Labour scaling back its £28 billion green pledge will impact UK housing – and public health


The UK Labour party has announced its intention to reduce its £28 billion green investment pledge to less than £15 billion if elected this year. The political fallout has been been largely focused on the party’s fiscal credibility and leader of the opposition Keir Starmer’s seeming proclivity for U-turns.

A crucial question so far overlooked is what impact the cut would have on public health. The initial pledge included a key home-insulation plan to upgrade 72% – 19m homes – of the UK’s housing stock.

The revised plan, however, replaces that ambitious target with the more ambiguous statement that “millions of homes” will be refurbished. Research has long shown that uninsulated homes have consequences for health, especially for those living in poverty and in poor quality housing. This in turn places an extra burden on an already over-stretched health service.

A constructionn site.
Labour plans to build 1.5 million homes.

Existing government failure

The wider societal cost of poor-quality housing in the UK is estimated at £18.6 billion a year. Such costs, however, are often ignored when housing policy is being developed and implemented.

Labour promises to deliver 1.5 million homes by “blitzing” the planning system, but it has so far ignored the potential consequences for public health.

Of course, the failure to factor in health is by no means unique to Labour policy. It is already embedded in the government’s approach. A recent academic review of government housing and transport policy found that health is notably absent, despite well-established evidence that urban spaces are making us ill. This shows that on the occasions where health is included, it is lower in a hierarchy of priorities compared to other agendas such as growing the economy.

For many years, government housing policy has been shaped by the numeric gap between supply and demand, rather than the type or quality of the housing stock. The mechanisms for delivering have been based on land release and planning reform. Successive housing policies have mentioned involving communities and supporting their health, social, and cultural wellbeing. But there have been no clear targets for ensuring house retrofit and house building positively impact public health.

In his 2010 independent review on how to reduce health inequalities in England, epidemiologist Michael Marmot showed that prioritising health in urban policies, like housing and transport, can have significant health benefits for local populations.

Our research project has shown that health should be made a central factor in all national policy and guidance that shapes urban spaces. The World Health Organization recommends explicitly including health in housing policy – and tracking its impact with recognised metrics. UK politicians have largely failed to respond.

Promising developments

In addition to positive developments in government, such as the Build Back Beautiful Commission, the opposition also has some promising ambitions. Labour is pledging to deliver a “prevention-first revolution”, in which it envisions a pro-active role for government in ensuring that everybody has the building blocks for a healthy life.

In its mission document for health policy, Labour says that retrofitting of millions of homes will “keep families warm rather than living in damp, mouldy conditions that give their children asthma”. The fact that the party is making explicit this link between housing and health signal is a potentially very positive step forward.

However, in all the furore about Labour scrapping its £28 billion pledge, this crucial link to public health has been entirely forgotten. Indeed, while Labour’s environmental policy has been carefully updated to revise and remove various targets, the preventative health agenda retains the now defunct promise to “oversee retrofitting of 19 million homes”. This is perhaps indicative of the extent to which policymakers just don’t think about health when they think about housing.

While the Conservative pledges for the next parliament remain unclear, analysis of their existing policies in government has found a failure to think about or measure the way housing and urban development policis impact health. Instead, it is merely assumed that housing policies will have positive health outcomes. Rather than making such assumptions, policymakers should be putting public health considerations at the centre of all their decision making.

To ensure that the impact any given policy has on public health is measured and acted upon, health needs to be an explicit urban planning policy outcome. It needs to be clearly defined, measurable, and built into policy implementation and political discourse.

It is also important that different government ministries and relevant stakeholders focused on public health, planning and the environment work together more effectively. Unhealthy homes should be a priority for both the housing minister and the health minister.

Healthier people are more economically productive. They have a smaller financial footprint on the NHS. In the long term, better preventative health is a key part of solving some of the UK’s biggest economic challenges, from labour shortages and sluggish productivity growth to stretched public finances.

Too often government policy is not often designed with the long-term in mind. Instead, short-term economic outcomes and political gains are prioritised – to the detriment of public health.

The best way for the government to protect public health is for every department to consider how their work impacts on it. If political and economic calculations about creating, scrapping and rescaling major projects continue to ignore health, however, politicians are likely to continue coming up with the wrong answers.The Conversation


This blog is written by Dr Jack Newman, Research Fellow, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol and Dr Geoff Bates, Lecturer in Social Policy, Research Fellow, University of Bath.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Are you a journalist looking for climate experts for COP28? We’ve got you covered

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We’ve got lots of media trained climate change experts. If you need an expert for an interview, here is a list of our experts you can approach. All media enquiries should be made via Victoria Tagg, our dedicated Media and PR Manager at the University of Bristol. 

Email or call +44 (0)117 428 2489.

Climate change / climate emergency / climate science / climate-induced disasters

Dr Eunice Lo – expert in changes in extreme weather events such as heatwaves and cold spells, and how these changes translate to negative health outcomes including illnesses and deaths. Follow on Twitter/X @EuniceLoClimate.

Professor Daniela Schmidt – expert in the causes and effects of climate change on marine systems. Dani is also a Lead Author on the IPCC reports.

Dr Katerina Michalides – expert in drylands, drought and desertification and helping East African rural communities to adapt to droughts and future climate change. Follow on Twitter/X @_kmichaelides.

Professor Dann Mitchell – expert in how climate change alters the atmospheric circulation, extreme events, and impacts on human health. Dann is also a Met Office Chair. Follow on Twitter/X @ClimateDann.

Professor Dan Lunt – expert on past climate change, with a focus on understanding how and why climate has changed in the past and what we can learn about the future from the past. Dan is also a Lead Author on IPCC AR6. Follow on Twitter/X @ClimateSamwell.

Professor Jonathan Bamber – expert on the impact of melting land ice on sea level rise (SLR) and the response of the ocean to changes in freshwater forcing. Follow on Twitter/X @jlbamber

Professor Paul Bates CBE – expert in the science of flooding, risk and reducing threats to life and economic losses worldwide. Follow on Twitter/X @paul_d_bates

Dr Matt Palmer – expert in sea level and ocean heat content at the Met Office Hadley Centre and University of Bristol. Follow on Twitter/X @mpclimate.

Professor Guy Howard – expertise in building resilience and supporting adaptation in water systems, sanitation, health care facilities, and housing. Expert in wider infrastructure resilience assessment.

Net Zero / Energy / Renewables

Dr Caitlin Robinson – expert on energy poverty and energy justice and also in mapping ambient vulnerabilities in UK cities. Caitlin will be virtually attending COP28. Follow on Twitter/X @CaitHRobin.

Professor Philip Taylor – Expert in net zero, energy systems, energy storage, utilities, electric power distribution. Also Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Bristol. Follow on Twitter/X @rolyatlihp.

