Heatwaves: adapting to climate change Contents

2Responsibility for heatwave preparation

Departmental responsibility for adaptation

27.The Climate Change Act 2008 is the basis for the UK’s approach to tackling and responding to climate change. Under the Act, the UK Government must produce a Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every five years. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published the first CCRA in 2012 and the second was published in January 2017. DEFRA is responsible for adaptation policy within Government, as outlined by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, Lord Gardiner of Kimble:

… my Department has responsibility for adaptation and, therefore, although we have ownership of certain policy responsibilities, our task is to co-ordinate and act as the host and co-ordinator across the piece. That means the production of the actual risk assessment, working with the Met Office on climate projections, the national adaptation programme, all of this and the co-ordination of reporting by infrastructure providers. Our task in DEFRA is to act as the conduit, in close collaboration with other Departments.44

28.DEFRA’s production of the most recent CCRA was supported by an Evidence Report written by The Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change.45 The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) was set up through the Climate Change Act 2008 to ensure emissions targets are set based on expert independent assessment of the evidence and to monitor the UK’s progress towards meeting the targets. The Adaptation Sub-Committee within the CCC advises on the government’s programme for adapting to climate change. The Adaptation Sub-Committee’s Evidence report outlines the current and future climate risks and opportunity and advises on the priorities for the Government’s policy. This identified six urgent priorities for action over the next five years, including “risks to health, wellbeing and productivity from high temperatures.” The Government will outline what action will be taken on these risks in a National Adaptation Programme.

Box 2: The National Adaptation Programme

Under the Climate Change Act, the UK government is required to produce a National Adaptation Programme (NAP) every five years. The NAP sets out what government, business and society are doing to become more climate ready. The NAP covers England, while the devolved administrations produce their own programmes and policies. The first National Adaptation Programme was published in 2013. A new NAP is due in 2018, in response to the January 2017 Climate Change Risk Assessment.

The 2013 National Adaptation Programme set four main objectives:

(i) Increasing awareness

(ii) Increasing resilience to current extremes

(iii) Taking timely action for long lead time measures

(iv) Addressing major evidence gaps

29.For heatwaves more specifically, the Government’s written evidence states that:

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) holds the overall policy lead for heatwaves but Government recognise it is important to have a comprehensive, co-ordinated response across a number of different departments, and between national, local and devolved governments. This approach will ensure our actions make a difference to addressing long-term vulnerability.46

However, we were concerned to hear that despite the significant health effects of overheating buildings and cities, the Minister for Public Health, Steve Brine MP, did not consider it his department’s responsibility to take active steps to address the heat-health issues of overheating buildings and planning policy.47

30.Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, expressed frustration at communicating with the Department for Health and Social Care on the health effects of climate change:

We have very little connection with the Department of Health. It is a thing we are now trying to do. Climate change has a serious effect upon the future planning of the health service and the arrangements that we do there. Environmental health and the question of air pollution is a crucially important part of our planning for health—if you look at the effects of it—and yet the relationships there are, by their nature, distant. That is one thing that we have to put right. But it is partly because Government does not think of these things, except in a siloed way.48

31.DEFRA hosts a Domestic Adaptation Board with most government departments represented. A cross-government working group focused on overheating was set up in 2015 to consider the policy and climate risks relating to overheating in buildings. However, the Committee on Climate Change criticises the “complex governance arrangements, involving multiple partners” as a barrier to effective adaptation.49 Actions relating to heatwaves in the National Adaptation Programme were split across at least four government departments, as well as the Environment Agency, Public Health England, the NHS and local government. However, we found the responsibility for coordinating action on heatwaves across departments remains ambiguous, allowing heat-health risks to fall between departmental cracks.

32.The developing threat of heatwaves requires coordinated action across government departments, particularly to protect public health. There is ambiguity over the responsibilities of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Health and Social Care. The Department of Health and Social Care is responsible for the health effects of heatwave, but is not responsible for ensuring that the health risks of overheating buildings and cities are accounted for in policy. We are concerned there is a lack of oversight of heat-health risks, and health risks from climate change more broadly. The Department for Health and Social Care should provide a Ministerial lead on responsibility for climate change related health risks. The Minister should work closely with DEFRA, and across government, to ensure there is a holistic and coordinated approach to adapting to the health risks of climate change, building on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.

