordability are increasingly compromised as oil prices, meat consumption and biofuel demand all rise.  The rising price of the oil that is used to produce and transport food supplies is leading to higher food prices.  As our economies develop and more people seek a Western-based diet of meat consumption, the demand for grains rises and increases competition for this resource and its price.  For instance, cows need eight kilograms of grain for every kilo of meat that they produce.  Finally, and most controversially, is the surge in the popularity of biofuels as a mechanism for slowing climate change.  Biofuel use has, however, increased food prices by 35%.  Malnutrition significantly reduces a person’s ability to recover from infectious diseases and respond positively to medical treatments, including that for HIV/AIDS. Increased malnutrition as a result of human-driven climate change will therefore have indirect impacts on health as well.

What do we do now? 1





What do we need to do now?

The key is of course to address human driven climate change and not focus on treating it impacts alone.  How to mitigate and adapt to this climate change is a complex process.  However, it certainly requires governments to override their individualistic approaches and instead work towards accountable global strategies.  Nevertheless, specific to health alone, governments and organisations need to build networks that deploy medical care to both prevent and treat the impacts of climate change on human health.


Dow, K. and T. Downing (2011) The Atlas of Climate Change – mapping the world’s greatest challenge (3rd ed.), Brighton: Earthscan.

Maslin, M. (2009) A Very Short Introduction to Global Warming, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Photograph Credits