Climate Change

Save our Wild Isles

The experience was organised by WWF Cymru, RSPB Cymru and National Trust Cymru together with experts from the Open University that brought to life the Save Our Wild Isles campaign and television series, demanding an immediate halt to the destruction of nature here in the UK and urgent action for its recovery.

The event outlined the challenges facing us and how everyone has a part to play in supporting this recovery – something Sylvia and Jason know first-hand from their experience teaching Cynnal Cymru’s Nature Wise | Nabod Natur course. It brought together nature ambassadors advocating on behalf of our precious grasslands, freshwater areas, woodlands and oceans in a combination of film screenings, panel discussions and interpretation boards, all accompanied by a delicious sustainable vegan meal provided by local caterers Wild Thing Cardiff.

This fantastic opportunity to network and share experiences with others working in the sustainability sector did, however, make clear just how much work still needs to be done. The statistics are deeply worrying: 30 million birds have vanished from our skies over the last 50 years and as many as 1 in 6 species is at risk of extinction here in Wales. And this is something humanity has caused: in the words of Sir David Attenborough, “this starts and ends with us”.

But all is not lost – part of the event was to promote the People’s Plan for Nature created by thousands of people across the UK in an inclusive participatory process calling for “urgent, immediate action from everyone to protect and restore nature for future generations”. The Plan is an ambitious vision which aims to bring the nature crisis and nature conservation to the forefront of decision making while maintaining the delicate balance between human and non-human needs. Add your voice now to the People’s Plan for Nature and make it too big to ignore any longer.

Save our Wild Isles Read More »

Wales Net Zero 2035 Challenge Group Launches First Challenge: How could Wales feed itself by 2035?

The world is experiencing the disastrous impacts of the climate crisis and is currently off track to avert further impacts.  Leading scientists recently issued what they called “our final warning”. The Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru have jointly invited an independent group to explore how the country can speed up its transition to net zero, and how amending its target to 2035 from 2050 could be made possible. 

The ‘Group’, led by former Environment Minister Jane Davidson, is tasked with: 

  • finding the best examples of transformative change from Wales and around the world and bringing them to Wales; 
  • challenging the Welsh government and Senedd (Welsh Parliament) to go further and faster; 
  • imagining what a fairer, more sustainable future looks like for the Welsh nation. 

Will Evans, 10th generation farmer from Wrexham and member of the Group said: 

“I am deeply concerned about the impact of climate change on farming in the UK and across the world, that’s why I am proud and excited to be part of this national conversation on how Wales can blaze a trail for action and adaptation to safeguard a future for our children.” 

10th generation farmer Will Evans, is proud of his work. Yet he has grave concerns about the future of farming in Wales and the future for his daughters in the face of climate change. He is aware that farming needs to change and this provides a huge opportunity. He has recently joined the newly formed Wales Net Zero 2035 Challenge Group, chaired by ex-environment minister Jane Davidson to help ensure farming and the food system in Wales is fit for the future. The Group is formally launching its work today, with a first challenge to explore how Wales could feed itself by 2035

Jane Davidson, Chair, said: 

“Setting up the challenge group shows that the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru “get” the graveness of our global situation and are serious about how we can lessen the impacts and prepare for the future.” 

The Group is looking for the most imaginative solutions to inform 10-year deliverable plans from 2025 to 2035.  

It will be seeking views from Wales and the world; making draft conclusions public to openly put them to the test in Wales and beyond, before making recommendations to the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru in summer 2024.  

Jane Davidson added:

“I challenge anybody with big ideas about how to reach net zero by 2035 – whilst also making sure that we support communities in Wales and deliver better outcomes for nature – to respond to our calls for evidence.” 

The Group will be wanting to hear from people and communities across Wales and the world to listen to their experiences and ideas, across a range of key challenges. The first challenge, being launched today, is How could Wales feed itself by 2035? 

The first challenge’s call for views and evidence also launches today and is expected to run for two months, closing on the 30th June. The launch dates for further challenges will be announced in due course. The Group’s work is scheduled to run until summer 2024. 

