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Nearly 3,000 excess deaths were recorded during summer 2022 when UK temperatures topped 40°C, and heat-related deaths could increase by 1.5 times in the 2030s
Thursday, 11 January 2024, Kerry Taylor-Smith
Climate change is already affecting the nation’s health says the first Health Effects of Climate Change (HECC) report from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The peer-reviewed report provides detailed analysis on issues that could affect public health, including heat, mosquitos, flooding, and food security. It will inform future research, public health practice and policy decisions using projections based on a probable worst-case scenario.
Dr Lea Berrang Ford, Head of Centre for Climate and Health Security at UKHSA said: “The evidence is clear – climate change is not solely a future health threat. Health impacts are already being felt domestically and globally, and these risks will accelerate.”
Almost 3,000 excess deaths were recorded during summer 2022 when UK temperatures soared above 40°C for the first time; the report estimates heat-related deaths could increase by 1.5 times in the 2030s and by 12 times by 2070 under a high-emissions scenario.
“Many current working-age adults will be over 65 years and potentially highly vulnerable to the health impacts of increased temperatures,” said Berrang Ford. “A child born today will be in their working-age years when health impacts may peak or accelerate further.”
Under the same scenario, deaths from extreme cold will lessen by the mid-century, while deaths from moderate cold will peak around the same time and reduce by the 2070s.
Dr Peninah Murage, Assistant Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said, “Understanding the future health burdens associated with heat and cold exposure will help decision makers in health and social-care better understand future changes in health risks and put arrangements in place to protect populations. This is urgent, as the UK climate is projected to be warmer, and the population increasingly older, which will increase overall risks to health.”
Many infectious diseases are highly climate sensitive and warmer temperatures could encourage invasive mosquito species to settle in the UK, including Aedes albopictus which transmits dengue fever, chikungunya virus and zika virus. It could become established in most of England by the 2040s and 2050s, with London experiencing endemic dengue transmission by 2060.
“This report shares a stark look at a worst-case scenario of how unhealthy the future could become in the UK,” said Dr Chloe Brimicombe, Climate Scientist and Extreme Heat Researcher at the University of Graz. “It is scary to imagine a world where mosquitoes reach the UK, but it doesn’t have to be, when we have the ambition to act on climate change we can protect ours and future generations' health.”
Professor Isabel Oliver, Chief Scientific Officer at UKHSA said, “This report starkly demonstrates the impact that climate change could have on our society if we do not take decisive action. Many of the anticipated adverse impacts on health are still avoidable through mitigation measures, while others are preventable if the necessary adaptation measures are introduced.”
The report suggests aligning health goals with the UK’s decarbonisation agenda offers the greatest potential to generate a range of health benefits. “We should use this report as a positive reminder of building a net zero future that can have positive impacts on our health, for example reducing air pollution and insulating houses to reduce emissions and overheating,” concluded Brimicombe.
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