As the country faces what could be its hottest day of this already hot summer, a report out today predicts that higher temperatures which caused over 2000 deaths in 2003 will be summer norm by 2040s making adaptation to heatwaves a matter of life and death.
The House of Commons Environmental Committee report on Heatwaves says that the Met Office predicts that similar heatwaves will occur every other year by the 2040s.
Prolonged periods of high temperatures cause cardiac and respiratory disease leading to excess deaths, particularly in older people. The average number of heat-related deaths in the UK is expected to more than treble to 7,000 per year by the 2050s.
The Report found that the country is ill prepared for this change in weather patterns.Many workplaces and homes are simply not heatwave resilient said MP’s.
Certain types of homes (single aspect flats, houses built in the 1960s and 1970s) and densely populated urban areas are at significant risk of overheating.
Even at current temperatures, 20% of UK homes overheat. This presents a risk to those who are vulnerable to high temperatures such as older people, those with underlying cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, those with disabilities and children. There is no building regulation to prevent overheating in buildings, and tests to identify overheating are weak and ineffective.
Cities can be up to 10°C hotter than surrounding countryside due to the urban heat island effect; hard surfaces in urban areas absorbing heat during the day and emitting heat at night.
Overheating at night prevents physiological recovery from heat.
In the 2003 heatwave, excess deaths in London increased by 42%. However, measures to reduce the urban heat island effect are not included in local plans and the Government’s planning framework does not make mention of it. The Government should introduce an urban green infrastructure target as part of the metrics for the 25 Year Environment Plan and in the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure towns and cities are adapted to more frequent heatwaves in the future.
Heatwaves can cause railway tracks to buckle and roads to melt.
Only 50% of the UK’s motorways and major roads are surfaced with material that is the most resilient to the kind of summer temperatures the UK is beginning to experience regularly.
During the June 2018 heatwave, railway tracks buckled causing significant delays either because trains could not operate or because they had to be run at a slow speed to avoid damage. This means that passengers sometimes have to endure rail journeys in uncomfortably hot carriages.
There are also concerns that the health risks and service disruption of travelling at peak times during a heatwave results in economic losses as staff may not be able to get to work.
There is no regulation on maximum workplace temperature, resulting in difficult working conditions particularly for those engaged in heavy manual labour or outdoor work.
The Committee is calling on the Government to make businesses aware of the developing threat of heatwaves and the economic consequences and for Public Health England to issue formal guidance to employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working when heatwave alerts are issued.
Additionally the Committee recommend that the Government should consult on introducing maximum workplace temperatures, especially for work that involves significant physical effort, and that the Department for Education should issue guidance for head teachers about safe temperatures in schools and relaxing school uniform policy during hot weather.
The UK’s water supply is expected to reduce by 4–7% and this will be exacerbated by the increasing demand for water during heatwaves, particularly in cities. The Committee is calling for the Government to raise its ambitions for water efficiency by adopting 110 litres per person per day as the mandatory standard in Part G of the building regulations for all new buildings.
Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Committee said
“Heatwave warnings are welcomed as barbecue alerts, but they threaten health, wellbeing and productivity. The Met Office has projected that UK summer temperatures could regularly reach 38.5°C by the 2040s. The Government must stop playing pass the parcel with local councils and the NHS and develop a strategy to protect our ageing population from this increasing risk.
“Heatwaves cause premature deaths from cardiac, kidney and respiratory disease. There will be 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 if the Government does not take action.
“The Government needs to do more to warn the public of the health risks of heatwaves, particularly when they fall outside of the summer period, and should appoint a minister to lead work across Government. The Government’s new adaptation plan promises no effective action to prevent overheating in buildings. It must change building regulations and planning policies to ensure homes and transport networks are able to deal with extreme heat, and that local authorities and cities have green spaces and heat-resilient infrastructure.”