The Group is made up of 25 independent, unpaid members and includes representatives from the Welsh Youth Parliament. 

The five Net Zero 2035 Challenges are: 

  1. How could Wales feed itself by 2035?  
  2. How could Wales meet energy needs by 2035 whilst phasing out fossil fuels?   
  3. How could Wales heat and build homes and workplaces by 2035?  
  4. How could people and places be connected across Wales by 2035?  
  5. What could education, jobs and work, look like across Wales by 2035? 

Visit the new website netzero2035.wales for more details >>

For more information, contact Stanley Townsend

Please follow the new Wales Net Zero for updates on their work at:
Twitter @WNZ2035
Mastodon @WNZ2035@toot.wales
Linkedin Wales Net Zero 2035

Wales Net Zero 2035 Challenge Group Launches First Challenge: How could Wales feed itself by 2035? Read More »

Logo of One Mind In Wales

Mind and Local Minds – linking mental health with sustainability

The challenge 

Mental health charities are increasingly interested in issues around climate change and are eager to know what role they can play and how they can positively contribute to the sustainable development goals, and the seven wellbeing goals here in Wales. However, as with many other organisations, local Minds in Wales do not always have in-house experts, sustainability professionals, or the appropriate capacity to help them integrate sustainability into their operations. As a result, there is often concern and worry about not knowing where to start and what to do.

The challenge was to create a shared understanding of what sustainability means to local Minds in Wales, so that as a federation they are all on the same page.  Local Minds in Wales are in the process of implementing their Network Strategy for 2023 to 2026, where plans around environmental sustainability feature within implementation plan tasks, and they have reached out to us for help.

The session came about from interest expressed by local Mind leaders to find out more about this subject area.

Our approach 

We find that the best way to approach such complex challenges is to make their everyday impacts relatable within our clients’ own experiences and areas of operation. Their concerns and frames of reference need to shape what we are delivering and have space to be aired and explored. That way the priorities or solutions that emerge are tangible and relevant rather than theoretical or out of touch. In this case, we chose to show Local Minds that the current crises their clients are facing are only going to be exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. Since Local Minds are specialists in mental health, we approached the challenge by referring to emotions and lived experiences. That said, rather than showing statistics, we asked them to imagine what it is like to live in spaces affected by climate change and inequalities such as housing, access to public transport, costs of living, community spaces, and job insecurities – the structures that they and the people they work with are already having to navigate.   

To deliver this interactive session we relied on key reports: The Links Between the Environment and our Mental Health and What Europe Could Do About It; The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change; and Health and wellbeing impacts of climate change by Public Health Wales (pdf)  

How we helped 

The CEOs of local Minds in Wales already knew about the importance of green spaces, such as the role they played during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our presentation widened this understanding to the connection between the wider environment and mental health. Attendees left with a full understanding that the challenges that climate change poses to mental health are unlike any experienced to date. Some of the impacts of the climate crisis are already being experienced by Mind clients and people new to the organisations are also accessing their services due to climate anxiety. They also understood that they have a key role to play in society in advocating for climate action as a necessary component of preserving and protecting public mental health.

The impact   

The local Mind CEOs have already committed to integrated sustainability into their network strategy so that together they can take actions to lower their footprint on the environment, and make decisions that ultimately benefit the communities they operate in, their staff; their suppliers and contractors, and the environment.

They also decided they needed another session with Cynnal Cymru to support them do achieve this.

It was great to have Karolina join us to provide her expert knowledge, understanding and expertise into environmental sustainability and its connection not only to the third sector and our work, but also the prominent links to mental health.

We have made a commitment to developing plans around environmental sustainability as part of our Strategic Plan, and will very much look forward to working with Karolina and the team at Cynnal Cymru to realise these plans. Simon Stephens, Head of Networks (Wales), Mind Cymru

To find out more about the local Mind network and how you can access support through one of our 18 local Minds in Wales, visit the Local Minds web page.

