A cross-party committee of MPs in the UK has issued a warning, urging the government to urgently formulate a plan to prevent thousands of deaths caused by heatwaves each year, as global temperatures continue to rise due to climate change. According to the report by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), over 4,500 people died in heatwaves in 2022, and this number could potentially surge to 10,000 annually by 2050 without immediate action.
Heatwaves are described as “silent killers” by the MPs, impacting heart rate and blood pressure, with individuals over 65 and those with existing health issues being the most vulnerable. Mental health is also affected, with the risk of suicide doubling when temperatures rise from 22C to 32C. Poor sleep due to hot nights is estimated to cost the economy £60bn a year in lost productivity.
The report emphasizes the urgently need for measures to protect people from heat, including the creation of more green spaces, the installation of fans in homes, and the use of window shutters and white-painted roofs to reflect the sun’s heat. Record-breaking temperatures exceeding 40C in 2022, coupled with 2023 being the world’s hottest year on record, underscore the urgently addressing the impact of heatwaves on public health.
The MPs call for the incorporation of nature-based solutions, such as parks, trees, ponds, and green roofs, to cool communities. Additionally, they recommend considering changes to building regulations to promote the use of ceiling fans. Coating roofs with highly reflective white paint, fitting external window shutters, and reducing the reliance on energy-intensive air conditioning units are among the proposed measures.
The report criticizes the government’s recent climate adaptation plan as “very weak” and emphasizes the need for swift, ambitious, and urgent action. The MPs propose a comprehensive, nationwide retrofit program led by local authorities and supported by long-term funding to enhance the energy efficiency of homes.
While regulations and plan were introduced in 2021 to prevent overheating in new residential buildings, the MPs note that these do not apply to existing structures where the majority of people will reside in 2050. Proposals for low-cost retrofit finance for householders are also deemed urgent, as the government is yet to respond to a consultation conducted in 2020.
The report suggests that the Met Office should trial naming heatwaves to raise public awareness, similar to how storms are named, and include humidity levels in weather forecasts. Humid heat, which hampers the body’s ability to cool itself, poses an additional health risk.
The recommendations highlight the need for comprehensive and coordinated efforts to address the growing threat posed by heatwaves, combining immediate actions to protect vulnerable populations with long-term strategies for sustainable urban development and energy efficiency.