Key facts

What is the impact of climate on this area?

Who/what is at risk?

What actions need to be taken to minimise the risk?

  • Adequate health protection strategies need to be implemented to minimise risks from rising temperatures, including heat alerts, emergency planning and capacity building as well as effective and incentivised retrofitting of buildings to address overheating.
  • Flood risk management must involve preparation, response and recovery planning. Local governments are well placed to take forward projects to equip their communities against these risks but must be adequately funded to do so. Natural or nature-based infrastructure (NNBI) is increasingly being considered to increase flood resilience while enhancing biodiversity and water quality as well as potentially improving public health and wellbeing through the creation of ‘green spaces’.
  • Guaranteeing a safe and clean water supply will become increasingly harder as the climate changes. While measures to adapt water supply systems to protect against contamination and supply interruption are underway in the UK, these must be accelerated.
  • Research into the communities most at risk from rising sea levels and changing coastlines must be conducted across the UK, to identify those most vulnerable and ensure interventions are enacted wherever possible to prevent existential threats to communities.
  • Industrial regulation must keep pace with the changing climate. While standards for new homes are incentivising the building of more resilient infrastructure, more action is needed to incentivise existing homes to be retrofitted to meet changing regulations.
  • Prioritise the restoration and enhancement of biodiverse ecosystems across the UK, including wetlands.
  • Prepare for an increase in adverse environmental incidents and educate and equip communities to respond to and recover from these. This includes building warning systems, defences and reserve supplies/measures.
  • The healthcare system should expect an increase in vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and mosquito-transmitted diseases, and resources should be dedicated to preparing for this.
  • National policies on food security and supply chain management are needed to ensure the UK is prepared for changes to the cost and availability of food as well as the potential increase in incidents of bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae and parasites spreading owing to higher temperatures. Particular concern should be given to ensuring equitable access to nutritious food continues across the UK.
  • The healthcare system must adapt now to increase the resilience of its infrastructure to flooding, overheating and other strains caused by climate changes. Capacity in the healthcare system may be exacerbated by global warming so, given the existing pressures on the system from COVID-19, capacity-building and workforce development could help adaptation.
  • Mitigation measures to achieve Net Zero can complement adaptation measures and bring co-benefits to population health and wellbeing. Greater synergy between mitigation and adaptation – as well as consideration of where they may conflict with one another – should be pursued at both national and local levels.
  • Individual-level behavioural changes will be required to adapt diet and travel patterns and increase uptake of low- or zero-carbon technology. A wealth of behavioural science research exists which must be harnessed to encourage communities to adapt to climate change at the individual level.
  • Climate equity and climate justice should be central to the UK’s adaptation strategy. In other words, communities elsewhere in the world who are more immediately vulnerable to the effects of climate change should be supported by major emitters, such as the UK, and not be made to bear the brunt of the crisis they played less of a part in. Funding of adaptation measures to build resilience and capacity in these communities must complement any domestic programme.

Conclusion

Our recent experiences of the changing climate have shown that, instead of perpetuating systems based on economic growth at the cost of everything else, the focus must shift to quality of life, community bonds and our relationship with nature. Quality of life should not be measured by GDP – this practice is illustrative of the misguided priorities we have been pursuing for the last two hundred years – but, rather, should consider a holistic understanding of health, environment and natural resource systems. Public health has a unique appreciation of the interconnectedness of health and the built environment. Applying this insight and expertise to climate change adaptation must now be a core focus for the public health profession and the wider healthcare system. It is clear that our health is intertwined with our ecosystem – our challenge now will be to adapt rapidly enough to mitigate as much of the damage as we can, while continuing to work to protect, improve and care for the health of our populations.