Mind and Local Minds – linking mental health with sustainability Read More »

Heading for Net Zero? Our new partnership can help

We are seeing a growing demand for services not just to help organisations make sense of sustainable development, but more specifically to measure their impact relating to climate change and the Net Zero ambition.  Identifying robust and scientifically accurate data is a barrier to many organisations and so to assist with this challenge, Cynnal Cymru is joining forces with Compare Your Footprint to provide an enhanced carbon accounting consultancy.

Compare Your Footprint is a B Corp based in the UK which provides the best quality tools to consultants and businesses; and expertise to support organisations to make a just transition to a sustainable future. Their carbon software will allow us to measure scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions and generate a comprehensive analysis of a company’s footprint. This in turn will allow us to work with clients to find the most appropriate and effective strategies to decarbonise.

Our license agreement kicks off in April 2023. Please look out for our carbon accounting service launch and if you think this service may be of value to you in the future please contact consultancy@cynnalcymru.com.

Heading for Net Zero? Our new partnership can help Read More »

CoP15: a landmark agreement for nature

Last month the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James attended the latest Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, Canada. A statement was released by the Minister in support of the “30×30” targets. The Minister stated: “For Wales, one of the world’s most nature-depleted nations a “drastic acceleration of action” will be needed to reach these targets by 2030.” She also declared her ambition for “Wales to be a global leader of change ensuring good environmental status for 30% of our ecosystems by 2030.” 

“Biodiversity is interconnected, intertwined, and indivisible with human life on Earth. Our societies and our economies depend on healthy and functioning ecosystems. There is no sustainable development without biodiversity. There can be no stable climate without biodiversity.”   (UNDP)  

We all have a role to play and if you are keen to learn more about what you or your organisation can do to help tackle the nature emergency we invite you to attend our online ecoliteracy course, Nabod Natur – Nature Wise. This course will teach you about how the natural environment works, the threats it faces, and how we can all help nature thrive.  

We currently have a number of online courses available and there are free places for Cynnal Cymru members or town and community councils and voluntary organisations working within specific locations. 

Interested in reading more about the conference and agreed targets? Follow the links below: 

Interested in claiming your free member space? Contact membership@cynnalcymru.com.

This post was written by Sara Wynne-Pari, Training and Development Officer.

CoP15: a landmark agreement for nature Read More »

Warm this Winter Campaign Launch

Climate Cymru is coordinating a campaign called Warm This Winter (Cynnes Gaeaf Yma) in Wales, to urge the Welsh and UK Governments to act on the interconnected cost-of-living, energy and climate crises. The campaign is led by antipoverty and environmental groups, and backed by hundreds of organisations and thousands of individuals from every corner of Wales. It will launch digitally on 24th September, and at a physical launch in Bangor at the same time. The campaign will spend the subsequent week touring and speaking to communities all over Wales alongside the Climate Cymru Green Tour.

Warm This Winter in Wales has four headline demands:

1)      Emergency support for vulnerable households

2)    An ambitious energy efficiency programme

3)   A rapid scale-up of low-cost renewables

4)    Free us from fossil fuels

Bethan Sayed, Campaigns Coordinator for Warm this Winter said:

Audio segments here: English, Cymraeg

Sam Ward, Manager for Climate Cymru said:

“There is an escalating cost of living crisis, an energy crisis, and an ongoing climate emergency. These crises are connected. They have shared causes, like fossil fuels, which are making them all worse, and shared solutions that can help us get out of this mess, like mass insulation of Welsh homes and investing in super-cheap, clean renewable energy.

“We hope to work productively with the Welsh Government on our demands and their implementation, as well as with UK partners to make sure UK Government does its part to unlock the finances and levers that Welsh Government needs to tackle these issues at the pace and scale that the situation demands”

The Climate Cymru Green Tour will take place 24th September to 2nd October, during the Great Big Green Week, which is the UK’s biggest call for action on climate change. Electric vehicles will travel around Wales during the week, with each stop showcasing inspirational stories of climate change action in Wales. There is further information about each stop on the website at https://climate.cymru/great-big-green-week/green-tour-2022

The Warm this Winter launch will be held at 11am on 24th September at Penrhyn Hall, Bangor City Council, hosted by Climate Cymru partner North Wales African Society, in a mini citizens assembly themed around the cost-of-living crisis.