Dr Colin Nolden – expert in sustainable energy policyregulation and business models and interactions with secondary markets such as carbon markets and other sectors such as mobility. Colin will be in attendance in the Blue Zone at COP28 during week 2.

Professor Charl Faul – expert in novel functional materials for sustainable energy applications e.g. in CO2 capture and conversion and energy storage devices.  Follow on Twitter/X @Charl_FJ_Faul.

Climate finance / Loss and damage

Dr Rachel James – Expert in climate finance, damage, loss and decision making. Also has expertise in African climate systems and contemporary and future climate change. Follow on Twitter/X @_RachelJames.

Dr Katharina Richter – expert in decolonial environmental politics and equitable development in times of climate crises. Also an expert on degrowth and Buen Vivir, two alternatives to growth-based development from the Global North and South. Katarina will be virtually attending COP28. @DrKatRichter.

Climate justice

Dr Alix Dietzel – climate justice and climate policy expert. Focusing on the global and local scale and interested in how just the response to climate change is and how we can ensure a just transition. Alix will be in attendance in the Blue Zone at COP28 during week 1. Follow on Twitter/X @alixdietzel.

Dr Ed Atkins – expert on environmental and energy policy, politics and governance and how they must be equitable and inclusive. Also interested in local politics of climate change policies and energy generation and consumption. Follow on Twitter/X @edatkins_.

Dr Karen Tucker – expert on colonial politics of knowledge that shape encounters with indigenous knowledges, bodies and natures, and the decolonial practices that can reveal and remake them. Karen will be in attending the Blue Zone of COP28 in week 2.

Climate change and health

Dr Dan O’Hare – expert in climate anxiety and educational psychologist. Follow on Twitter/X @edpsydan.

Professor Dann Mitchell – expert in how climate change alters the atmospheric circulation, extreme events, and impacts on human health. Dann is also a Met Office Chair. Follow on Twitter/X @ClimateDann.

Dr Eunice Lo – expert in changes in extreme weather events such as heatwaves and cold spells, and how these changes translate to negative health outcomes including illnesses and deaths. Follow on Twitter/X @EuniceLoClimate.

Professor Guy Howard – expert in influence of climate change on infectious water-related disease, including waterborne disease and vector-borne disease.

Professor Rachael Gooberman-Hill – expert in health research, including long-term health conditions and design of ways to support and improve health. @EBIBristol (this account is only monitored in office hours).

Youth, children, education and skills

Dr Dan O’Hare – expert in climate anxiety in children and educational psychologist. Follow on Twitter/X @edpsydan.

Dr Camilla Morelli – expert in how children and young people imagine the future, asking what are the key challenges they face towards the adulthoods they desire and implementing impact strategies to make these desires attainable. Follow on Twitter/X @DrCamiMorelli.

Dr Helen Thomas-Hughes – expert in engaging, empowering, and inspiring diverse student bodies as collaborative environmental change makers. Also Lead of the Cabot Institute’s MScR in Global Environmental Challenges. Follow on Twitter/X @Researchhelen.

Professor Daniela Schmidt – expert in the causes and effects of climate change on marine systems. Dani is also a Lead Author on the IPCC reports. Also part of the Waves of Change project with Dr Camilla Morelli, looking at the intersection of social, economic and climatic impacts on young people’s lives and futures around the world.

Climate activism / Extinction Rebellion

Dr Oscar Berglund – expert on climate change activism and particularly Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the use of civil disobedience. Follow on Twitter @berglund_oscar.

Land / Nature / Food

Dr Jo House – expert on land and climate interactions, including emissions of carbon dioxide from land use change (e.g. deforestation), climate mitigation potential from the land (e.g. afforestationbioenergy), and implications of science for policy. Previously Government Office for Science’s Head of Climate Advice. Follow on Twitter @Drjohouse.

Professor Steve Simpson – expert marine biology and fish ecology, with particular interests in the behaviour of coral reef fishes, bioacoustics, effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, conservation and management. Follow on Twitter/X @DrSteveSimpson.

Dr Taro Takahashi – expert on farminglivestock production systems as well as programme evaluation and general equilibrium modelling of pasture and livestock-based economies.

Dr Maria Paula Escobar-Tello – expert on tensions and intersections between livestock farming and the environment.

Air pollution / Greenhouse gases

Dr Aoife Grant – expert in greenhouse gases and methane. Set up a monitoring station at Glasgow for COP26 to record emissions.

Professor Matt Rigby – expert on sources and sinks of greenhouse gases and ozone depleting substances. Follow on Twitter @TheOtherMRigby.

Professor Guy Howard – expert in contribution of waste and wastewater systems to methane emissions in low- and middle-income countries

Plastic and the environment

Dr Charlotte Lloyd – expert on the fate of chemicals in the terrestrial environment, including plasticsbioplastics and agricultural wastes. Follow on Twitter @DrCharlLloyd.

Cabot Institute for the Environment at COP28

We will have three media trained academics in attendance at the Blue Zone at COP28. These are: Dr Alix Dietzel (week 1), Dr Colin Nolden (week 2) and Dr Karen Tucker (week 2). We will also have two academics attending virtually: Dr Caitlin Robinson and Dr Katharina Richter.

Read more about COP on our website at
This blog was written by Amanda Woodman-Hardy, Communications and Engagement Officer at the Cabot Institute for the Environment. Follow on Twitter @Enviro_Mand and @cabotinstitute.

Watch our Cabot Conversations – 10 conversations between 2 experts on a climate change issue, all whilst an artist listens in the background and interprets the conversation into a beautiful piece of art in real time. Find out more at

Cost of living crisis: the health risks of not turning the heating on in winter

People in the UK might be tempted to keep their heating turned off to offset the large increases in energy bills this winter. A recent YouGov poll, revealed that 21% of respondents would not turn their heating on until at least November. Could the health of these people be endangered?

Before COVID, an average of 25,000 extra deaths occurred between December and March compared with any other four-month period of the year. Even if COVID did not exist, the cost of living crisis could result in the toll from the coming winter being worse than usual.

The Marmot review (a report investigating the effects of cold homes and fuel poverty) estimated that 21.5% of all excess winter deaths could be attributed to the coldest 25% of homes in the UK population.

This would suggest that 5,000 extra deaths occur in winter because people live in cold homes. But this does not mean the cold homes cause the deaths. People who live in cold homes may have other disadvantages, making them less able to survive winter.

Would it make any difference whether they leave their heating on or off? Studies suggest temperatures should be kept to at least 18℃ to minimise the risk to health, but how easy is it to maintain this if homes are poorly insulated?

Research into what is best for people’s health ideally relies on randomised controlled trials to tell us about cause and effect. But it would be unethical to conduct a trial where some people were told to leave their heating off and others were told to keep it on to see if it had any effect on mortality. Instead, we have to rely on what are known as “longitudinal studies” where people are followed over many years and respond regularly to questionnaires.

