FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
By Tim Radford
The impacts of climate change will strike unevenly, within countries as well as between them. People in poorer parts of southern England will probably suffer most from rising heat.
LONDON, 2 April – Even in Britain, an island kingdom in a temperate zone, global warming will take its toll. And the greatest threat could be to the comfortable home counties of southern England which cluster round London.
According to research in Nature Climate Change, an average rise in summer temperatures of 2°C – and 2°C is the limit beyond which the world’s nations have agreed it would be unsafe to go – would mean around 1,550 extra deaths could be expected.
In the most vulnerable districts, the odds of dying increase by 10% for every 1°C rise in temperatures. In parts of northern England (the study was confined to England and Wales) there might be no extra deaths. But in southern England, which is often hit by extended periods of very warm weather, there was a significant rise in risk.
“It’s well known that warm weather can increase the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory deaths, especially in elderly people,” said James Bennett of Imperial College, London. “Climate change is expected to raise average temperatures and increase temperature vulnerability, so we can expect it to have effects on mortality even in countries like the UK with a temperate climate.”
As in all such forecasts, the extra deaths are notional: they are most likely to be in cases where people are already ill, or very old, and it would always be difficult to attribute any one death directly to a more than usually hot summer day. Britain, like France and other European countries, saw a sharp overall rise in mortality in 2003, when summertime temperatures soared and stayed high.
Bucking the trend
The value of such research is to help local clinics and hospitals to prepare for a greater number of emergencies. Between May and September during the decade 2001-2010, a total of 921,000 people died of cardio-respiratory causes, so the number of predicted extra deaths remains a small proportion of the normal toll.
More than half the deaths would be of people aged 85 and over, and almost two thirds would be women. The extra deaths would happen unevenly: half of all mortality would be in 95 out of 376 local authority districts in England and Wales.
The most vulnerable would be those who lived in already deprived boroughs in London such as Hackney and Tower Hamlets in the East End of the capital, and the chances of death would double on very hot days.
“The reasons for the uneven distribution of deaths in warm weather need to be studied”, said Majid Ezzati, a co-author. “We might expect people in areas that tend to be warmer would be more resilient because they adapt by installing air conditioning, for example. The results show that this isn’t the case in England and Wales.” - Climate News Network