UKHSA's HECC report shows impacts on public health due to warming climate

UKHSA has published its first HECC report, drawing together the latest evidence on how our changing climate is already impacting on the nation’s health and publishing future projections based on a plausible worst case scenario.

The report contains 15 chapters written and peer-reviewed by a wide range of experts from academia, industry and government, providing detailed analysis on climate change issues that will inform further research, public health practice and policy decisions going forward.

It is the first report of its kind produced since 2012. It demonstrates that the evidence base on the health effects of climate change has grown significantly, with health threats from heat, mosquitos, flooding and food security becoming more significant in the near future.

Both at home and across the world, we are already seeing the health effects of increasingly extreme weather. In the summer of 2022, the UK saw temperatures reach above 40°C for the first time on record, with nearly 3,000 excess deaths recorded across the period, while many other countries have experienced bouts of intense and prolonged heat in recent months.

This report examines the future relationship between temperature and mortality in climate change. Using a high-emissions scenario, UK-heat related deaths are estimated to increase by one and a half times in the 2030s and by 12 times by 2070.

Under the same scenario, cold-related deaths are also projected to increase for a period before declining, with deaths from extreme cold declining by the mid-century, and deaths from moderate cold peaking around the same time and seeing a decline by the 2070s. Deaths due to cold will therefore continue to present a substantial mortality burden.

Public health interventions and wider adaptations can have a major impact in reducing temperature-related risks to health for both heat and cold. Protecting older adults and considering the social determinants of vulnerability is vital to lever for minimising health risks. Evidence of substantial variation in geographic and social vulnerability to heat and cold highlights that there is scope for interventions to be targeted to improve the resilience of places and communities.

Many infectious diseases are highly climate sensitive, and with warmer temperatures it is increasingly likely that we will see the introduction and establishment of a number of invasive mosquito species in the UK, as well as the projected spread of existing species into habitats that were previously inhospitable to them.

Climate modelling under a high emissions scenario suggests that Aedes albopictus – a mosquito species that can transmit dengue fever, chikungunya virus and zika virus – has the potential to become established in most of England by the 2040s and 2050s while most of Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of the Scottish Lowlands could also become suitable habitats later on in the century.

Under this scenario, London could experience endemic dengue transmission by 2060. The risk of establishment of Aedes albopictus in the UK is of great concern for public health.

Dr Lea Berrang Ford, Head of Centre for Climate and Health Security at UKHSA, said: "The evidence is clear – climate change is not solely a future health threat. Health impacts are already being felt domestically and globally, and these risks will accelerate.

"Temperatures will likely continue to increase until at least mid-century, irrespective of the amount by which we decarbonise in the decades to come. Many current working-age adults will be over 65 years and potentially highly vulnerable to the health impacts of increased temperatures. A child born today will be in their working-age years when health impacts may peak or accelerate further, depending on how much we decarbonise now. There are significant opportunities for win-win solutions that can combat climate change and improve health.

"The health decisions we make today will determine the severity and extent of climate impacts inherited by today’s youth and their children."

To view the report, click here.

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