United Kingdom 'dangerously unprepared' to keep people cool as global temperatures rise

Hot weather is expected to hit the East of England over the next few days.
Sunlight shines through leaves. Credit: ITV News

Researchers in Oxford have warned the United Kingdom is 'dangerously unprepared' to keep people cool if global temperatures rise above 1.5°C.

Switzerland, UK and Norway will see the world’s most dramatic relative increase in days that require 'cooling interventions' researchers at the University of Oxford found.

Cooling interventions, such as window shutters, ventilation or air conditioning, are already used in warmer climates.

The research shows that the UK and Switzerland could see a 30% increase in days with 'uncomfortably hot' temperatures.

This does not include extreme events, such as heatwaves, which would come on top of this average increase.

It comes as the UK has experienced a heatwave. Credit: AP

Both countries would face the greatest change out of any around the world and have buildings that act like greenhouses that are built for cooler climates.

The researchers believe these countries are dangerously underprepared for this change. “Right now, for example, sustainable cooling barely has a mention in the UK’s net zero strategy,” says co-author Dr Radhika Khosla, leader of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Cooling.

Dr Khosla continues: “Without adequate interventions to promote sustainable cooling we are likely to see a sharp increase in the use of energy guzzling systems like air conditioning, which could further increase emissions and lock us into a vicious cycle of burning fossil fuels to make us feel cooler while making the world outside hotter.”

Finland, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Belgium also make it in to the top 10 and will all face at least a 20% increase in the number of hot days they experience.

Co-lead author Dr Nicole Miranda said: “Northern European countries will require large-scale adaptation to heat resilience quicker than other countries.

"The UK saw massive amounts of disruption in the record-breaking heatwaves of 2022. Extreme heat can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and even death, especially in vulnerable populations. It’s a health and economic imperative that we prepare for more hot days.”

Co-lead author Dr Jesus Lizana explains, “If we adapt the built environment in which we live, we won’t need to increase air conditioning. But right now, in countries like the UK, our buildings act like greenhouses - no external protection from the sun in buildings, windows locked, no natural ventilation and no ceiling fans. Our buildings are exclusively prepared for the cold seasons.”

The top ten countries that will experience the highest needs for cooling overall in a 2.0ºC scenario are all in Africa, with central Africa most affected.

For their analysis, the authors used the concept of “cooling degree days,” a method widely employed in research and weather forecasting to ascertain whether cooling would be needed on a particular day to keep populations comfortable.

They modelled the world in 60km grids every six hours to produce the temperature averages in the study, a process that makes the results some of the most reliable globally.

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