Sustainable social care programme

Climate change, carbon reduction, and managing the risks to people and services

Building resilience in people's lives and their experiences of community is now key to modern social care.  It's also the key to adapting to uncertainty such as climate change, and makes this work topical and timely.

Peter Hay, Strategic Director of People, Birmingham City Council, and President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services 2011–12

The health implications of climate change are already in evidence and impact more greatly on vulnerable groups. The inter-linkages between climate change and health include temperature-related illness and death, flood-related injuries and death, air pollution, increase in water and food-borne diseases and vector and rodent-borne diseases, and food and water shortages. Climate-enforced migration is anticipated. Urgent and dramatic action is required to reduce carbon emissions and to implement measures to adapt to changing conditions.

In the UK, we are already experiencing climate change in the form of increased incidence of severe weather, such as heatwaves and flooding.

The effects of climate change are greatest on people in vulnerable circumstances.  For example, the August 2003 heat wave was associated with a large short-term increase in mortality. Overall, there were 2,139 (16 per cent) excess deaths in England and Wales. Worst affected were people over the age of 75 years. The impact was greatest in London where deaths in those over the age of 75 increased by 59 per cent. By the 2080s, it is predicted that an event similar to that experienced in England in 2003 will happen every year. Evidence is also emerging of the health impacts of floods, particularly mental health. For example,  in one study following the widespread floods in 2007, self-reported symptoms of mental disorders, distress and PTSD were significantly greater for those suffering disruption to essential services (The Pitt review:  Learning lessons from the 2007 floods).

For climate change projections nationally and regionally, resources and tools, visit UKCIP or take a look at the research briefings issued by The Met Office on global and UK weather impacts. 

For further information on the effects of climate change, see Health effects of climate change in the UK 2012 (Health Protection Agency).

There is a growing body of literature demonstrating the co-benefits to health, wellbeing and the environment of actions to mitigate but also adapt to climate change. For example, ‘Managing the health effects of climate change’, part of the Lancet Health and Climate Change Series published in 2009.

Climate change adaptation

In January 2012, the UK government published its first ever Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA), a five-yearly requirement of the UK Climate Change Act (2008).  The CCRA reviewed the evidence for over 700 potential impacts of climate change and undertook detailed analysis for over 100 of these impacts across 11 key sectors, including the health sector. A National Adaptation Plan is taking forward action to reduce the risks identfied and a call for evidence has been issued which will inform the next CCRA, due in 2017. The Adaptation Reporting Power (ARP) aims to ensure climate change risk management is systematically undertaken by reporting authorities, help ensure public service and infrastructure are resilient to climate change and monitor the level of preparedness of key sectors to climate change. The ARP report on adaptation for the health and care system has been submitted to DEFRA and is currently awaiting ministerial sign-off by the Department of Health following the election of the new Government. Publication of the report by DEFRA is expected in autumn 2015.

For advice and help with planning to manage the effects of severe weather, see SCIE Guide 15: Dignity in care (Nutritional care – hydration) and the two national plans produced annually by the Department of Health:  Heatwave plan for England (and the associated advice for social care professionals and care home managers) and the Cold weather plan for England.

Climate change mitigation and carbon reduction

The Climate Change Act (2008) includes the duty to reduce the carbon level in the UK by at least 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050 (against a 1990 baseline). The NHS, Public Health and Social Care Carbon Footprint 2012 attributes 22 per cent of the system's carbon footprint to social care (public sector provided or commissioned only) and considers staff and service user travel, buildings and energy use, procurement and transport.

Case study: The UK's first Passivhaus care home

Developed by Castleoak for Barchester Healthcare, Juniper House in Brackley, Northamptonshire was funded by Bridges Sustainable Property Fund, which invests in projects that can demonstrate environmental leadership.

Green Building Press release

In October 2011, SCIE co-hosted a cross-sector symposium 'Climate change, risk and resilience: Lessons for health and social care', with presentations and responses from the perspectives of older people’s care, hospital design, substance misuse and mental health, public health, and climate change as an international security challenge. The event was run in conjunction with Built Infrastructure for Older People’s Care in Conditions of Climate Change (BIOPICCC), a major research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). BIOPICCC has developed strategies and advice to help make the infrastructures and systems supporting health and social care for older people resilient to the harmful impacts of climate change in the future.  You can download the presentations and a report summarising the discussions from the BIOPICCC website as well as the BIOPICCC toolkit for local authorities and their partners.

Share and learn

SCIE’s report on the work of Bristol City Council to mainstream environmental sustainability shows how one local authority has embedded climate change mitigation and adaptation in the business of social care.

For an overview of the key climate change issues for social care, see  SCIE At a glance 23: Sustainable social care: climate change.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Climate Just web tool provides evidence to support action tackling inequalities and disadvantage in the context of a changing climate. It highlights which people and places are likely to be most vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather, including flooding and extreme heat, and the areas which might be most affected.