In one such study in the 1970s, the British Regional Heart Study recruited thousands of men, then in middle age, from across Great Britain. In 2014, around 1,400 of these men, then aged 74-96 years, answered a questionnaire that included questions on home heating.

One question asked whether, during the previous winter, the respondent had: “Turned off the heating, even when you were cold because you were worried about the cost?” One hundred and thirty men (9.4%) said yes. These men seemed no more likely to die in the following two years than men who had replied no.

A larger study would have given a more robust answer. And in the absence of other direct evidence, we have to draw conclusions from indirect evidence, such as this.

The most vulnerable

Recently, researchers in Sweden tried to assess a range of questions about the effects of energy use, fuel poverty and energy efficiency improvements on people’s health. They systematically reviewed all the relevant studies on the topic. One of their findings showed consistently across four studies the link between fuel poverty and premature death.

The British Regional Heart Study showed that fuel poverty was more likely to be found among people who were single, poor and working class. This suggests that people who are the most financially vulnerable will be those most likely to leave the heating off. As with climate change, the poorest are hit hardest.

So far I have only discussed effects on health in terms of death, which in the UK concerns mainly older people. The winter deaths that occur are usually the result of heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease. Yet increasing attention has also been paid to the strong effects of the cold on mental health.

The Marmot review quoted studies that drew attention to the depressive effect of living in a cold home. Children in adolescent years may seek respite and privacy away from home, with consequent exposure to mental health risks. The misery caused by financial pressures only add to this burden.

Because the most financially vulnerable people are also the most vulnerable in their health, it should follow that interventions at government level are urgently needed to offset the likely health crisis looming from increased energy costs.

The most vulnerable will need the most help. Yet a common paradox seen in public health is that interventions applying to the whole population will lead to more lives saved than those targeted only to those at greatest risk.

This is because there are far more people in the population at moderate risk than at high risk. Only a modest proportion of people at moderate risk will benefit. Yet because this group is so much larger than the high-risk group, more lives may be saved among those at moderate risk.

Buildings in the UK clearly need to be better insulated, but these sorts of interventions will come too late for this winter. Mitigating the rising costs of energy must be the only way forward to allow homes to be heated to a comfortable level and prevent a tidal wave of excess winter deaths.The Conversation


This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member Richard Morris, Honorary Professor in Medical Statistics, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Richard Morris

Watch Richard speak more about this issue in our Cabot Conversations video on Heatwaves and Health.






Extolling the virtues of a hybrid meeting done well

Following a very successful three-day conference recently, I wanted to write a few words to extol the virtues of a hybrid meeting done really well.  Lots of people at the moment are enthusing wildly about getting back to in-person meetings and general socialising, but not all of us are quite so excited about this return to the old world.

If this makes me a miserable old git, then so be it.

The meeting in question was a Galileo Conference, entitled ‘The warm Pliocene: Bridging the geological data and modelling communities’ and held virtually and in-person at the University of Leeds from 24-26 August 2022.  It was sponsored by the NERC UK Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme, Past Global Changes (PAGES) and the European Geosciences Union (EGU), and was run by an organising committee led by Dr Aisling Dolan and Dr Heather Ford (from the University of Leeds and Queen Mary University of London, respectively).  The conference website can be seen at  The conference focused on the mid-Piacenzian Warm Period (sometimes also known as the mid-Pliocene Warm Period, mPWP), an interval between approximately 3.3 and 3 million years ago when CO2 levels were roughly equivalent to today, global mean temperatures were 2-3°C higher than today and sea level was approximately 20 m higher than today.  This makes it an important analogue for a possible future.

Normally, here, I would continue with the science, but that’s not the purpose of this post.  The purpose of this post is the meeting itself.  The meeting took a hybrid format, meaning there were approximately 50 people in the room and approximately 50 people joining virtually.  I was in the latter group.  For ease, I will refer to the former group as ‘reals’ and the latter group as ‘virtuals’; let’s not get into a philosophical discussion over the validity of these terms.

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020, and even more so since its ‘supposed’ end in 2022 (not a statement I agree with, but I’m in a minority), I have attended a great number of virtual and hybrid meetings.  Almost always, something has gone badly wrong; inadequate technology, glitching, freezing, inaudible lecturers, audio echoes, etc.  However, ‘The warm Pliocene…’ meeting demonstrated that with the right technology and, more importantly, the right know-how to use it properly, a hybrid meeting can indeed be done perfectly.  Here, I will cover the various elements of the meeting, how they have been done terribly in the past and how they were done flawlessly here.

Firstly, the main lectures (or short presentations), directed at everybody in the audience.  This, in theory, should be the easiest part to arrange of any hybrid meeting.  All that is needed is a camera (this is usually and most easily a laptop running Zoom, Teams or whatever, but could be a more sophisticated camera/microphone setup) pointing at the podium, a roaming microphone for the reals (so the virtuals can hear them), the slides shared via Zoom and a speaker (so the reals can hear the virtuals).  Sounds simple, right?


Without mentioning any names of meetings and their organisers, I have lost count of the number of times I have spent the entire time staring either at the lecturer’s crotch, or the top of their forehead.  Neither is particularly desirable.  Three things are important here: the direction the camera is facing, the angle (i.e. vertically) the camera is facing and the distance between the camera and the lecturer.  Get any of those wrong, and we are into crotch territory.  The camera needs to be far enough away to see the whole person behind the podium, but not too far away for them to resemble a matchstick.  It is not necessary to see the main screen at which the reals are looking, because the slides can easily be shared.  So the reals see a person next to a large screen containing their slides, whereas the virtuals see the slides directly and then the lecturer as a thumbnail in one corner.  Ideally, there needs to be a separate person dedicated to moving the camera/laptop; let’s call them the ‘controller’.  The controller is not the lecturer or the Chair, but is solely responsible for moving the camera left, right, up or down so that it is always facing the lecturer during the talk and then the audience during the following questions/discussion.  When anybody in the audience wants to speak, they use the same microphone that the lecturer was using.

Happily, the organisers of ‘The warm Pliocene…’ meeting got this spot on, constantly moving the laptop to the correct place depending on who was talking.  The only thing that might have improved this would be to have a dedicated virtual constantly communicating with the controller (perhaps via the chat), to say whether the camera needs to be moved slightly; but this is only really necessary if the controller cannot see themselves.

As an aside, the concept of being moved around by someone else in order to see properly is unfamiliar to many people but, given my personal circumstances, is very familiar to me.  Although most of the time I use an electric wheelchair and can therefore move myself, some of the time I use a manual wheelchair and therefore cannot.  Given that I am not really able to turn my head from side to side, in order to see somebody or something I need to be directly facing them.  I am therefore very used to asking “Please turn me a bit to the left” or similar.  The difference between turning me in person (i.e. turning the wheelchair) and turning me virtually (i.e. turning the laptop) is exactly what?!

