London - Heatwaves

Source Document: CSB Grimmond, S Kotthaus, T Sun, HC Ward, S Norbert, Z Zaidi, J Sharpe, M Pelling, T Abeling. 2014-12-31. London Case Study: Heat-waves Biophysical and Social Aspects. Deliverable 5.5


In the London case study the social and biophysical aspects of heat-waves are considered. The aim is to study the key controls on heat-waves in Greater London and the impact of governance to individual behaviours including support networks in the context of heat-wave resilience in the city. To achieve this two groups have collaborated: the social science group (section 5 Lead: Prof Mark Pelling, King’s College London with contributions from Dr Sebastian Norbert (now University of Leeds), Dr Zara Zaidi (now an independent consultant), Justin Sharpe, Thomas Abeling (associated also with UNU-EHS) and the biophysical science group (sections 1-4, Lead: Prof Sue Grimmond, formerly King’s College London, now University of Reading; with contributions from Dr Helen Ward, Dr Simone Kotthaus, Dr Ting Sun (also Tsinghua University)). 

This report addresses social science and biophysical science approaches to heat-waves. First, the London context is considered (section 2), followed by background information on heat-waves in the city. In sections 3 and 4, biophysical approaches – observations and modelling results -- are presented for London. The challenges encountered and the future research planned both are considered. In section 5, the context for the social science work is presented, along with interviews of vulnerable groups in London that highlight the importance of social networks in urban resilience. A large number of people contributed to this research, thus the acknowledgements are lengthy and provide an important complement to the methods presented in the body of the text.

Overall Conclusions

This study has pushed forward our understanding of the biophysical and social determinants of resilience to heat-wave in a large metropolitan area: London. By enabling and demonstrating the utility of a borough level modelling of biophysical drivers for temperature the study has succeeded in providing a link from the low resolution studies that have so far dominated heat-wave risk assessment to the finer scale resolutions that becomes more useful to policy makers in the city. By enabling a borough level assessment the research reported here opens scope for a much more integrated assessment of resilience, and also of risk. At the same time the social research completed in this case study has demonstrated the value of a borough level lens for articulating the structural (and interpersonal) relations that drive community resilience and risk. 

The work has succeeded in making advances in our knowledge base through original studies that have made observations of social behaviour inside organisations that frame community level resilience, and of the power of individual social networks for positioning and enabling independent decision-making and behaviour to reduce and respond to exposure form heat-wave risk. The study provides a strong argument for the need to approach heat-wave risk from a more integrated policy perspective, one that continues to support health care but can couple this with social policy led risk management. Social care has a more distributed regulatory and delivery structure than medical care in London and the UK, and this might explain the reluctance of government to frame heat-wave risk in this way, but the gains in addressing the drivers of resilience building are clear.

The work has not been able to yet fully integrate across the biophysical and social science elements which while associated through scale and hazard focus remain working in parallel. However, the achievement of a common scale of analysis for both approaches opens significant scope for more integrated analysis in the future.