The UK lacks a serious plan to address heatwaves, according to researchers at the University of Reading and King’s College London.
Public Health England recently announced that the three heatwaves in England in June, July and August 2020 caused 2,556 excess deaths.
As well as impacting health, heatwaves impact railways, affect water supplies, and lower productivity, with lost staff days due to heat costing the UK economy £770m in 2010.
The 2018 Environmental Audit Committee described the UK as ‘woefully unprepared’ for heatwaves, and warned that the number of heat-related deaths could treble to 7,000 per year by 2050 unless action is taken.
Based on these findings, the authors of the report are calling for a more focused strategy to help society cope with rising temperatures due to climate change.
The researchers have said that the UK needs a more focused response to heatwaves that mirrors recent investment in flood prevention.
Chloe Brimicombe, a heatwaves PhD researcher at the University of Reading, said: ‘If heat was as visible as floodwater, you would see politicians wading around in it on television during heatwaves demanding urgent action. But because heat is invisible, and it affects mostly older and less affluent people, its deadly impacts are largely overlooked.
‘Like other disasters, heatwaves have cost the UK billions of pounds in damage to agriculture, infrastructure and productivity, yet there is a woeful lack of political and public understanding of heat as a risk.”
‘The UK is storing up problems for the future in millions of outdated heat-trap homes, poor building regulations, and lack of comprehensive emergency planning to save lives when extreme heat hits us,” said Ms Brimicombe.
‘There are things we can do to reduce the impact of heat on the population, such as adapting to shade and ventilate homes and providing public warnings ahead of heatwaves. This will require investment and far more joined-up thinking than we are seeing at the moment.’
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