UK adaptations: Human health
In a warmer UK, cases of cold-related illnesses are likely to be greatly reduced. But cases of food poisoning and water contamination may rise and more frequent heat waves could make heatstroke more common. The UK government is considering measures to tackle these possible health impacts, such as installing air conditioning on public transport and improving disease monitoring.
In the summer of 2003, Europe experienced one of its most extreme heat waves on record and the impacts on human health were severe. It’s estimated the prolonged period of very high temperatures caused an additional 35,000 deaths throughout Europe, with 2000 in Britain alone. In response the UK government has published a heat wave plan for England every year since 2004, with advice to the public on how to act in an extended period of very hot weather. Simple measures such as keeping out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, wearing sun hats and drinking plenty of water can make a big difference.
Levels of comfort on public transport could fall as temperatures rise, especially in areas of high passenger numbers where people are packed into confined spaces. In 2004 the Mayor of London offered £100,000 to anyone who could invent a more effective cooling system for the London Underground. The prize went unclaimed, but more and more trains are being fitted with air conditioning systems. The roofs of London buses are also now painted white to reflect sunlight and help keep passengers cool. Increasing temperatures are likely to affect cities and built-up areas hardest, where more heat is retained by densely packed buildings and narrow streets. Planting trees and creating more open spaces can provide shade and ventilation.