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Health effects of climate change

The UK will be better able to prepare for the possible impact of climate change on public health, thanks to new research.

An updated report of Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK has been published, which estimates the possible impacts of climate change on health.

This will help the health sector effectively plan development of services to meet the needs of the population both now and in the future, and also highlights areas where more research is needed.

The main findings of the report include:

  • There is a one in 40 chance that by 2012 South Eastern England will have experienced a serious heatwave.
  • Periods of very cold weather will become less common - while periods of very hot weather will become more common. Winter deaths will continue to decline as the climate warms.
  • Tick-borne diseases are likely to become more common in the UK, but this is more likely to be due to change in land use and leisure activities than to climate change.
  • Increased exposure to sunshine and ultra violet light will lead to an increase in skin cancers.

The UK population seems to be adapting to increasingly warm conditions. Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said:

"Climate change poses great challenges and it is important to plan ahead for the health consequences. Actions are being taken across the UK Government and the NHS to reduce emissions contributing to climate change."

"In January we announced a £100m Energy and Sustainability Capital Fund to assist the NHS to meet the target of 15% or 0.15 million tonnes carbon efficiency saving between 2000 and 2010.

One of the authors of the report, Professor Robert Maynard from the Health Protection Agency, said: "The present scientific consensus is that the climate is changing and that human activity is contributing significantly to this. We have to prepare for the consequences and consider the possible health impacts. Some aspects are positive, for example there are likely to be fewer deaths due to cold weather, but others are potentially negative, including increases in food poisoning and dangers from both floods and droughts."

Environment Minister Ian Pearson said: "This report underlines the potential impact of climate change on human health.

"Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delivered a report which showed that there would be a major threat to health around the globe.

"And it's not a threat that's exclusive to the developing world. The European heatwave of 2003 shows that developed countries are also vulnerable to climate change. We need to take this threat seriously and start to adapt now to safeguard our future health."