Secondly, the poster sessions.  If you are at any train station or airport, anywhere in the world, and you see a bunch of nerdy-looking people holding long cardboard or black plastic tubes, you can be sure there is a conference somewhere nearby.  Traditionally, the idea is the poster is physically printed and displayed in a large room, and the author stands next to it at the allocated time and talks to people walking by.  This, in theory, is not so easy to do in the virtual space; again I have lost count of the number of failures using Zoom, where people haven’t known how to use the breakout room function, people have been lost in virtual space or people have all tried to talk at once.

Or, the now famous “You’re on mute”.

However, again, happily the organisers of ‘The warm Pliocene…’ meeting got it right.  There was a combination of traditional and virtual poster sessions; for the former, the reals were able to interact in the old-fashioned way, whereas the virtuals were able to view the posters that had been uploaded, in advance, to Padlet, as well as a two minute introductory talk that had been pre-recorded by the authors.  The virtuals could then post questions on Padlet, which could be answered by the author either instantly or later on.  For the virtual poster sessions, both the reals and the virtuals operated in virtual space; the reals were told to find a quiet corner of the conference centre and interact virtually using Zoom, whereas the virtuals were already on Zoom.  Within this virtual space, every poster presenter was assigned their own breakout room, where they would wait patiently for the audience to drop by.  Everybody could see a list of the breakout rooms, and could therefore choose to whom they wanted to talk.  If there was more than one person in a given breakout room, they would simply wait their turn to talk to the presenter; much like they would if they were they standing in a crowd around a physical poster and presenter.

As I always tell my students, presenting a poster is actually a lot more hard work than giving a talk, and this is true in both the real and virtual world.

Thirdly, the discussion and breakout groups.  Again, in theory, this is not so easy to get right in the virtual world.  This is usually because of two reasons.  Firstly because of the same problem as above i.e. the breakout room function not being used correctly, and people not knowing whether they were supposed to be in the main virtual room or in a breakout room.  But secondly, because of people basically not knowing how to use Zoom.  As time goes by this is becoming less of a problem, but at the beginning it was ridiculous.  Almost every virtual meeting I attended in the first couple of years of the pandemic – and don’t forget that most of these were academic meetings, so everybody has a brain the size of a planet (except me, obvs, as I am always the dummy in the group) – began with everybody shouting “Can you hear me?” for the first ten minutes.

However, once more, the organisers of ‘The warm Pliocene…’ meeting managed to arrange everything seamlessly.  There was in a little bit of confusion, at the beginning of the first day, as to exactly which breakout room the virtuals were supposed to use, but that was quickly resolved and the rest of the days went very smoothly.  The reals were divided into groups of four or five, including a member of the organising committee who was responsible for leading the discussion, taking notes and then reporting back to everybody at the end.  Likewise the virtuals were divided into similar-sized groups and assigned to a breakout room, again with a member of the organising committee taking the lead.  After half an hour or so of discussion, everybody would return to the main room i.e. the reals would stop talking amongst themselves and turn back to the main screen and podium, whereas the virtuals would return to the main virtual room, which was again facing the main screen and podium.  People would then report back, either in person or virtually.  Given that the reals all used a roaming microphone when speaking, and the virtuals were projected visually on the main screen and audibly via the speaker system, everybody was able to hear everybody and a normal discussion could be had, whether real or virtual.

Lastly, the only part of the conference which, sadly, is almost impossible to translate to the virtual space is the socialising and indeed the scientific conversations had during these times, either over coffee, lunch or during the evenings.  I do not doubt that one day we will have Star Wars-style holographic projections on a small floating platform, meaning that in any given setting (such as round the restaurant table, or standing at the bar), there will be a mixture of real people and holograms that can interact as if they were physically present.

But we are not there yet.

In the meantime, this is probably the one and only part of a conference or scientific meeting in which the virtuals cannot fully participate.  I have had meetings where there has been an attempt at this, such as after the meeting where the virtuals are told to get a drink and then chat to each other via Zoom breakout rooms.  But this never works particularly well; either because there are too many people in one breakout room, meaning everybody talks at once or just a handful dominate the conversation, or because the organiser assigns people randomly to a breakout room, meaning you get stuck with a bunch of people you have never met and would possibly never choose to meet.  In the real world, over coffee, you can choose with whom you chat, or you can choose to sit in the corner and be unsociable.  In the virtual world, you can do neither.

Chit-chat or small talk always makes me uncomfortable, and this is exaggerated in virtual space.

To summarise, therefore: ‘The warm Pliocene…’ meeting was a masterclass in how to get a hybrid meeting right.  I firmly believe that the main reason it was so successful, for both reals and virtuals, is that (like in many aspects of life) it was completely inclusive.  I have been to several hybrid meetings where the virtual attendees are treated a little bit like second-class citizens, allowed to say their piece at the appropriate time but otherwise supposed to be quiet, because they are not really there, are they?  This is a shame, but common.  Sometimes it is completely unintentional, just an artefact of the organisers being too preoccupied with people actually in the room to remember about those who are not.  A lot of my friends and colleagues argue that attending a meeting virtually is not the same, but I completely disagree.  It is not the same if the hybrid part is done badly, yes.  But, as the organisers of ‘The warm Pliocene…’ meeting have shown, when it is done well, a hybrid meeting can be as enjoyable, if not more enjoyable, than being there in-person.

I want to finish with just a few, more general thoughts concerning fully virtual, hybrid or fully in-person conferences and meetings.  Moreover, some thoughts on how these principles translate into our university teaching, which was obviously 100% in-person before the pandemic, then out of necessity became 100% virtual and now is moving back towards the old world i.e. 100% in-person.

I should stress that I completely understand the vast majority of people who are very happy to go back to the old world, be that at work attending in-person meetings or generally socialising.  Concerning teaching, I completely understand that many students struggled during the various lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, and that many are very happy and indeed keen to go back to the traditional way of teaching.  This has resulted in a push, by most universities, to return to 100% in-person teaching as soon as possible.  But this university-wide policy has often resulted in a new reluctance, by many university IT departments, to invest in new technology to allow better hybrid meetings.  This, in my humble opinion, is very misguided.  We know, now, that virtual and hybrid meetings are possible, work well and, when done correctly, can be preferable for some.  To abandon this experience and technology in favour of the traditional way is a very big mistake.  There are three reasons why I believe this.

Firstly, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the next global pandemic is only around the corner.  This is not being pessimistic, but rather realistic.  The scientific community knew, way back in the 1980s, that concerning impact versus likelihood of occurrence, a global pandemic came first amongst all other natural and man-made disasters, as having both the highest impact and the highest likelihood.  But, when it did happen almost 40 years later, we were still not ready for it.  If we abandon our new experience of virtual and hybrid meetings and teaching, and do not invest in the technology to make this better, we will be caught with our trousers down once again.

