UK Prime Minister is urged to create a National Heat Risk Strategy
A letter to UK Prime Minister published today (31 August, the last day of meteorological summer) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, appeals for the UK government to tackle the growing risks from hot weather to public health and the economy by creating a cross-departmental National Heat Risk Strategy.
The letter was written by the Institute’s policy and communications director, Bob Ward, following the publication on 25 August by the Office for National Statistics of alarming figures indicating that hundreds of deaths in England and Wales resulted from heatwave conditions during the week ending 14 August. Previous analyses by Public Health England have shown that more than 3,000 people were killed by summer heatwave conditions between 2016 and 2019.
The UK does not have a national strategy for managing the multiple risks posed by hot weather, which include lost productivity and damage to infrastructure. Although the Government introduced a Heatwave Plan for England after hot weather in August 2003 killed more than 2,000 people in the UK, an official review by the Policy Innovation and Evaluation Research Unit at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which was published in May 2020, concluded that there is “no definitive evidence” that it has had an impact. The review also found that most heat-related deaths in recent years have occurred outside of the alert periods of the Heat-Health Watch Service operated by the Met Office and Public Health England.
The letter notes that the risks from hot weather are growing because of climate change, with increases in the frequency and intensity of hot days and nights. England’s warmest summer on record occurred in 2018, and the UK’s hottest daytime temperature of 38.7˚C was measured in July 2019. On current trends, peak daytime summer temperatures could exceed 40˚C within the next few years.
The letter urges the Government to ensure that the new National Institute for Health Protection revises the Heatwave Plan for England and acts on the recommendations of the report by the Policy Innovation and Evaluation Research Unit. The letter sets forth those issues that the National Heat Risk Strategy should address, including the retrofitting of existing homes and workplaces to reduce the likelihood of overheating, adapting other existing infrastructure, including for transport, energy and communications, to make it more resilient to the growing effects of hot weather, and increasing research on the effects of hot weather on health and productivity and the options for reducing the impacts.
The letter recommends that, in addition to the Department of Health and Social Care, the National Heat Risk Strategy should be implemented by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Her Majesty’s Treasury, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Transport.
The letter closes by noting that decisive action on the threat of heatwaves to the British public, would also demonstrate the UK Government’s leadership on climate change adaptation and resilience at a time when it holds the Presidency of the COP26 United Nations climate change summit.
Read the accompanying commentary, The UK needs a ‘National Heat Risk Strategy’, by Bob Ward, here.
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Notes for editors
About the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment
Established in 2008 at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Institute brings together international expertise on economics, as well as finance, geography, the environment, international development and political economy to establish a world-leading centre for policy-relevant research, teaching and training in climate change and the environment. It is funded by the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. www.lse.ac.uk/grantham/