Up to 10,000 people a year in the UK could die as a result of heatwaves if nothing is done, MPs have warned.
According to a report from the Environmental Audit Committee, the increased frequency of extreme heat events could also cost the economy £60bn a year.
The committee’s Conservative chair, Philip Dunne MP, urged the government to act, because “there is a lot of work that needs to be done”.
The UK Health Security Agency issued its first ever ‘level 4’ heat alert in July 2022 when 40C was recorded for the first time.
While globally, 2023 was confirmed as the hottest year on record by a significant margin.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Dunne said: “It’s here, it’s a present danger, and it’s coming at us quite quickly.
“We need a plan now.
“The longer we delay it, the more at risk we’re going to be.”
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According to the Office of National Statistics, there were an estimated 4,500 heat-related deaths in 2022.
But MPs say the annual rate could rise to 10,000 by 2050 if there is no intervention.
Extreme heat increases blood pressure and heart rate, raising the risk of illness or death caused by dehydration and heatstroke.
Over-65s and those with existing conditions are most at risk, while there are impacts on mental health too.
The committee heard evidence that suicide risk in the UK is twice as high when the temperature is 32C rather than 22C.
The report recommends the Met Office should name heatwaves in the same way as storms to help raise awareness of the threats.
Climate change experts agree that public perceptions must be urgently changed.
“It’s clear that Britain still thinks of itself as a cold country that celebrates periods of heat by talking about going to the beach and eating ice cream, when in actual fact it’s an extreme weather event that leads to thousands of deaths,” Bob Ward, Policy Director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute said.
Other recommendations include creating more parks and ‘green infrastructure’.
This is considered particularly important in urban areas, like London, which can be 8C warmer than surrounding areas.
The committee is also calling for a national strategy to retrofit homes and offices with passive cooling measures, like external shutters, to help save lives and boost productivity.
“The problems we have with heat are primarily because we have homes and offices that are not well designed for dealing with it,” Mr Ward told Sky News.
“Most people who die [in heatwaves], die in overheated homes. Most of the people who are less productive in heat are in offices that are overheating.
“There needs to be an urgent retrofit program to make our homes and offices much better at dealing with heat.”
A government spokesperson said: “We have set out a robust five-year plan to respond to the impacts of a changing climate and strengthen our national resilience – with action to improve infrastructure, promote a greener economy and safeguard food production.
“We are the first major economy to halve our emissions and have already taken steps to manage the risks of climate change – with new warning systems to alert the public to heatwaves and our Environmental Land Management schemes supporting farmers to make their land more resilient to the changing climate.”
“Nearly half of homes in England now have an Energy Performance Certificate rating of C. This is up from just 14% in 2010 and we are investing billions to ensure homes and buildings are even more energy efficient.”
Written by: Newsroom