November 8, 2022

New report: Heat stress in EU buildings and what needs to be done

A new Ramboll report addresses overheating in buildings and heat stress caused by increasingly rising temperatures. If no action is taken, mortality linked to heat stress will drastically increase, making overheating one of the key climate risks in Europe.

By Kieu Nguyen
Temperatures are rising; the last seven years have been the warmest years on record in Europe resulting in heatwaves and wildfires. This poses a large challenge for buildings that are inadequate to face future increasing temperatures.
In turn, buildings overheat, which creates significant dangers for building occupants. Fortunately, i f appropriately renovated and built, it is possible to adapt buildings to help protect their occupants from the impacts of extreme heat.
However, research and data on this issue are scarce and too little is known about the magnitude of the risk of overheating in EU buildings and how many are affected. A new Ramboll report produced for the European Environment Agency sheds light on these issues and highlights the challenges of rising temperatures in buildings and which strategic objectives to act on.
Certain groups of occupants are more vulnerable
Although the extreme temperatures affect all building occupants, certain groups are more vulnerable to negative health impacts. Ramboll’s just transition expert, Vanessa Ludden, explains:
- The elderly, small children, people with chronic physical conditions and mental conditions are the most likely to suffer most from heat stress. This is due to their physical characteristics, and to the fact that they do not tend to perceive heat as a risk.
However, physical condition is not the only factor to determine higher vulnerability, Vanessa Ludden says:
- Low socio-economic status is also an aggravating factor in this context, as people who live in inadequate housing and lack knowledge of cooling solutions, can be more exposed to heat stress.
Heat stress has thus both a societal and economic cost; it can lead to increased health costs, as well as inequality. Therefore, the report deems it a priority to foster awareness among occupants on how to adapt the rising temperatures. Effective communication is necessary to inform occupants about protective behaviours to ultimately reduce the likelihood of death or morbidity .
Three main strategies to alleviate heat stress
The report identifies three main strategies, requiring action from actors from the EU to research institutions, as well as the industry and civil society. These actors all need to work together to ensure that access to sustainable, effective and resilient cooling for buildings is made available to those in need. In short, the strategies cover:
  1. Research & Innovation Ensure that heat stress in buildings is a research priority
  2. Policy Better integrate heat stress alleviation in the policy framework for climate mitigation and adaptation in buildings
  3. Awareness Reinforce awareness and knowledge of cooling solutions and approaches among building occupants
Sustainable cooling is either not sufficiently prioritised by policymakers and academics or only addressed in a limited way. Evidently, the report concludes that assessing the impact of heat stress in buildings and on occupants is a research priority.
The future cooling solutions
EU buildings, both new and old, tend to overheat in particular in densely populated cities. Although several cooling solutions exist, active cooling solutions such as AC are not sufficient, says report co-author Francesca Finello from Ramboll’s Brussels office:
- The demand for cooling will increase exponentially in the next three decades. This demand cannot be satisfied solely via active cooling solutions, such as AC, that cause GHG emissions, as these can have significant negative implications for climate mitigation objectives.
Since the uptake of AC in the EU is not as widespread as in other areas of the world, and energy consumption for cooling is still low, both experts urge the EU to take action and address future cooling demand by promoting more environmentally sustainable approaches that are less energy intensive.
For more information on this topic, you can access the full report under 'More about this topic' or reach out to us directly.
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