Role of Local Authorities

33.Local government needs to play a key role in delivering climate change resilience in local areas, as outlined in the 2013 National Adaptation Programme:

As providers of important services and as community leaders, local councils will play a pivotal role in leading, supporting and driving delivery of many actions highlighted throughout this report.50

34.The effects of heatwaves can vary depending on local circumstances. For instance, densely populated urban areas experience higher temperatures and worsening air pollution, areas with an ageing demographic will feel additional pressure on healthcare services and areas with low quality housing are at increased risk of overheating. DEFRA coordinates action at local government level through the Local Adaptation Advisory Panel (LAAP). The LAAP meets every two months. The LAAP did not submit evidence to our inquiry, despite its responsibility for a number of actions on heatwave risk in the 2013 National Adaptation Programme.

35.Local Resilience Forums enable local authorities to carry out their responsibilities as Category 1 emergency responders under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.51 Local resilience forums produce community risk registers. These forums bring together the Environment Agency, the NHS, local authorities and emergency services to plan and prepare for localised incidents and catastrophic emergencies. Stephen Groves, Head of Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response at NHS England explained how health concerns are addressed:

So, at a local level, we have local health resilience partnerships, which essentially look at the same footprint as local resilience fora. It’s a health-planning forum, and representative members of those groups will peer review each other’s plans and provide some challenge of them, but also support organisations in enhancing plans.52

36.Professor Cosford, Medical Director and Director for Public Health at Public Health England emphasised the importance of the role of local authorities for protecting public health:

It is clear to me that a heatwave is essentially a community resilience issue, and a community resilience response is needed. Local authorities are clearly responsible for all aspects of the wellbeing of their local communities, and the directors of public health that we talk to are clearly engaged in this process.53

37.Since the Health and Social Care Act 2012, local authorities must appoint a Director of Public Health.54 The Minister for Public Health and Primary Care told us that Directors of Public Health are “responsible for improving and safeguarding public health in their areas. They play a huge role in this, and if they don’t they should.”55 Yet despite this crucial role, we did not receive evidence from any Local Resilience Forums or Local Health Resilience Partnerships on what steps they take to protect public health and wellbeing during a heatwave. Local authorities are also responsible for drawing up local heatwave plans using the framework of Public Health England’s Heatwave Plan for England. However, Professor Cosford told us that the local plans are not monitored and local authorities do not feedback to Public Health England about their plans.56 It is therefore difficult to assess how prepared local areas are for heatwaves. The Greater London Authority recommended stronger assurance processes:

Some form of mandatory reporting by local authorities about their understanding of the risks from heat (as well as other climate change impacts) to their communities, and their plans to address these, would be helpful.57

38.Local government used to report on their performance across a range of issues through the National Indicator Set. The 198 indicators included indicator 188 on adapting to climate change. In 2010, the Government ended central performance monitoring of local councils through the National Indicator Set. Polly Billington, Director of UK100, a network of local government leaders committed to transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2050, told us in our Green Finance inquiry that the removal of local performance monitoring has made adaptation less of a priority:

Local authorities tend to be quite good at doing exactly what they are told and [ … ] in the current financial climate, the risks are that they won’t do anything above what they are absolutely obliged to do.58

Climate Local and Climate Ready

39.Local authorities’ work on adaptation was previously supported by the Environment Agency’s Climate Ready service which provided adaptation advice to local authorities and other organisations. Climate Ready supported the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) Climate Local programme, which aimed to “drive, inspire and support council action on climate change.”59 Climate Ready and Climate Local were closed in 2015/16 as DEFRA ceased funding.

