Housing, climate change and health equity

The theme of the Health and Housing Impact Network in 2024/25 is climate change and health equity. We will focus on what is known to work and sharing insight from across sectors to ensure both health and sustainability are taken into account from planning to delivery of new and retrofitted homes.

Why  housing, climate change and health equity?

The impacts of climate change on physical and mental health are well documented. They include death from extreme weather events such as flooding; illnesses related to heat exposure (including heat stroke and exhaustion); and respiratory illnesses from poor air quality. They are happening now and affecting the most vulnerable disproportionately. The current trajectory is for climate change and associated health inequalities to increase.

“As our climate changes, weather becomes more variable and extreme, and it is more likely that we will experience climate-related hazard events such as floods and heatwaves. Our buildings need to be designed so that they are resilient to these events, but the physical risk our built assets will face is not universal and is dependent on specific locations or building characteristics.” UK Green Building Council

It’s imperative, therefore, both to prevent things getting worse and to make changes to our existing infrastructure, services and wider environment. This includes people’s homes.

The good news is that evidence is growing about what can and should be done in designing and building new housing as well as retrofitting existing stock to be climate resilient, reduce carbon emissions and promote wellbeing.

“It is not too late to act to prevent, or at least mitigate, some of the effects of climate change. However, we must work together across political parties and in partnership with business, communities, and the voluntary sector.” Greg Fell, President, Association of Directors of Public Health

Where are the gaps?

There are, however, knowledge gaps, misconceptions and challenges. Upfront costs may seem prohibitive even when the case for ultimate return on investment is clear. There are multiple policies, standards and guidelines for sustainable building, with no overall consensus about what good looks like when climate change and health equity are considered together.

We do not yet have the skills and capacity to deliver at pace. Moreover, there are real and perceived tensions between some environmental and health objectives.  For example, between the need for better insulation against cold (and by implication heating bills), the importance of ventilation to reduce damp and mould, and the comparative environmental advantages of different technologies to make both these things possible.

The London Climate Resilience Review Interim Report (January 2024) found that “despite some progress in preparing for the impact of extreme heat and surface water flooding, London was underprepared for the frequency and severity of climate change currently experienced. It also found that low-income households, the elderly, minority communities, children and vulnerable health groups faced a ‘lethal risk’.”

Our housing, climate change and health equity programme

Our programme will consider health and climate change impacts in tandem. With expert input across health, housing and environmental sectors, the Health and Housing Impact Network  will examine:

  • what decisions can and should be made at each stage in planning, design, delivery and evaluation of both retrofit and new build;
  • who needs to be involved and when, including residents and people with “lived experience”;
  • the relative merits and return on investment of different options;
  • what helps and what hinders good practice.

These events will cover the national, London and local policy landscapes, decision-making frameworks (such as Health Impact Assessments, standards (such as the Well Building Standard), procurement and finance, plus the data, knowledge and skills required to optimise health and environmental outcomes.

At the end of the year, we will produce an evidence-based decision-making map for both new and retrofit homes. This will support policy-makers, practitioners to ensure health equity and climate change impacts are taken into account together and at every stage.

Through this work and our decision-making map we hope to make it easier for practitioners to realise both health and sustainability benefits from new build and retrofit housing projects. 

Supported by Impact on Urban Health

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Find out more

Kings Crescent field trip

Join us for a field trip to the award-winning Kings Crescent Estate on 9 July. We’ll hear from those involved how they prioritised both health and climate impact.

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