The global climate system is changing and this is expected to have growing impacts on UK weather patterns.

Modelling from the Met Office suggests that summer temperatures are likely to increase in the coming years leading to an increase in heatwaves; while extreme weather events such as high river flows and flooding are also projected to increase in frequency and intensity due to shifts in rainfall patterns (for further details see climate change resilience and risks to health).

“By 2020 Kent could be facing an average annual 1.4ºC temperature increase and 7% less rainfall in summer. By 2050 the temperature could have risen by 2.8ºC, and there could be 24% less rainfall. In an extreme case the temperature on the annual hottest day in the 2050s could reach 8 ºC higher than those experienced now.”

Kent’s Adaptation Action Plan

Such changes could have potentially significant impacts on the health and wellbeing of people in Kent and Medway. The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, for example, suggests that the number of flood victims suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental problems could double by 2050. On top of this, the annual damage to UK properties due to flooding from rivers, surface water run-off and the sea is projected to rise from £1.3 billion to £12 billion each year by the 2080s. Local evidence of climate change impacts, such as the Local Flood Risk Management Strategy indicates that Kent is the most at risk lead local flood authority in England with approximately 76,000 properties estimated to be at risk of surface water flooding, and more in future as a result of climate change.

In Kent the areas likely to have the greatest impact on resident’s health are:

  • Flooding (injury, infection, mental health impacts);
  • Mortality and morbidity related to temperature (respiratory and cardiovascular diseases);
  • Food, water and vector borne diseases (increased incidence of infections);
  • Air Quality (covered in later sections – (respiratory and cardiovascular diseases);
  • Vulnerability of infrastructure and built environment (e.g. extreme events such as droughts and storms may increasingly impact on service delivery).

Full details of the health impacts of each of these issues for Kent are provided in the Sustainability Needs Assessment chapter of the JSNA. The Environment Agency’s Under the Weather toolkit also provides a useful table (p.6) summarising the effects of climate change on health, wellbeing, and the health and social care system.

The diagram below provides an overview of the potential health impacts of ongoing climate change split by rural, urban and coastal communities.

Climate change impacts where you live.

Climate change impacts where you live. Source: Under the weather, Sustainable Development Unit, 2014.

The health sector sees climate change as one of the biggest global public health threats this century, and one which creates direct risks to communities, vulnerable people, and the effective delivery of public health and social care. