Health-threatening heatwaves are likely to become more intense due to climate change, putting many more people at risk from dangerous summer temperatures, warns Huddersfield Friends of the Earth.

As temperatures hit a record 33.3C (91.94F) in Huddersfield on Monday and could exceed that today (Tuesday), Friends of the Earth is warning urgent action is needed.

According to the Met Office, hot weather can place particular strain on the heart and lungs, meaning that the majority of serious illness and deaths caused by heat are respiratory and cardiovascular.

Older people, those with pre-existing health conditions and young children are especially at risk.

Analysis released earlier this week by researchers at the University of Manchester for Friends of the Earth, revealed that neighbourhoods most at risk are those that have a high number of older people and children, lack green space to shelter from the heat, and have housing that’s most susceptible to overheating, such as high-rise buildings and mobile homes.

In all the scenarios, the communities set to be most affected by global heating are those with below average carbon footprints – those less responsible for the climate crisis.

The research also finds that people of colour are four times more likely to live in areas at high risk of dangerous levels of heat.  

Key findings include:  

  • Even if the world stays on track to meet the global goal to limit warming to 1.5°C, more than 3,000 of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods – more than six million people – will regularly be exposed to ‘very hot weather’ of 27.5°C for five or more days during the summer months. If temperatures rise to 3°C, then the same areas will be regularly exposed to dangerously hot temperatures of over 30°C.   
  • Overall, nearly half (48%) of neighbourhoods – or 28 million people – in England will be exposed to ‘very hot weather’ at 1.5°C of warming. This increases significantly if global temperatures rise by 2°C and 3°C to affect 60% (34 million people) and 81% (46 million people) of neighbourhoods, respectively.   
  • Global temperature rise of 3°C would put 50% of neighbourhoods – or 30 million people – at risk of ‘dangerously hot weather’ where temperatures hit 30°C or more for five or more days during summer.  

Friends of the Earth is calling for the 3,000 most vulnerable neighbourhoods to be prioritised for publicly-funded adaptation projects and greater efforts to reduce planet-heating greenhouse gases.

Parched landscape. Image by: SEAN DOYLE

Chayley Collis, of Huddersfield Friends of the Earth, said: “Extreme heatwaves and health alerts are likely to become more frequent and more severe as climate change takes hold, putting children, older people and those with existing health conditions at most risk.

“If we want to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we must accelerate plans to slash the carbon emissions that are heating up our planet.

“More must also be done to help our communities adapt to a warming world, through better housing, greener spaces and an increase in street trees.”

Global temperatures are already 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. Under the Paris Agreement, governments have agreed to limit warming to 1.5°C to avoid catastrophic climate change.

According to estimates based on current climate pledges, the world is heading towards 2.4°C of warming, but these commitments are not being met. The UK government’s advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, estimates that only two-fifths of the policies in its Net Zero Strategy are credible.