A week later the Climate Cymru Green Tour will be at the Grangetown Green Gala on 1st October, for another cost-of-living event that coincides with the introduction of the energy price cap.

About Climate Cymru

Climate Cymru is a coalition of over 300 Welsh organisations, and almost 14,000 individuals who have signed up to work together to tackle the climate and nature emergencies.

There will be a professional photographer at the Warm this Winter launch and throughout the week covering the Climate Cymru Green Tour.

For full details about how to attend the physical launch please visit the website: https://greatbiggreenweek.com/events/great-big-green-week-launch-and-citizen-assembly-have-your-say/

For further information about Climate Cymru visit the website:  https://climate.cymru/

For further information on the Warm for Winter campaign visit:  https://climate.cymru/warm-this-winter/

Further information about The Great Big Green week is found here:

UK website: https://greatbiggreenweek.com/

Wales https://climate.cymru/home-page/great-big-green-week-2022-2/

You can also keep up with the campaign and tour on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok. Follow the hashtags #WarmThisWinterWales #WarmthisWinter #ClimateCymru

Warm this Winter Campaign Launch Read More »

DEC Pakistan Floods Appeal

DEC launched the Pakistan Floods Appeal in response to overwhelming destruction caused by extraordinarily heavy rainfall, submerging one third of the country – an area the size of the UK – in muddy, dangerous flood waters. Homes, possessions and lives have been lost with no sign of the flood waters abating. As described by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres; “The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids – the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding.

DEC member charities are on the ground and report widespread destruction and huge humanitarian needs, on a scale not seen in more than a decade, when heavy rains in 2010 resulted in unprecedented flooding. 20 million people were affected by the flooding in 2010; in 2022, 33 million people are affected, in what the UN Secretary General is calling a “climate catastrophe”. Buildings, road and bridges are badly damaged or even completely destroyed, and over 3 million people have fled their homes, with half a million in temporary shelters in relief camps. People are desperate. The danger from disease, hunger and exposure will continue long after the floodwaters recede. Support for the people of Pakistan is particularly vital at this time.

DEC charities are already on the ground providing life-saving aid either directly or through local partners, but need more funds to scale up their operations, particularly with conditions expected to worsen as the rains continue

The worst hit areas have seen five times as much rainfall as the 30-year average.

The immediate and primary focus of the relief effort is to save lives and provide temporary shelter and blankets to people who lost their homes, clean water and sanitation to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases, food for sustenance, and medical assistance for those who have been injured or are ill.  Providing cash assistance and protection have also been identified as priorities, with the latter focusing on child protection, psychological support and distributing dignity kits. In the longer term, work to restore livelihoods through the provision of seeds and livestock will also be vital to getting communities back on their feet. 

If you can please help. Donate today: bit.ly/DECPakistanFloodsFV

DEC Pakistan Floods Appeal Read More »

The Three Questions – Supercool

Since 2004 Supercool have been collaborating with ambitious, forward-thinking clients – from big music venues to intimate theatres, global touring companies to local festivals – on websites, digital applications, digital strategy and consultancy, and branding projects.

Who you are and what your organisation does?

Katie Parry – a co-owner and director at digital design agency, Supercool. We craft beautiful, accessible, and performant websites for arts and culture sector clients across Wales, England, and Scotland.

What has Carbon Literacy training done for you and the organisation?

On the personal side, the Carbon Literacy training offered by Sustain Wales has given me a good understanding of – and ability to talk with others about – the basics of climate change. I now feel more confident discussing it with friends and family.

My personal pledge was about eating and drinking more locally/sustainably. Since becoming carbon literate, I’ve reduced the amount of meat I eat, I buy more produce locally, and have switched from supermarket plastic bottled milk to local milk delivery in reusable glass bottles.

