hot sun during sunset.

Against an alarming backdrop of progressively more common and intense heatwaves over the past half century, 2023 has had the dubious distinction of being confirmed as the hottest year ever recorded.

Chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Dr Sarah Kapnick, warned: “Not only was 2023 the warmest year in NOAA’s 174-year climate record, [but] it was [also] the warmest by far. A warming planet means we need to be prepared for the impacts of climate change that are happening here and now, like extreme weather events that become both more frequent and severe.”

This news came (almost literally) hot on the heels of the first ever Level 4 heat-health alert issued by the UK government in July 2022 after temperatures soared to a record 40°C. A Level 4 Heatwave Alert means the heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged that illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups.

Climate change effects health, wellbeing and productivity

On a human level, the consequences of increasing temperatures brought on by the global climate emergency are disastrous in terms of health, wellbeing and productivity.

For example, the World Health Organization cautions: “Heat can cause severe dehydration, acute cerebrovascular accidents and contribute to thrombogenesis (blood clots). People with chronic diseases that take daily medications have a greater risk of complications and death during a heatwave, as do older people and children.”

More than 4,500 people are estimated to have died from UK heat-related causes in 2022 and this could rise to 10,000 annually without concerted action to adapt to the warming climate.

But physical injury is not the only danger posed by excessively hot weather conditions. It also impacts mental health by aggravating the symptoms of psychiatric illnesses, worsening the side effects of medication, and increasing suicide risk.

And it has a wider impact on the wellbeing on the population, including sleep deprivation which, in turn, affects mental health and workplace productivity. The economic costs of exceptionally hot temperatures are shocking. Heatwaves brought on by human-caused climate breakdown have cost the global economy $16-$50tn globally since the 1990s, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.

Inner-city heat needs sustainable cooling

Heatwaves in big cities like London can be exacerbated by the urban heat island effect, making them warmer than the surrounding countryside and increasing the already pressing need for some form of cooling.

There is, therefore, clearly a pressing need for sustainable cooling. On a citywide level, nature-based solutions such as parks, trees, water bodies and green infrastructure like green roofs have significant cooling effects. Insulation and other energy efficiency measures also help.

In December 2023, the UN Environment Programme published its Global Cooling Watch report. This lays out sustainable cooling measures in three areas – passive cooling, higher-energy efficiency standards, and a faster phase down of climate-warming refrigerants.

Passive cooling

Passive cooling technologies can unquestionably help with sustainable cooling. And it is always worth considering ‘soft’ measures such as incorporating more explicit messages about humidity levels into weather forecasts, and even naming heatwaves to increase awareness.

But there will almost inevitably be a need for some form of active cooling technology to supplement passive measures. Clearly, for the sake of the planet’s future, the more efficient this is the better.

Heat pumps for cooling

Heat pumps are fast becoming the system of choice for sustainable comfort cooling and heating in both residential and commercial buildings. After all, they offer a host of solid benefits.

Among these are impressive energy efficiency, the ability to deliver an all-in-one heating and cooling system for both summer and winter comfort, lower running costs than the alternatives, and reduced carbon emissions compared with fossil fuels.

Other heat pump advantages include greater safety because there is no combustion involved in their use, and their space saving potential is high because there are no fuel storage requirements.

Heat pumps are also more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel-driven alternatives, they require less maintenance than other heating systems, and they enhance safety because they don’t rely on combustion to generate heat so there are fewer risks associated with their use.

Furthermore, they are more flexible because many can offer cooling as well as heating, and they have a long operational lifespan – 20 years or more is not uncommon. Finally, there are significant economic benefits to heat pump installation.

Selecting the right heat pump

However, there are now so many heat pump technologies on offer that selection of the right one for a specific application can be difficult. To sort through this bewildering array of alternatives specifiers need to turn to the experts.

That is why it pays to talk to the experts who have decades of experience in cooling technologies. Klima-Therm offers the most complete range of cutting-edge technical solutions of any supplier in the UK.

We have been designing and commissioning innovative climate control solutions including chillers, air handling units, heat pumps, fan coil units, and chilled beams, for more than 40 years which places it in the best possible position to advise on the best solution.

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