Experts warn extreme heat shows health impact of climate change

Experts have said that the extreme heatwave hitting the UK is a sign of the health impact of climate change.

Today the Met Office issued its first ever red extreme heat warning, meaning a risk to life is likely with temperatures potentially hitting an unprecedented 40 degrees.

The government has said the heatwave is being treated as a national emergency, with contingency plans in place.

Scientists and clinicians have warned that the extreme weather shows how the climate crisis will increasingly affect people’s health.  

group of people standing near trees

Professor Joanna Haigh, emeritus professor of atmospheric physics at Imperial College London, said: ‘The global surface temperature is rising due to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases. Inevitably accompanying this are more frequent heatwaves, such as the one we are currently experiencing. 

‘The damage being caused by climate change is becoming more obvious and more extreme and to minimise future impacts on health and livelihoods we must urgently reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Robust scientific evidence shows that to avoid the worst effects means reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.’

Dr Richard Hixson, a consultant in critical care medicine added: ‘Globally, heatwaves now affect hundreds of millions of people and lead to tens of thousands of excess deaths. Extreme heat creates physical stress on the body, exacerbates conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and through affecting large numbers of people at the same time, can place significant stain on healthcare services.

‘There is a limit to simply how far humans can adapt to rising heat; globally, rising heat will make parts of the world unliveable. As doctors, there is also a limit to how effective we can be at merely treating the symptoms of a problem. We must address the root cause by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to net zero before the impacts of climate change become much worse for us all.’

The Met Office’s red warning covers a swathe of inland England, covering London, Manchester and stretching up to York.

Emergency medicine doctor Sandy Robertson said: ‘Heatwaves are among the most dangerous natural threats that people face. At particular risk of extreme heat are the most vulnerable in our society; the very young and elderly, those with long-term health conditions, and the poorest, notably people living in high-density urban housing. 

‘In addition, extreme heat creates problems for health and emergency services, posing challenges in areas such as cooling hospitals, and to energy supplies and medical transportation. We also see increased attendances to emergency departments during heatwaves, adding to the pressures that the health system is already facing.’

Photo by Mika Baumeister


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