Secondly, for the vast majority of the world (or rather, the Western world – much of the Global South is still suffering massively), COVID is over.  This is either because most people have had it and it wasn’t too bad, or most people are not vulnerable to it and don’t know anyone who is, or most people have had several doses of the vaccine and therefore (incorrectly) think they are completely shielded from it, or most people became so fed up with the restrictions that they simply don’t care anymore.  Either way, the fear (often of the unknown) has gone.  However, for some people – not many, but a significant minority – COVID is very much not over.  This might be because they are elderly, immunosuppressed or, like myself, have some other underlying condition which means they are still highly vulnerable to any respiratory-related disease.  For those people, COVID is still very much a real and present danger.  For those people, like myself, who have not yet caught COVID (or, at least, not that I know of) because of their super-cautious behaviour and actions – which is often disapproved of and ridiculed by even close friends and family, “You’ve just got to learn to live with it” – the fear of the unknown is still very much there.  Therefore, if we abandon virtual and hybrid meetings and teaching, there is a real risk that this significant minority will feel even more marginalised and excluded than they did before the pandemic.

Likewise, concerning teaching, although most students appear to prefer the traditional way, this is not a constant.  Based on my conversations with them, many students quite like a mixture of in-person and virtual lectures, seminars and discussions.  This might be for health reasons, or because they quite like the anonymity of being behind a screen.  When I was an undergraduate, over 20 years ago, if I had had the option of watching my 9 AM lecture in my pyjamas at home or making the 20 minute, bleary-eyed walk onto campus and into a cold lecture theatre, I know exactly what I would have chosen.  Moreover, for those students who need to have difficult conversations with their tutors – possibly bursting into tears because they did not get the grades they wanted – doing that over Zoom is, I would imagine, far more of a safe space than doing it in the tutor’s office.  To completely abandon virtual and hybrid communication would, therefore, marginalise these students as well.  Instead, the option of doing things virtually should be made available, now that we know it is a viable option.

Lastly, there is the issue of travel, which is more relevant to the scientific meeting or conference than it is to teaching.  This is particularly relevant to those in my profession; as somebody once said, climate scientists fly all over the world telling people not to fly all over the world.  This is something of which we have all been guilty.  Now, however, we don’t need to do this.  As long as whatever meeting or conference is prepared to put the technology and know-how to good use, I can attend any meeting I like, anywhere in the world, with minimal effort and zero carbon emissions on my part.  I agree, it is not quite the same and you certainly don’t get the change of scenery, but surely it is better, from an environmental perspective, than the old way?  Returning to ‘The warm Pliocene…’ meeting, it was not a large international conference involving thousands of people, but rather a relatively small meeting and workshop.  It was, however, international, and we had participants from all over the world.  For them to fly all the way to the UK for just three days, when they were able to participate fully in virtual space, is nonsense and goes against everything we are trying to preach.

So, in summary, virtual and hybrid meetings are not only possible, but can actually be preferable when done really well, as the recent masterclass demonstrated.  To abandon everything we have learnt over the last three years, in the knowledge of what it would do to a significant minority and the knowledge of what is probably going to happen in the future, would be utterly foolish.

This blog was written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member Dr Charles Williams from the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol.

India heatwave: why the region should prepare for even more extreme heat in the near future

An extreme heatwave in India and Pakistan has left more than a billion people in one of the most densely populated parts of the world facing temperatures well above 40℃. Although this has not broken all-time records for the regions, the hottest part of the year is yet to come.

Though the heatwave is already testing people’s ability to survive, and has led to crop failures and power blackouts, the really scary thing is that it could be worse: based on what has happened elsewhere at some point India is “due” an even more intense heatwave.

Together with a few other climate scientists, we recently looked for the most extreme heatwaves globally over the past 60 years – based on the greatest difference from expected temperature variability in that area, rather than by maximum heat alone. India and Pakistan do not feature in our results, now published in the journal Science Advances. Despite regularly having extremely high temperatures and levels of heat stress in absolute terms, when defined in terms of deviation from the local normal, heatwaves in India and Pakistan to date have not been all that extreme.

In fact, we highlighted India as a region with a particularly low greatest historical extreme. In the data we assessed, we didn’t find any heatwaves in India or Pakistan outside three standard deviations from the mean, when statistically such an event would be expected once every 30 or so years. The most severe heatwave we identified, in southeast Asia in 1998, was five standard deviations from the mean. An equivalent outlier heatwave in India today would mean temperatures of over 50℃ across large swaths of the country – such temperatures have only been seen at localised points so far.

Our work therefore suggests India may experience even more extreme heat. Assuming the statistical distribution of daily maximum temperatures is broadly the same across the world, statistically a record-breaking heatwave is likely to occur in India at some point. The region has not yet had reason to adapt to such temperatures, so may be particularly vulnerable.

Harvests and health

Although the current heatwave has not broken any all-time records, it is still exceptional. Many parts of India have experienced their hottest April on record. Such heat this early in the year will have devastating impacts on crops in a region where many rely on the wheat harvest both to eat and to earn a living. Usually, extreme heat in this area is closely followed by cooling monsoons – but these are still months away.

It is not just crop harvests that will bear the brunt, as heatwaves affect infrastructure, ecosystems and human health. The impacts on human health are complex as both meteorological factors (how hot and humid it is) and socioeconomic factors (how people live and how they are able to adapt) come into play. We do know that heat stress can lead to long-term health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, kidney failure, respiratory distress and liver failure, though we will be unable to know exactly how many people will die in this heatwave due to the lack of necessary health data from India and Pakistan.

What the future holds

To consider the impact of extreme heat over the next few decades, we have to look at both climate change and population growth, since it is a combination of the two that will amplify the human-health impacts of heat extremes in the Indian subcontinent.

world map with some countries shaded yellow
Hotspots of population increases over the next 50 years (red circles), all coincide with locations where no daily mortality data exists (yellow).
Mitchell, Nature Climate Change (2021), CC BY-SA

In our new study, we investigated how extremes are projected to increase in the future. We used a large ensemble of climate model simulations, which gave us many times more data than is available for the real world. We found that the statistical distribution of extremes, relative to a shift in the underlying climate as it generally gets warmer, does not change. In the climate models the daily temperature extremes increase at the same rate as the shift in the mean climate. The IPCC’s latest report stated that heat waves will become more intense and more frequent in south Asia this century. Our results support this.

The current heatwave is affecting over 1.5 billion people and over the next 50 years the population of the Indian subcontinent is projected to increase by a further 30%. That means hundreds of millions more people will be born into a region that is likely to experience more frequent and more severe heatwaves. With even larger numbers of people being affected by even greater heat extremes in the future, measures to adapt to climate change must be accelerated – urgently.The Conversation


This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members Dr Vikki Thompson, Senior Research Associate in Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol and Dr Alan Thomas Kennedy-Asser, Research Associate in Climate Science, University of Bristol.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Human health is entwined with the health of our planet


It’s a short time since COP26 finished in Glasgow. Many colleagues from the University of Bristol were there to discuss their research and share knowledge with those who are making decisions about policies that impact everyone’s futures. When we think about climate change, we often think about the health of the planet and the natural world, but the health of our planet is entwined to the health of the human population too. Here, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Director, Rachael Gooberman-Hill, gives a timely update on our research looking at the intersection between climate and health.

