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Climate Change Accentuates Summer Energy Poverty



This will also increase energy poverty in summer due to climate change, increasing exposure and vulnerability to heat in large cities, especially affecting low incomes.

We are witnessing these days what seems like the promise of a new revolution for the defense of the climate. Following Greta Thunberg, students from around the world have protested against their respective governments for their inaction in the face of climate change.

In the heat of the already famous hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #Youth4Climate, these students have managed to get headlines in the media and capture the attention of their elders. In addition, they have shown that the new generations are increasingly aware of the climate challenge that we have to face.

Beyond the fact that not everything is climate change, studies that point to this phenomenon are increasingly frequent to explain many of the climatic anomalies that affect us. The IPCC, for example, reminds us of some of the potential impacts and effects associated with a rise in temperatures of 1.5 ℃ above pre-industrial levels.

On the other hand, in one of its latest news, the AEMET associated climate change with longer and warmer summers. This increase in temperatures means that our summers are now, on average, five weeks longer than in the decade of the 1980s.

Longer and warmer summers imply a greater frequency and duration of heat waves, which inevitably results in higher health risk due to high temperatures. Because of the heat island effect, it is expected that these temperature increases will be even greater in urban areas, where most of the world's population already resides.

In an attempt to reduce these risks, cities around the world have been developing adaptation and mitigation plans against climate change for years. However, the risk in the face of extreme temperatures does not affect the entire population equally. In fact, there are certain groups, among which are the most prone to suffer energy poverty, for which the risk can be significantly higher.


Energy poverty, also in summer

Traditionally, energy poverty has been related to the inability to heat the house and, therefore, to winter. Its main causes are low incomes, high energy prices and low energy efficiency of homes.

However, according to the Euro stat survey of European households in 2012, 19% of households said they did not feel comfortable in their home in summer. This percentage contrasts with the 11% who, in the same survey, declared that they could not adequately heat their home.

This situation leads us to the fact that, especially in those countries where the severity of summer is greater, we must speak of the existence of summer energy poverty. This would be responsible for the most vulnerable households being exposed to temperatures outside the ranges considered adequate, with the consequent risks that this may have on their health.

All this is not new. The heat wave of 2003 already demonstrated in Europe the great impact that can have for the population being exposed to high temperatures. Subsequent studies pointed out that the impact was greater in those homes with worse conditions. The situation in the last floors, in urban areas with less vegetation or in areas with low-income levels seem to be indicators associated with greater risk.

In this sense, in one of our recent studies developed together with researchers from University College London, we have been able to explore the risk of suffering from summer energy poverty both in Madrid and in London. For this, we have evaluated both the exposure and the vulnerability of the Madrid and London population to high temperatures and we have compared them to each other.


Exposure and vulnerability to heat

Both cities, Madrid and London, have an intense island of heat, which produces an increase in temperatures in the center of cities with respect to the most peripheral areas. These differences cause a greater risk of overheating problems inside homes in central urban areas.

If this is combined with homes that have lower energy efficiency, the risk will be even higher. Thus, these two parameters are those that were used as indicators of exposure of people to high temperatures. The vulnerability factor, on the other hand, was expressed through the income of households and the rate of aging.

Through the crossing of exposure and vulnerability indicators, the existence of areas of greater risk for the population was detected in the face of high temperatures. The study in both cities demonstrates the existence of households with scarce resources that, in addition to inhabiting houses that presumably present problems of overheating (due to their lower energy efficiency), are exposed to the highest temperatures in the city (due to their location in more rural areas), Central.

The results show that, in London, 1% of the population lives in areas of the city where the highest temperatures are registered both during the day and during the night and whose population has low incomes and lives in inefficient housing stock in the face of high temperatures. In addition to this, 4% of its population over 65 lives in the areas of the city that register the highest temperatures during the day.

In the case of Madrid, 2% of the population lives in the areas where the highest temperatures are recorded, in areas of low income and with the low energy efficiency of homes. In addition, 18% of those over 65 live in buildings with low efficiency, which exposes them to higher temperatures in summer.

These percentages may seem low because they portray a reality in which several factors overlap and indicate high-risk indices that, however, tend to be less common. In addition, the scenarios of increased temperatures caused by climate change, where these percentages are likely to increase, should not be overlooked.

In this context, it is essential that cities continue to develop effective policies to adapt to high temperatures. Among the priority, interventions should appear those focused on the rehabilitation of homes of the most vulnerable households. In these actions, which should be of low cost both for installation and maintenance, the incorporation of strategies to reduce overheating should be treated with a high priority.