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Water efficiency and urbanisation to cause climate change strife

Water metering and poorly constructed homes in “urban heat islands” will exacerbate the consequences of climate change for low-income and urban households, a new report has said.

The report by social policy charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said those living in very built up areas on a low income will feel the greatest effects of heatwaves and drought.

Low-income households will be at particular risk of “water poverty”, as water companies adopt water metering and differential pricing to incentivise greater water efficiency, in the bid to adapt to the effects of climate change.

It also found that people who live in poorly constructed homes in “urban heat islands” where built environments retain heat are more likely to be vulnerable to high temperatures.

Vulnerability to heatwaves and drought: adaptation to climate change by a team from energy and climate change consultancy AEA and the University of Surrey explores how examples of climate change adaptation in the South West of England may impact on vulnerable groups in society.

The report found that water metering could create affordability problems for some low-income households and could lead to ‘water poverty’ in some cases – where households spend 3% or more of their income on water bills.

Water affordability is a particular problem for the south west where bills are on average 43% higher than the rest of the country, the report said.

AEA lead report author Magnus Benzie said: “Some tariffs can put unfair pressure on households that cannot reduce their water consumption, either because of household size, medical needs or an inability to invest in water efficient appliances.”

The report also said impacts of high temperatures will be felt most in urban areas, particularly neighbourhoods prone to the “urban heat island” effect where the built environment retains more heat than in surrounding, more rural areas.

“As the UK becomes more urbanised, this increases society’s exposure to high temperatures,” said the report.

The UK does not have a history of significant impacts from high temperatures; the threat is relatively new and poorly understood. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves in the UK.

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