We’re already seeing local and global impacts of climate change on human health. The World Health Organization states that in the 20 years from 2030 to 2050 climate change will cause around 250,000 additional deaths per year, which is a timeframe that starts in just eight years from now.

These, arguably preventable, deaths will relate to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat. Health impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect people who are already vulnerable in other ways, including people who are young, old, living with other conditions, or living in situations of vulnerability including poverty and other dimensions of disadvantage. Climate change is associated with changes in infectious diseases and non-communicable conditions, such as mental health difficulties. Heat and extreme weather events have major impact on health, cause forced migration and these issues are global in scale. In the UK, extreme weather events and heat are already visible and are likely to become more common and more impactful.

Embedding climate in current research

Broadly speaking, research efforts include work to reduce rise in our planet’s temperature and attempts to address, mitigate, and adapt to the impact of the rises that are already happening. At the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute we are working with the Cabot Institute for the Environment. As researchers, we can change focus of our research, can embed climate in the research that we are already planning or doing, and we can also consider that all of the research that we do is already impacted by climate change and will already have much to add to the evidence base that can underpin change and make a difference.

Mapping activity in climate research

The University of Bristol has a world-leading track record in environment-focused research already. We recently mapped the research activity in this area and identified 39 climate and health related research projects and over 150 members of our research community working in this area. We work on many topics, including extreme weather events, heat, water and sanitation, animal health, crops and nutrition, and social impacts of climate change. The University is an active member of the Met Office Academic Partnership (MOAP), we contribute considerable and internationally recognised expertise to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including in the crucial assessment reports which provide the scientific evidence base. We’re active in the GW4 Climate Alliance, comprising the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff, Bath, and Exeter.

Potential to pivot

There is real potential now to build this area even more. Many members of our University are deeply concerned about climate change and many are doing work that helps, or want to do so. We are a community whose research is often driven by our sense of social responsibility and we’ve seen before how our desire to make a difference can drive new focus. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic we saw large parts of the University’s research community turn skills and attention to the virus and its impact. At the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute we supported over 90 projects that focused on COVID-19 and owe thanks to everyone for the vast effort that has been put into research with real world impact. The effort to focus on COVID-19 showed how our expert researchers can pivot quickly onto new topic areas, although other topics remained urgent and important alongside our pandemic-related work.

Supporting more climate research

The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute wants to support the desire and need to work on climate change and health, whether that’s to enable people to pivot to the area, build on existing work or to encompass climate change into existing workstreams. We’ve already supported projects focused on climate change and health, with particular emphasis on interdisciplinary research. We want to support even more. As we move forward from COP26, please consider how your research can address climate change and health and let us know about your plans and ideas.


This blog is by Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Director, Rachael Gooberman-Hill . View the original post.

Rachel Gooberman-Hill

Violence and mental health are likely to get worse in a warming world

As heat levels increase, mental health conditions are likely to worsen.

Extreme weather has been the cause of some of the biggest public health crises across the world in recent years. In many cases, these have been enhanced by human-induced climate change. For instance, in 2003, high summer temperatures in Europe were believed to cause 50,000 to 70,000 excess deaths across 16 European countries.

Globally, it’s been estimated that a total of 296,000 deaths over the past two decades have been related to heat.

But heat doesn’t just affect physical health. It can have equally serious effects on mental health conditions. Research has shown that rising temperatures are associated with an increase in suicides and in violent behaviour, as well as exacerbating mood and anxiety disorders.

Studies in England and Wales conducted between 1993 and 2003 have revealed that, when temperatures were above 18°C, every 1°C rise in temperature was associated with a 3.8% increased risk of suicide across the population.

Between 1996 and 2013 in Finland, every 1°C increase in temperature accounted for a 1.7% increase in violent crime across the country. It has even been estimated that 1.2 million more assaults might occur in the United States between 2010 to 2099 than would without climate change.

The association between high temperatures and mental health is an active area of research. Scientists have found that some health consequences of increased heat, like disturbed sleep and levels of serotonin – a hormone critical for adjusting our feelings, emotions and behaviours – might play a role in triggering the appearance of mental health conditions.

A world map coloured red, with darker areas indicating greater temperature rises (up to 6°C).
This map shows the projected changes in daily temperature extremes at 1.5°C of global warming compared to the pre-industrial period (since 1861).
Author provided

Sleep deprivation often occurs during heatwaves, which then may lead to frustration, irritability, impulsive behaviours and even violence.

Extreme temperatures, such as those observed during heatwaves, are also found to be associated with some forms of dementia and disturbed mental health states, especially for those who are already in vulnerable conditions such as psychiatric patients.

And low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety, impulsivity, aggression and occurrence of violent incidents.


In the future, heatwaves will be hotter and last longer. Temperature records are likely to be broken ever more frequently as the world continues to warm. In north-west Asia, for example, temperatures could increase by 8.4°C by 2100.

A world that is on average 1.5°C warmer will see many average regional temperatures rise by more than this. This problem is compounded as the population – and therefore the number of people living in cities – increases. By 2050, it is projected that two thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas.

A city in summer
Cities are often hotter than rural regions, exacerbating negative mental health effects caused by heat.

Urban environments are known to be warmer than their rural surroundings, a phenomenon known as the “urban heat island”. Climate projections show not only that cities will warm faster than rural areas, but that this effect is increased at night. This may further exacerbate the effects of heat extremes on our sleep.

Both adaptation to and mitigation of climate change will be necessary to lessen these potentially devastating effects as much as possible.

Options for adapting our lives to a warmer world could include increasing air circulation within buildings and adjusted work hours in times of extreme heat. Paris, for example, has already created a network of “cool islands”: green and blue spaces such as parks, ponds and swimming pools which provide places to seek refuge from the heat.

Most simply, educating people on the potential impacts of heat on mental health, aggression and violence – allowing them to understand exactly why it is so important to support initiatives that help keep our planet cool – could support better mental health at the same time as fighting the climate crisis.

