The government must stop cutting public budgets if England is to adapt to the extreme heat, researchers have said.
Representatives from local authorities, emergency services, utility companies and the transport sector believe England’s resources are at breaking point and not ready for further heat waves this summer.
Paramedics and firefighters told researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE) that last July’s heat waves pushed services to their limits and that any further periods of heat would have hampered their ability to respond to emergencies.
Heatwaves across the UK are set to get hotter and more frequent with climate change, with the south east of England the most vulnerable.
Last summer the UK saw temperatures top 40C for the first time with wildfires destroying properties on a scale never seen before.
The Office for National Statistics recorded 2,803 additional deaths (excluding Covid) among the over-65s and 3,271 of all ages – the highest number during heatwaves since 2004.
The human body typically regulates itself to stay at 37°C, but extreme heat can overwhelm the system, causing dehydration, heart attacks and heatstroke.
LSE’s Candice Howarth, co-director of the Place-based Climate Action Network, said: ‘The UK does not have a track record of climate adaptation to cope with extreme heat, but it must now be at the top of the list. agenda of government, organizations, cities and the public.
“Our research shows the government needs joint thinking when it comes to dealing with extreme heat in the UK and needs to make wide-ranging changes to policy beyond the adverse weather and health plan for recently published UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) and consider impacts and responses beyond health across society, if we are to avoid excess deaths, economic shocks and a breakdown of utilities this summer and beyond.
Researchers want the government to stop cuts to public budgets to allow for more staff, better training in heat wave emergencies and further education of the public on what to do, such as how to stay hydrated and how not to barbecue.
They also want better preparedness to save water and cool buildings, with closer collaboration between stakeholders and better knowledge between local government and the building sector on how to keep people cool.
A government spokesman said: ‘The government and emergency services are well prepared for any future heat waves.
“Since the hot weather last summer, we have worked across government to identify and implement lessons.
“This included the publication of the UK Health Security Agency’s health and adverse weather plan, which contains advice on extreme heat and outlines how everyone can work together to respond to heat waves.”
A third national adaptation plan is expected from the government this year, which its climate change advisers say must be more ambitious than the previous one.
Covering the years 2018-23, the previous plan failed to deliver adaptation policies on the scale needed to tackle the crisis, the climate change commission said.
Ellie Murtagh, UK climate adaptation manager at the British Red Cross, who was involved in the research, said: ‘While many of us in the UK welcome the hot spells, we we are too often unaware of the damage they can cause.
“Last summer saw record high temperatures hit communities across the UK, along with droughts and wildfires affecting many areas.
“As the brief points out, we need to improve communication and education of communities and individuals on how to prepare for and manage heat risk.
“We need to be ready for future heat waves, which means advanced early planning, preparation and action with a joint approach between voluntary sector organisations, local government and communities.
“As the research points out, we need to act now. We all have a role to play in helping the UK prepare for and manage the risk of heat. »
The government has been contacted for comments.