Research conducted by the Place-Based Climate Action Network has found that stakeholders from local authorities, first responders, utility companies and the transport sector are concerned that England is not ready to respond to extreme heatwaves this summer. 

Stakeholders in the focus groups and interviews conducted for the report felt “that resources were at ‘breaking point’ and had the 2022 heatwaves been longer in duration or with even higher temperatures, “responses would not have been as effective.”

In addition, the participants in the research also said, “that England is not prepared to manage future extreme heat events, particularly if these were to occur more frequently at the same magnitude and duration, or if they were less frequent but of greater magnitude than the 2022 heatwaves.” The report is published on the first day of the meteorological summer (1 June).

Maximum temperatures in the UK exceeded 40 degrees Celsius for the first time on record in July 2022 and scientists have warned that heatwaves in many parts of the world are increasing in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change.

During extreme heat periods last summer, 2,803 excess deaths were recorded among those aged 65 years and over and 3,271 excess deaths among all (excluding COVID-19 deaths): the highest excess mortality figure during heat periods recorded since the Heatwave Plan for England was introduced in 2004.

The report produced by the Place-Based Climate Action Network (led by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science) in association with the British Red Cross, includes alarming evidence for the UK government, which is due to publish later this year its updated climate change adaptation plan.

As well as placing a significant burden on first responders and the healthcare system, the heatwaves disrupted transport infrastructure and the utility sectors, and caused economic losses at the local, regional and national levels.

In ‘2022 Heatwaves: England’s Response and Future Preparedness for Heat Risk’, the authors highlight the barriers that must be overcome to safeguard the UK against heatwaves and provides recommendations for what the government and local authorities need to prioritise, including:

  • Update UK and local government heatwave policies and guidance.
  • Create local and regional extreme heat action plans and a national strategy.
  • Stop cuts to public budgets.
  • Improve public communication, education and engagement, and encourage a cultural shift.
  • Identify and understand influences on vulnerable groups to reduce heat disadvantage and vulnerability.

Candice Howarth, Head of Local Climate Action at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and co-Director of the Place-based Climate Action Network (PCAN), said:

“The UK does not have a history of climate adaptation to cope with extreme heat but this now must be at the top of the agenda for government, organisations, cities and the public.”

“Our research shows that Government needs joined up thinking when it comes to managing extreme heat in the UK and needs to make large scale changes to policy beyond the newly published UKHSA Adverse Weather and Health plan and consider impacts and responses beyond health across society, if we are going to avoid excess deaths, shocks to the economy and breakdown in public services in this and future summers.

Ellie Murtagh, UK Climate Adaptation Lead at the British Red Cross, said:

“While a lot of us in the UK welcome spells of hot weather, we are too often unaware of the damage it can cause. Last summer saw record breaking temperatures impacting communities across the UK, as well as droughts and wildfires affecting many areas. As the brief highlights, we need to improve communication and education for communities and individuals on how to prepare for and manage heat risk.

“We need to be ready for future heatwaves, and this means advanced planning, preparation and early action with a joined-up approach across voluntary and community sector organisations, local government and communities. As the research highlights, we need to act now. We all have a role to play to help the UK prepare for and manage heat risk.”

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