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Climate crisis could cause 5,000 UK deaths a year by 2050 without action

Reversing the climate crisis doesn’t just mean saving the planet but preventing a public health crisis, the Climate Coalition said

The climate crisis is putting the health of almost 12 million Brits at risk, researchers have warned, as rising temperatures could kill more than 5,000 people in the UK every year by 2050.

UK heatwaves in 2020 led to more than 2,500 deaths, the Climate Coalition said, a toll which could double by the 2050s as those with health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease are also “dangerously vulnerable” to the increased heat, the study found.

Deaths linked to high temperatures among people aged 65 and over increased by 21 per cent between 2004 and 2018. There were 16 “tropical nights” in the UK last year, a previously rare occurrence where the overnight temperature stayed above 20°C. 

The UK population is particularly vulnerable to heat waves, according to Elizabeth Robinson, professor of environmental economics at Reading University. This is because of high rates of pre-existing health conditions, an ageing demographic and little air conditioning, 

Reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions is key to preventing unmanageable pressure on the NHS, according to the group.

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“Our mental and physical health are clearly linked to the health of the one place we all call home: our planet,” said Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF. “Yet right now, nature – our life support system – is in freefall. The climate crisis is making blazing heatwaves and major flood events more frequent and more likely.”

Scientists recorded the third hottest UK day ever last year when temperatures hit 37.8°C at Heathrow Airport. Without bold government action on the climate crisis 12 million people, the equivalent of the Greater London and Greater Manchester populations combined, will be at risk of losing their lives or suffering significant health problems, according to the study.

Around 1.8 million people are living in areas at significant risk of flooding. 167 flood warnings were issued across England and Wales last month as a result of Storm Christoph.

Flooding is one of the UK’s biggest climate threats, researchers said, and frequently has a devastating effect on mental health. 

One in three people reported suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after their house flooded, the study found. Flood victims were four times more likely to experience mental health issues than those unaffected by flooding.

“Failure to act with speed and scale to address the climate and ecological crises will spell disaster,” said Clara Goldsmith, campaigns director at the Climate Coalition. “Not only for our natural world, but for public health.”

“Climate change is becoming a tragic and avoidable health burden on families and support services. It will heap pressure on NHS services already pushed to the limit,” GP and presenter Dr Hilary Jones said.

We know that a net zero economy will be better for our health. So the sooner we get there the better. We need to act now, get ahead of the game and tackle this impending emergency before it’s too late.”

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