As for work, making my ‘group pledge’ related to our work at Supercool is a great motivator to get it done! My pledge was to write a guide to having sustainable in-person meetings, and I’m hoping to get this written and published over the next couple of months.

Thinking about your organisations journey with sustainability. What would your advice be for a business starting down this road? (3 top tips)

1) Work out your business’s carbon footprint – there are lots of online tools that can help you with this

2) Review and reduce your energy consumption – from small things like using LED lightbulbs in the office, to big things like ditching the office altogether.

3) Make sustainability an intrinsic part of your company – we’ve seen business benefits including improved recruitment and retention, and it’s helped us to win new clients too.


“I found the Carbon Literacy course run by Sustain Wales an enjoyable and time-efficient way to boost my knowledge and confidence around climate change, and what we can all do about it.”

Katie Parry

You can find out more about Supercool’s sustainable journey, by reading the following blog posts:

Sustainability Update + 2022 Action Plan | Supercool (supercooldesign.co.uk)

Carbon Footprint Update – 2022 | Supercool (supercooldesign.co.uk)

To find out how Carbon Literacy training can benefit your business, visit our training web page or contact training@cynnalcymru.com.

The Three Questions – Supercool Read More »

The evidence is clear: the time for action is now. We can halve emissions by 2030

However, there is increasing evidence of climate action, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released today.

Since 2010, there have been sustained decreases of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy, and batteries. An increasing range of policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.  “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective.  If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”

The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group III report, Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change was approved on April 4 2022by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that started on March 21. It is the third instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed this year.

We have options in all sectors to at least halve emissions by 2030

Limiting global warming will require major transitions in the energy sector. This will involve a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels (such as hydrogen).

“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”

Cities and other urban areas also offer significant opportunities for emissions reductions.  These can be achieved through lower energy consumption (such as by creating compact, walkable cities), electrification of transport in combination with low-emission energy sources, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature. There are options for established, rapidly growing and new cities.

“We see examples of zero energy or zero-carbon buildings in almost all climates,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea. “Action in this decade is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.”

Reducing emissions in industry will involve using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimising waste. For basic materials, including steel, building materials and chemicals, low- to zero-greenhouse gas production processes are at their pilot to near-commercial stage.

This sector accounts for about a quarter of global emissions. Achieving net zero will be challenging and will require new production processes, low and zero emissions electricity, hydrogen, and, where necessary, carbon capture and storage.

Agriculture, forestry, and other land use can provide large-scale emissions reductions and also remove and store carbon dioxide at scale. However, land cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors.  Response options can benefit biodiversity, help us adapt to climate change, and secure livelihoods, food and water, and wood supplies.

The next few years are critical

In the scenarios we assessed, limiting warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030; at the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if we do this, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to below it by the end of the century.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F),” said Skea. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

The global temperature will stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero. For 1.5°C (2.7°F), this means achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2°C (3.6°F), it is in the early 2070s.  

This assessment shows that limiting warming to around 2°C (3.6°F) still requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by a quarter by 2030.

Closing investment gaps

The report looks beyond technologies and demonstrates that while financial flows are a factor of three to six times lower than levels needed by 2030 to limit warming to below 2°C (3.6°F), there is sufficient global capital and liquidity to close investment gaps. However, it relies on clear signalling from governments and the international community, including a stronger alignment of public sector finance and policy.

“Without taking into account the economic benefits of reduced adaptation costs or avoided climate impacts, global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be just a few percentage points lower in 2050 if we take the actions necessary to limit warming to 2°C (3.6°F) or below, compared to maintaining current policies,” said Shukla.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Accelerated and equitable climate action in mitigating and adapting to climate change impacts is critical to sustainable development.  Some response options can absorb and store carbon and, at the same time, help communities limit the impacts associated with climate change. For example, in cities, networks of parks and open spaces, wetlands and urban agriculture can reduce flood risk and reduce heat-island effects.

Mitigation in industry can reduce environmental impacts and increase employment and business opportunities. Electrification with renewables and shifts in public transport can enhance health, employment, and equity.

“Climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production,” said Skea. “This report shows how taking action now can move us towards a fairer, more sustainable world.”  

Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Working Group III report provides an updated global assessment of climate change mitigation progress and pledges, and examines the sources of global emissions.  It explains developments in emission reduction and mitigation efforts, assessing the impact of national climate pledges in relation to long-term emissions goals.

Working Group III introduces several new components in its latest report: One is a new chapter on the social aspects of mitigation, which explores the ‘demand side’, i.e. what drives consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  This chapter is a partner to the sectoral chapters in the report, which explore the ‘supply side’ of climate change – what produces emissions. There is also a cross-sector chapter on mitigation options that cut across sectors, including carbon dioxide removal techniques. And there is a new chapter on innovation, technology development and transfer, which describes how a well-established innovation system at a national level, guided by well-designed policies, can contribute to mitigation, adaptation and achieving the sustainable development goals, while avoiding undesired consequences.

The Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group III contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) as well as additional materials and information are available at https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/

The evidence is clear: the time for action is now. We can halve emissions by 2030 Read More »

To switch on the heating, or not? – a surprisingly complex question

On cold, wet and windy days a bike ride to work seems impossible. Damp shoes and clothes seem too much to contend with and wrapping up in a blanket on a Zoom call seems too unprofessional. Whether in the office or at home, the temptation to reach for the electric heater grows as the gas prices are rising and central heating under-performs. “To switch on the heating, or not” is the question that many people across the Northern hemisphere are asking themselves.

Here at Cynnal Cymru we recognise these challenges as we too battle between the need for comfort and the feeling of warmth versus our knowledge about climate change. We know from the 6th Carbon budget by the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), that direct building CO₂ emissions were 85 MtCO₂ in 2019, which account for 17% of total UK GHG emission. This was mostly from our homes (77%), followed by commercial buildings (14%) and public buildings (9%). The reason behind these figures is simple – it is our demand for hot water and heating. 74% of this demand in buildings is met by natural gas, and 10% by petroleum, with smaller amounts of other fuels such as coal and biomass.

To reduce total emissions, the ways in which we heat and use our buildings must be addressed. Recommendations from the CCC include changing behaviour (use less, lower the temperature), increasing building efficiency (insulation), and introducing low carbon heat (air source or ground heat pumps, hydrogen, low carbon district heating etc). The topic of heat then sits at the core of what we at Cynnal Cymru care about, not just professionally but personally too.

Over the last few months, we took part in an unintentional social experiment, because the building we are located in was undergoing a renovation of its central heating. We wore our thickest jumpers, we made many hot drinks, and despite all efforts, eventually, we turned to the electric heaters knowing perfectly well their economic and environmental cost.

This lack of heat got us talking about comfort, habits, energy, renewables, ways to keep warm, and insulation. We knew well that to reduce carbon emissions and to protect future generations, we need to do our bit around heat –which, in reality, may well mean getting used to feeling colder while waiting for a zero-carbon alternative to arrive. But how might this impact on those other fundamental human feelings and needs – for warmth, security and comfort? And what does this mean for the changes that we need to make as a society?

To delve deeper into these questions – and to explore the challenges and opportunities that Wales faces for warm homes and decarbonisation – Dr Karolina Rucinska, our Sustainability Advisor, set out on a research journey that will be shared over the coming weeks. We start with the basics – what is heat?

Heat is moving

If you are grumbling about how cold your house is despite having the radiators on, it is because heat, if it can escape, will always do so. However hard you try, the hot stuff will eventually become cold because the world we live in is governed by the uncompromising laws of thermodynamics. ‘Heat in motion’, Chris Woodford explains in Atoms under the floorboards (2016, Bloomsbury Publishing), ‘is another way to describe thermodynamics, which explains things like how cars waste energy, why power stations need such stupendous cooling towers, why cows have damp noses and dogs dangle out their tongues – and even why Arctic musk oxen spend so much time standing still in the snow.’