—————————————–The Conversation

This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members Dr Mary Zhang, Senior Research Associate in Policy Studies, University of Bristol; Professor Dann Mitchell, Associate Professor in Atmospheric Sciences, University of Bristol, and Dr Vikki Thompson, Senior Research Associate in Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dann Mitchell
Mary Zhang
Vikki Thompson



Read all blogs in our COP26 blog series:

Regenerative agriculture: lessons learnt at Groundswell

Do people realise the extent to which they rely upon farming? In many other professions, such as medicine, those who enjoy good health can have years between visits to healthcare professionals. In contrast, it is hard to imagine how we could live without UK farmers. For instance, UK farmers produce 60% of all food eaten in the UK (Contributions of UK Agriculture, 2017). Despite the importance of UK farmers for our national infrastructure, there is little understanding of the web of issues facing farmers today. Drawing from our recent experiences at Groundswell, we hope to highlight some of the surprises that we discovered during our conversations with farmers, agronomists, charities, and even film producers!

Our first surprise was appreciating the complexities between agronomists and farmers. We knew from our interviews that farmers are often cautious of the advice from agronomists because some receive commission for the chemical companies they represent. In one sense, the polarisation between agronomists and farmers was exacerbated at Groundswell because many farmers who have adopted the principles of regenerative agriculture (Regen Ag) on their farms either have background expertise as agronomists themselves, or have needed to learn much of the expert of knowledge of soil and arable health required for agronomy. In this sense, many farmers invested in the principles of Regen Ag are expanding their knowledge and reducing their need to appeal to agronomists. In contrast, the majority of  farmers outside of the Regen Ag movement still depend on the knowledge and guidance of agronomists.

The problem is that the legacy of the relationship between agronomists and farmers has itself become a barrier against behaviour change. Without complete trust between agronomists and farmers agronomists are hesitant to suggest innovative changes to farming practices which may result in short term losses in yields and profits for farmers. The concern is that farmers will cease the contracts with their agronomists if their advice results in a loss in profits or even yields. We listened to many anecdotes about farmers who are worried about how the judgment from local farmers if their yields look smaller from the roadside.  The message that is difficult to convey is if you reduce your input, maintenance, and labour costs, then profitability can increase despite the reduction in yields. In short, “yields are for vanity, profits are for sanity!”

The five principles of Regen Ag are diversity, livestock integration, minimise soil disturbance, maintain living roots, and protect soil surface. Regen Ag provides simple accessible guidelines for farmers who want to adopt more sustainable practices. It offers an alternative approach to the binary division between conventional and organic farmer by encouraging farmers to make changes where possible, whilst understanding that chemical inputs on farms remain a last resort for managing soil health.

Establishing effective pathways to increase the number of farmers integrating the principles of Regen Ag is far from simple. It is not merely about increasing knowledge between farmers and agronomists, without building robust networks of trust between agronomists and farmers there is very little possibility for change. One suggestion from agronomists to help build these networks of trust was for agronomists to invest in profit shares so that there are incentives in place for both agronomists and farmers to increase the overall profitability of farms. We must recognise that any strategies for behaviour change need to account for the underlying caution toward the industry of agronomy by significant numbers of the farming community. Some agronomists consider this fundamentally as a psychological issue. Building from this perspective it seems obvious there is a space for psychologists to develop therapeutic techniques to develop and consolidate trust between farmers and agronomists. Currently many farmers and agronomists are stuck in status quo where it seems easier not to “rock the boat” on either side. The problem is that long-term this is not sustainable for various reasons.

The sustained use of chemicals alongside conventional farming practices (such as tilling) is a significant factor for reductions in soil health and soil biodiversity. In turn it creates a feedback cycle whereby larger quantities of chemical input is required to sustain yield levels, but these chemicals inadvertently create the conditions for increased antimicrobial resistance. One way to reduce chemical inputs is to adopt practices such as intercropping and crop rotation. These practices can have a number of immediate benefits including planting crops that deter pests, improving soil health, creating resilience by encouraging selective pressures between crops.

Tilling not only reduces biodiversity but it also compacts soils increasing risks associated with flooding. Public awareness has tended to focus on the increasing amount of concrete as one of the leading contributors of flash flooding. However, water retention differs significantly between different soil management systems. The rainfall simulator demonstrated how water runoff from even 2 inches of rain on cultivated soils were significantly higher than permanent pastures, no-till soils and herbal leys. Issues associated with cultivated soils such as compaction and lack of biodiversity significantly reduce water retention. The need for solutions to flash flooding are rapidly increasing given the rise in unstable and unpredictable weather system associated with climate change. The tendency to frame the solution to flash flooding solely as the need for more fields and less concrete overlooks the important relationship between soil health and water retention, which should be at the centre of flood prevention schemes. Although the number of fields is an important factor for flood prevention, we should be focusing on what’s happening in these fields – or more precisely underneath them. Encouraging robust and established root systems and soil biodiversity through co-cropping, crop rotations, and reduction in chemicals significantly increases soil retention. In this sense, there is clearly a role for farmers to adopt soil management practices that increase water retention within their farms, but these potential environmental protections from farmers need to translate into subsidies and incentives at the local and national levels.

The central message of Groundswell is that Regen Ag is providing the opportunity for farmers to build resilience both in their farms and in their communities. New technologies and avenues of funding are providing opportunities for farmers to exchange knowledge and increase their autonomy together by engaging in new collaborative ventures. Cluster farming initiatives have provided opportunities for farmers to build local support networks and identify longer-term goals and potential funding sources. The future development of resilience at these levels requires communities to support one another to encourage farmers to become indispensably rooted in communities. Some cluster farm leads are specialists offering support to farmers to help establish their long-term goals, secure funding opportunities, and increase the autonomy and security from the ground-up. In fact, there are a number of organisations seeking to support farmers by working with academics, policy makers, and industry. To name a handful of the organisations, we connected with representatives from Innovation for Agriculture, AHDB, FWAG, and Soil Heroes.

We have returned from Groundswell with a deeper appreciation of the complexity of issues that farmers are currently tackling. From navigating their complex relationships with agronomists to uncertainties about how government will account for their needs in the upcoming Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS). There is a clear sense in which farmers feel that ELMS current focus on agroforestry and rewilding creates potential obstacles to providing sufficient support for farmers in the economic and environmental uncertainties on the horizon. Regen Ag demonstrates the crucial role for farmers.

Find out more about our project on the use of fungicides in arable farming.


This blog is written by Dr Andrew Jones, University of Exeter. Andrew works on a Cabot Institute funded project looking at understanding agricultural azole use, impacts on local water bodies and antimicrobial resistance.

Is extreme heat an underestimated risk in Bristol?

Evidence that the Earth is warming at an alarming rate is indisputable, having almost doubled per decade since 1981 (relative to 1880-1981). In many countries, this warming has been accompanied by more frequent and severe heatwaves – prolonged periods of significantly above-average temperatures – especially during summer months.

Heatwaves pose significant threats to human health including discomfort, heatstroke and in extreme cases, death. In the summer of 2003 (one that I am sure many remember for its tropical temperatures), these threats were clear. A European heatwave event killed over 70,000 people across the continent – over 2,000 of these deaths were in England alone. As if these statistics weren’t alarming enough, projections suggest that by 2050, such summers could occur every other year and by 2080, a similar heatwave could kill three times as many people.

