Greater London population at risk of future heat waves
Properly adapting buildings for climate change could significantly reduce the risk of heat-related deaths say researchers who have modelled the effects of future heat waves on the Greater London population in 2050.
The University of Oxford model – which takes into account of future changes to urban land use and man-made heat emissions – estimates an additional 800 heat-related deaths per year by 2050. Published in the journal Climatic Change, the research suggests policy makers should focus efforts on adapting buildings and cities for future climate change.
The study used projections of likely increases in temperature from the Met Office and Newcastle University and data on demographic change from the Office of National Statistics to calculate likely health risks of future heat waves. It highlighted London as particularly vulnerable owing to the urban heat island effect, where cities become hotter than surrounding areas thanks to a high concentration of people, buildings and activities – which current climate models do not account for..
If the temperature increase was reduced by 1-2% through better ventilation, shading or other means of cooling, then heat related deaths could be cut by 32-69%, researchers calculated.
“This kind of modelling approach allows us to identify the areas of our cities most at risk from future heat waves and pinpoint those who are the most vulnerable in the heat,” said lead author, Katie Jenkins. “As cities become hotter, not only are the risks of ill health and death likely to go up for the most vulnerable, but the warmer temperatures within the buildings where people live and work could be unbearable.”
Jenkins said the model shows that by 2030, up to three-quarters of residents living in flats will experience discomfort during summer heat waves, but that no regulations exist to guide building design on the risk of overheating.
“We have produced a model that calculates risk based on climate data, population changes and land use,” said Professor Jim Hall. “Although this study focuses on the risks for those in the Greater London area, the model can be adapted for other European cities. It allows policy makers to assess the relative risks of responses to future climate change.”