While the first law is concerned with energy loss, the second law of thermodynamics is concerned with the movement of heat, always from hot to cold and never the other way round. So, cold stuff is simply the lack of heat, while heat is stuff that always wants to go where there is less of it. Sounds weird, but effectively this is what is happening in our homes. Heat moves around and is, as it were, always on the go, so to make your home cosy, you are effectively trying to heat up every atom in everything that is inside. This takes huge effort and of course energy. If you are using different heaters that store heat and give it away at different rates, then you might wait hours if not days to feel cosy, while all that heat continues to slosh around and move.

This physical side of heat points to one thing: if you want to keep your house cosy, you must insulate it. Without insulation, heat will always escape regardless of how you warm it up. Before you look up low carbon alternatives to your boiler, invest in insulation.

If only it was that easy….

The UK has some of the oldest and most leaky housing stock in Europe. According to the Independent review on decarbonising Welsh homes, 32% of the Welsh housing stock was built before 1919, when there were no construction standards in terms of thermal performance. Research by the Cardiff University School of Architecture showed that the average energy performance (EPC) rating of the Welsh housing stock is a ‘D’ rating*, which raises the incidences of fuel poverty. 43% of people living in private rented accommodation are living in houses built before 1919.

The Guardian reports that, nine in 10 households rely on gas boilers, and lots of gas boilers need lots of gas: UK households consume more of it than almost all of their European peers, at around twice the EU average. With the price of gas going up and energy companies going down, heating leaky homes feels wasteful if they continue to be not insulated well enough to counter that physical side of heat. Between 2012 and 2019 the number of home insulation installations actually dropped by 95%. National Energy Action (NEA), the national fuel poverty charity, has noted that at that rate it would take nearly a century to properly insulate all of the current fuel-poor homes in the country. The statistics are eye-opening indeed. They are clearly telling policy makers and businesses that to significantly reduce carbon emissions from buildings by 2050, actions have to be taken now. But there is something about heat that speaks not to reason and data, but to feeling, an embodied feeling.

Heat is us

Like houses, our bodies too are governed by thermodynamics. Heat escapes our bodies and even after vigorous exercise, we eventually cool down. We give away heat, which we feel immediately, and we want to do something about it, immediately. But we cannot wait years and decades until housing stock is less leaky. We can put on the warmest jumpers to almost insulate our bodies as we would with our houses, but nothing will stop us from eventually feeling cold again. At some point we will need to, despite all that we know about the costs of gas and leaky houses, warm ourselves up. We are all taking temporary and readily available solutions simply because it is cold.

The problem though is that the embodied feeling is not experienced, which in turn perhaps influences our motivation and ability to act, for ourselves and others. Illness, age, cardiovascular system, place, and even norms, as research suggests, dictate how our bodies experience heat or lack thereof. If you have had a disagreement with your family or co-workers about the “right” temperature settings, then you will know what I am talking about.

Heat is suddenly a societal thing. It unites us as well as divides us. How one experiences heat or the lack of it, and what one does about it, also reveals something, unknowingly, about us. Which is why, heating our homes or not, it is about us too. It is a personal, deeply private and emotional thing. As researchers, Erin Roberts and Karen Henwood, from Cardiff University observed, heating is not just about thermal performance of a house, but about thermal comfort. It evokes the feeling of belonging, of feeling safe, of feeling looked after. It brings up the good memories of being with a family and sadly, bad memories of coming home after school with radiators off because parents, often despite being in work, cannot afford high energy bills. Heating can then become, unfairly, a social stigma and a social divide.

Heat is incredibly complex then, as it touches on our most intimate and most sacred parts of our lives, lives which, just like our housing stock, are governed by laws of thermodynamics. Our attention to these laws and insights, or lack of it, will influence future heating actions and policy.

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing a series of articles to explore the challenges and opportunities it poses for equality, decarbonisation and social transformation.

*Properties are given an energy-efficiency grade between A and G, with A being the best – i.e., most energy-efficient – and G being the worst.

To switch on the heating, or not? – a surprisingly complex question Read More »

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