Global warming and climate change has led to record heatwaves in the UK posing significant health risks especially to elderly and people with chronic diseases. As a result, heatwave excess mortality has risen. Indoor overheating has become an important problem for both healthcare and housing services making installation of air conditioners and redesigning of indoor living environment an imperative.
On 19 July 2022, the temperature in Coningsby situated in Lincolnshire County of England reached as high as 40.3°C. A milestone in UK climate history, this was the first time in the UK that a temperature of 40°C was recorded. Prior to this, the highest temperature observed was 38.7°C recorded on 25 July 2019 in Cambridge1.
The summer heatwaves in the UK have been worsening over the years. The heatwave of 2018 was the longest in the recent past. In the last three decades the highest temperature has steadily risen by over 3°C from 37.1°C highest recorded on 03 August 1990 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire to 40.3°C recorded on 19 July 2022 in Lincolnshire.
Climate modelling indicates that temperature in the UK should not reach 40°C if the climate were unaffected by human influence1. However, although mainstream British media did not usually link climate change as the key underlying cause behind the heatwave2, rapid warming of the global climate mainly as a result of high carbon emissions is a stark reality. If the high carbon emission remains unabated, the frequency of occurrence of 40°C plus would increase. Reducing carbon emissions would only reduce this frequency but extreme summer heat conditions will remain frequent1. This has wide-ranging societal implications including on human health.
Rising temperatures and warmer years have seen an increase in heat-related mortality over the years. In 2020, estimated heatwave excess mortality in England was 2556 which was highest since 2004when Heatwave Plan for England was introduced3. Elderly people and those with chronic diseases mostly living indoors without air conditioners are exposed to increased heat-related health risks. Health services (NHS) too is unable to satisfactorily deal with heatwave and keep the hospital ambient temperature below 26°C4. Ideally, hospitals and nursing/care homes would require installation of air conditioners in near future.
An average UK dwelling unit has seen much improvement over the years in terms of building insulation to reduce emissions. However, in the current and projected climate scenario, the efficient building insulation would also contribute in overheating of indoor environments in summers. In fact, simulation studies5 show a very large increase in overheating by the 2080s making gradual redesigning housing and health services an imperative.
- Met Office 2022. A milestone in UK climate history, Posted 22 Jul 2022. Available online at https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2022/july-heat-review
- Batziou A., 2021. Climate Change and the Heatwave: Searching for the link in the British Press. Pages 681-701 | Published online: 05 May 2021. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2020.1808515
- Thompson R., 2022. Heatwave Mortality in Summer 2020 in England: An Observational Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(10), 6123; Published: 18 May 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19106123
- Stokel-Walker C., 2022. Why do NHS hospitals struggle to handle heatwaves? BMJ 2022; 378. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o1772 (Published 15 July 2022)
- Wright A. and Venskunas E., 2022. Effects of Future Climate Change and Adaptation Measures on Summer Comfort of Modern Homes across the Regions of the UK. Energies 2022, 15(2), 512; DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/en15020512