The first ever Office for National Statistics analysis of climate-related deaths and hospital admissions in England and Wales reveal the environment emergency is already adversely affecting health in the UK and is expected to get worse.
Warmer winters have resulted in fewer deaths, while hotter summers have seen overall numbers of hospitalisations rise, although the ONS said there was relatively little increase in deaths caused directly by warmer weather.
The analysis noted that average temperatures in the UK have risen over time. The Met Office found that the period 1991 to 2020 was 0.9 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1961 to 1990 average, while the 10 warmest years on record occurred since 2002.
The figures revealed that over the four warmest months of the year, hospital admissions were affected by increasing temperatures, with 16,020 more people admitted in the period 2010 to 2018 than the baseline averages would have suggested.
“Previous research has linked warmer weather to injuries from outdoor activities, increased violence and mental health problems; direct harm from extreme heat is still less common but this is likely to change over time,” the service said in a statement.
“More heatwaves and extreme weather events are expected, which is likely to cause greater harm to health,” the statement said.
Myer Glickman from the ONS said: “Climate change is the greatest long-term health threat globally and is expected to impact the UK increasingly over the coming years. We need to monitor and report those effects to inform the public and policymakers.
“Our findings, looking at changes between 2001 and 2020, show an increase in hospital admissions but a decrease in deaths due to rising average temperatures in the UK – the latter at least partly because of warmer winters.
“This is not surprising given our existing cool to temperate climate, but has to be seen in the context of strong evidence that the future effects of climate change will include prolonged heatwaves, flooding and other extreme events with consequent impacts on health.”
He added: “It will be important to develop more sensitive measures of the health impacts of climate change, for example on mental health and chronic diseases.”
Responding to the ONS analysis, Paul Redington, a major loss property manager for insurer Zurich, said: “In the UK, overheating in homes is emerging as a major risk as summer temperatures grow more extreme. In particular, the rush to convert offices left vacant by the pandemic could create swathes of properties vulnerable to climate change.
“In the last quarter alone, the number of conversions approved under relaxed planning rules soared from 296 to 409 – an increase of 38 per cent. Year-on-year, numbers have surged by 53 per cent.
“There is a danger that poorly designed and hastily built conversions, which lack ventilation and shading, could become unbearably hot as heatwaves become more intense, impacting people’s health. More affordable housing is urgently needed – but homes must be fit for living now, and for future climate conditions.”
The ONS described the statistics in their analysis as “experimental”, and said they were “a step towards regular, transparent ONS estimates of climate-health impacts which are diagnosis-specific and inform policymakers and the public”.