Blistering heatwaves and devastating flood events are set to take an ever-greater toll on the UK’s mental and physical health, according to the Climate Coalition
The physical and mental health of more than 12 million people in the UK is under threat from the growing impacts of climate change, including blistering heatwaves and devastating flooding, a major new study today warns.
The report – published by the Climate Coalition alongside experts that the Priestly International Centre for Climate – estimates a proportion of the population equivalent to the number of people living in London and Manchester combined could be vulnerable to intensifying weather events made more likely by the changing climate.
At present, around 1.8 million people in the UK live in areas at significant risk of flooding, a figure set to rise to 2.6 million within just 17 years unless action is taken to bolster climatre resilience, the report estimates.
Major storms and flooding events are projected to become increasingly commonplace in many parts of the UK, underscored by Storm Christoph last month in parts of England and Waste, which caused huge damage and forced some people to flee their homes.
Floods are one of the UK’s more pressing climate threats, and as well as the immediate risk of death and injury, they can cause long-term trauma for those affected, leading to a heightened risk of mental health problems, the report warns.
Almost one in three people have reported suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their houses flooded, it notes, while victims of flooding have been found to be as much as four times more likely on average to suffer from other issues such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD than those unaffected by floods.
Meanwhile, summer heatwaves are similarly posing an increasing health threat in the UK, particularly among elderly people or those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. The report notes that heat-related mortality in over-65s rose by more than fifth between 2004 and 2018, while last year the UK experienced 16 so-called ‘tropical nights’ when the temperature remained above 20C, which has historically been a rare occurrence.
Climate-related health impacts also present a challenge to businesses, with floods and heatwaves leading to increased levels of supply chain disruption, employee sick leave, and reduced productivity.
The Climate Coalition – which counts WWF, National Trust, the Women’s Institute, Oxfam, and RSPB as members – said the report’s findings underscored the urgency and myriad benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero in order to help combat the climate crisis.
“Failure to act with speed and scale to address the climate and ecological crises will spell disaster not only for our natural world but for public health,” said Clara Goldsmith, campaigns director at The Climate Coalition. “Governments must urgently recognise the threat posed by climate change and set the recovery on a green pathway that enshrines planetary and public health above all else.”
By introducing policies and technologies to combat climate change, the UK could better improve wellbeing, boost air quality, and ensure healthier lifestyles and cleaner air, the report argues.
Indeed, if just a quarter of England’s population switched to cycling regularly, it could cause total all-cause mortality to drop by 11 per cent in England, it estimates, rising to a 56 per cent drop from ditching car journeys under five miles.
WWF chief executive Tanya Steele said there were clear and growing links between mental and physical health, and “the health of the one place we all call home: our planet”.
“Yet right now, nature – our life support system – is in freefall, and the climate crisis is making blazing heatwaves and major flood events more frequent and more likely,” she said.
“To show true global leadership at this year’s climate summit, the UK government must take more ambitious steps to reach our net-zero targets and put nature on the path to recovery.”
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Devastating flood events have become an almost annual occurrence in parts of the UK