40.Ministers assured us that the resources produced by Climate Ready and Climate Local remain available for local councils and that local councils are engaged in adapting to climate change. Lord Gardiner explained:

It is absolutely imperative that local authorities have all this information, which is readily available. The Climate Local website for the LGA has a lot of the material that was produced during the £6.5 million of investment by the EA in climate readiness. All of that, as far as I am aware, is available and current. I know that there has been concern about this programme stopping, but it was to produce material that is readily available for local authorities to use.60

41.However, the Climate Local website only has limited information for local government, and the guidance on overheating in buildings suggests that local authorities should look to Climate Ready and the Zero Carbon Hub for support, both of which have now been closed.61 It is clear the website has not been updated since the closure of Climate Ready, as it still offers local councils the option of joining the now non-existent scheme. We did not receive evidence from any local councils on their work on adaptation and when we asked the LGA to submit written evidence to our inquiry, the Chair responded in a letter stating:

We still do not feel that the LGA has sufficient information to make a helpful contribution to your inquiry. In particular, we do not have a bespoke work programme on climate change adaption.62

42.A survey by the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change found that 90% of local authority staff felt that adaptation had been de-prioritised in their authority.63 This raises concern that there is little work being done at a local government level to prepare for the risks posed by heatwaves, and other consequences of climate change such as flooding. Although the materials produced by Climate Local and Climate Ready are still available, they may now be out of date and there is no body with responsibility for updating the guidance. In its final Climate Local survey report, the LGA expressed concern about local council’s ability to engage with adaptation issues:

There is evidence that, for some councils, climate change adaptation is a peripheral interest, and possibly the main reason for that relates to resources. Since climate change adaptation is mostly discretionary, some councils felt it was not a priority. In addition, one officer remarked that “there is rarely a coherent ‘invest to save’ business case for climate change”.64

43.The “discretionary” approach for local councils means that some local councils will be less prepared than others. The Adaptation Sub-Committee’s Evidence Report found that “local authorities in the UK seem to be at very different stages of maturity in developing approaches to adaptation.”65 The Adaptation-Sub Committee state that closure of adaptation projects, and a lack of monitoring of local authority capacity to prioritise adaptation, can lead to a loss of momentum.66

44.This loss of momentum is exemplified by the closure of regional climate change partnerships. The Environment Agency’s Climate Ready previously provided funding for nine regional climate change partnerships.67 Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, told us:

The Government has reduced funding for communication activities on climate change, leading, for example, to the loss of the regional partnerships that were supported through the Environment Agency. The London Climate Change Partnership, of which I am Deputy Chair, still continues as it has been able to secure support from the Greater London Authority following the loss of its funding from the Environment Agency.68

45.Given the pivotal role of local authorities in delivering heatwave adaptation measures, we were disappointed to receive evidence from only one local authority. The Local Adaptation Advisory Panel, Local Resilience Forums and Local Health Resilience Partnerships did not submit evidence to this inquiry. When we asked the Local Government Association to tell us about their work in this area, they told us they do not have a work programme on climate change adaptation following the closure of Climate Local. It is therefore difficult to ascertain what proactive adaptation work is taking place at a local government level, but studies indicate focus on heatwave risk is very limited. The Government does not monitor local authority capacity to undertake adaptation work and support systems for local authorities are now closed. We are concerned that essential heatwave adaptation measures are not being delivered. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should fulfil its adaptation responsibility by monitoring the capacity of local authorities to prioritise adaptation, and require local authorities to report on how they are adapting to climate change. DEFRA should also ensure that adaptation guidance for local authorities is updated regularly. As the risks from climate change grow, funding for Regional Climate Change Partnerships should be reinstated.

45 Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report, January 2017

46 UK Government (HTW0004)

48 Environmental Audit Committee, Q67, oral evidence, Environmental Principles and Governance Consultation, 19th June 2018, HC1062

57 Greater London Authority (HTW0016)

58 Environmental Audit Committee, Q220, oral evidence, Green Finance, 6th February 2018, HC617

62 Local Government Association (HTW0022)

68 Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (HTW0028)

Published: 26 July 2018