Cities face heightened risks

Heat-health risks are not equally distributed. Cities face heightened risks due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect, where urban areas exhibit warmer temperatures than surrounding rural areas. This is primarily due to the concentration of dark, impervious surfaces. In the event of a heatwave, cities are therefore not only threatened by even warmer temperatures, but also by high population densities which creates greater exposure to such extreme heat.

UHIs have been observed and modelled across several of the UK’s largest cities. For example, in Birmingham an UHI intensity (the difference between urban and rural temperatures) of 9°C has been recorded. Some estimates for Manchester and London reach 10°C. However, little research has been conducted into the UK’s smaller cities, including Bristol, despite their rapidly growing populations.

Heat vulnerability

In the UK an ageing population implies that heat vulnerability will increase, especially in light of warming projections. Several other contributors to heat vulnerability are also well-established, including underlying health conditions and income. However, the relative influence of different factors is extremely context specific. What drives heat vulnerability in one city may play an insignificant role in another, making the development of tailored risk mitigation policies particularly difficult without location-specific research.

Climate resilience in Bristol

In 2018, Bristol declared ambitious intentions to be climate resilient by 2030. To achieve this, several specific targets have been put in place, including:

  • The adaptation of infrastructure to cope with extreme heat
  • The avoidance of heat-related deaths

Yet, the same report that outlines these goals also highlights an insufficient understanding of hotspots and heat risk in Bristol. This poses the question – how will Bristol achieve these targets without knowing where to target resources?

Bristol’s urban heat island

Considering the above, over the summer I worked on my MSc dissertation with two broad aims:

  1. Quantify Bristol’s urban heat island
  2. Map heat vulnerability across Bristol wards

Using a cloud-free Landsat image from a heatwave day in June 2018, I produced one of the first high-resolution maps of Bristol’s UHI (see below). The results were alarming, with several hotspots of 7-9°C in the central wards of Lawrence Hill, Easton and Southville. Maximum UHI intensity was almost 12°C, recorded at a warehouse in Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston. Though this magnitude may be amplified by the heatwave event, these findings still suggest Bristol exhibits an UHI similar to that of much larger cities including London, Birmingham and even Paris.

Image credit: Vicky Norton

Heat vulnerability in Bristol

Exploratory statistics revealed two principal determinants of an individual’s vulnerability to extreme heat in Bristol:

  1. Their socioeconomic status
  2. The combined effects of isolation, minority status and housing type.

These determinants were scored for each ward and compiled to create a heat vulnerability index (HVI). Even more concerning than Bristol’s surprising UHI intensity is that wards exhibiting the greatest heat vulnerability coincide with areas of greatest UHI intensity – Lawrence Hill and Easton (see below).

What’s also interesting about these findings is the composition of heat vulnerability in Bristol. Whilst socioeconomic status is a common determinant in many studies, the influential role of minority status and housing type appears particularly specific to Bristol. Unlike general UK projections, old age was also deemed an insignificant contributor to heat vulnerability in Bristol. Instead, the prevalence of a younger population suggests those under five years of age are of greater concern.

Image credit: Vicky Norton


But what do these findings mean for Bristol’s climate resilience endeavours? Firstly, they suggest Bristol’s UHI may be a much greater concern than previously thought, necessitating more immediate, effective mitigation efforts. Secondly, they reiterate the context specific nature of heat vulnerability and the importance of conducting location specific research. Considering UHI intensity and ward-level heat vulnerability, these findings provide a starting point for guiding adaptive and mitigative resource allocation. If Bristol is to achieve climate resilience by 2030, initial action may be best targeted towards areas most at risk – Lawrence Hill and Easton – and tailored to those most vulnerable.


This blog is written by Vicky Norton, who has recently completed an MSc in Environmental Policy and Management run by Caboteer Dr Sean Fox.

Vicky Norton



Predicting the hazards of weather and climate; the partnering of Bristol and the Met Office

Image credit Federico Respini on Unsplash

When people think of the University of Bristol University, or indeed any university, they sometimes think of academics sitting in their ivy towers, researching into obscurities that are three stages removed from reality, and never applicable to the world they live in. Conversely, the perception of the Met Office is often one of purely applied science, forecasting the weather; hours, days, and weeks ahead of time. The reality is far from this, and today, on the rather apt Earth Day 2020, I am delighted to announce a clear example of the multidisciplinary nature of both institutes with our newly formed academic partnership.

This new and exciting partnership brings together the Met Office’s gold standard weather forecasts and climate projections, with Bristol’s world leading impact and hazard models. Our partnership goal is to expand on the advice we already give decision makers around the globe, allowing them to make evidence-based decisions on weather-related impacts, across a range of timescales.

By combining the weather and climate data from the Met Office with our hazard and impact models at Bristol, we could, for instance, model the flooding impact from a storm forecasted a week ahead, or estimate the potential health burden from heat waves in a decade’s time. This kind of advanced knowledge is crucial for decision makers in many sectors. For instance, if we were able to forecast which villages might be flooded from an incoming storm, we could prioritise emergency relief and flood defenses in that area days ahead of time. Or, if we projected that hospital admissions would increase by 10% due to more major heatwaves in London in the 2030s, then decision makers could include the need for more resilient housing and infrastructure in their planning. Infrastructure often lasts decades, so these sorts of decisions can have a long memory, and we want our decision makers to be proactive, rather than reactive in these cases.

While the examples I give are UK focussed, both the University of Bristol and the Met Office are internationally facing and work with stakeholders all over the world. Only last year, while holding a workshop in the Caribbean on island resilience to tropical cyclones; seeing the importance of our work the prime minister of Jamaica invited us to his residence for a celebration. While I don’t see this happening with Boris Johnson anytime soon, it goes to show the different behaviours and levels of engagement policy makers have in different countries. It’s all very well being able to do science around the world, but if you don’t get the culture, they won’t get your science. It is this local knowledge and connection that is essential for an international facing partnership to work, and that is where both Bristol and the Met Office can pool their experience.

To ensure we get the most out of this partnership we will launch a number of new joint Bristol-Met Office academic positions, ranging from doctoral studentships all the way to full professorships. These positions will work with our Research Advisory Group (RAP), made up of academics across the university, and be associated with both institutes. The new positions will sit in this cross-disciplinary space between theory and application; taking a combined approach to addressing some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time.

As the newly appointed Met Office Joint Chair I will be leading this partnership at Bristol over the coming years, and I welcome discussions and ideas from academics across the university; some of the best collaborations I’ve had have come from a random knock on the door, so don’t be shy in sharing your thoughts.

This blog is written by Dr Dann Mitchell – Met Office Joint Chair and co-lead of the Cabot Institute for the Environment’s Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk research.
You can follow him on Twitter @ClimateDann.

Dann Mitchell