Health of 12 million Brits at risk from climate crisis

River Severn in Flood at Atcham in Shropshire

A new report from The Climate Coalition and the Priestley International Centre for Climate has warned that the health of more than 12 million people could deteriorate as heatwaves and major flood events rise in frequency and impact as a result of the climate crisis.

Approximately 1.8 million people in the UK are living in areas that are at significant risk of flooding, according to the report, a number that could reach 2.6 million over the next 17 years. The report notes that flooding can worsen mental health and wellbeing, with one-third of people that have experienced flooding also experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Additionally, around 12 million people – namely the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions – are vulnerable to the impacts of heatwaves.

In the UK, heat-related mortality in people older than 65 years increased by 21% between 2004 and 2018, the report notes. In 2020, 16 nights were recorded where the temperature remained above 20C and heat-related deaths reached 8,500 in 2018.

The report from the Climate Coalition, whose members include National Trust, WWF, Women’s Institute, Oxfam and RSPB, therefore calls on the UK to play its part in tackling the climate crisis. Doing so would improve air quality and reduce the pressures being place on the NHS.

The Climate Coalition’s campaigns director Clara Goldsmith said: “Failure to with speed and scale to address the climate and ecological crises will spell disaster not only for our natural world, but for public health. Governments must urgently recognise the threat posed by climate change and set the recovery on a green pathway that enshrines planetary and public health above all else.”

According to WWF, rising sea levels, storms and flooding driven by climate change has placed more than £12bn of the UK’s economy at risk, while almost 2.5 million homes in the UK could suffer from flooding by 2050.

Coastal protection is largely provided by saltmarshes and seagrass beds. Yet the UK has already lost up to 92% of its seagrass in the last century and 85% of its saltmarsh.

WWF’s chief executive Tanya Steele added: “Our mental and physical health are clearly linked to the health of the one place we all call home: our planet.  Yet right now, nature – our life support system – is in freefall, and the climate crisis is making blazing heatwaves and major flood events more frequent and more likely.

“To show true global leadership at this year’s climate summit, the UK Government must take more ambitious steps to reach our net-zero targets and put nature on the path to recovery.”

Business resiliency

There are business risks to consider too. Indeed, it is estimated that flooding damage cost UK businesses £513m in 2015 alone.

A survey of 122 of the UK’s biggest businesses found that half have done little or no work to prepare for climate change risks – both physical and transition-related. The survey was conducted by the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors (Chartered IIA) and The Climate Group. It polled chief audit executives at 67 FTSE-100 firms and 55 other large businesses on their approach to preparing for climate change.

While more than two-thirds of the respondents said climate change will present risk to their business in the short to medium-term, 52% revealed that they have done either little or no work so far to prevent climate-related risks.

Separate research from Cervest found that three-quarters of UK businesses are concerned about climate-related risks, just one in ten consider measuring and disclosing their climate-related risks a priority.

Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    Re: heatwaves

    How To Stay Cool in Global Weirding

    With the climate crisis already here temperature records are being regularly broken, and the average temperature also goes up with nearly every passing year.

    While I would suggest to everyone that they should be getting a personal body cooler if they can afford it, there are many in the world who can not; for them I have a cheap solution, namely using the wind chill factor. This is the lowering of the body temperature due to the passing flow of lower temperature air. To use the wind chill factor to keep cool on a hot, and potentially dangerous day, just cover your naked flesh with cold water and stand in front of a fan until chilly. If you have done it too long you will feel a cold sting even in the hottest countries ( Jack Frost ), so adjust the time in front of the fan you are using, which will vary from model to model.

    With the death rates mounting due to record temperatures over record days this invention can save lives. Fans are both cheaper than air conditioning, and better for the environment.

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