Health effects of climate change

The possible health effects of climate change have been set out in a report published by the Health Protection Agency and the Department of Health today.

The report, written by an Expert Panel, takes into account the latest information and current predictions about climate change in the UK . It will form the basis of the Agency's response to a recent request for information from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, to help scope their new study on ‘Adapting the UK to Climate Change'.

There is now a scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global warming, and there are questions about how to reduce possible health risks.

The findings show the UK is adapting well to rising temperatures experienced since the 1970s, but heatwaves pose an increasing risk to health and there is an increased risk of flooding. There is even a very slight chance that malaria could return to the South of England during the next 50-100 years, although outbreaks of this disease are likely to be rare and involve a small number of people.

In order to aid decision making on priorities by the UK Government, the report has looked at the health consequences if no action is taken to avoid significant climate change this century. If that were to be the case, the following consequences are possible:

  • By 2012 there will be a 1 in 40 chance that the South East of England will experience a serious heatwave causing 3,000 immediate heat-related deaths.
  • While malaria outbreaks in Britain are likely to remain rare and easily controlled, health authorities need to remain alert to the possibility of larger outbreaks in continental Europe and the emergence of more deadly European strains of mosquitoes in wetland areas of Britain .
  • Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease are likely to become more common due to changes in land management and an increase in outside leisure time.
  • Increased exposure to sunlight will lead to a rise in skin cancers.
  • The number of people at a high risk from flooding is set to rise from 1.5 million to 3.5 million by 2100.
  • There will be up to 14,000 (14.5 per cent) more cases of food poisoning, including Salmonella, per year.
  • Winter deaths will continue to decline as the climate warms.

Expert Panel Chairman Professor Robert Maynard from the Agency said:

“Climate change is likely to be one of the major challenges that humanity faces this century. It is important that we assess the possible health impact and take any actions that could minimise the consequences. The publication of this report is a significant step in that process.”

Ref : Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK . Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency. February 2008. The report can be downloaded from the DH website at http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_0 8 0702

Notes

  1. DH first published a report on this topic in 2002. An updated version was produced in 2007 and has been on www.dh.gov.uk for comment period. The report published today takes account of comments received.
  2. The invitation from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution to submit information for their study on “Adapting the UK to Climate Change” can be found at http://www.rcep.org.uk/climatechangeadaptation.htm

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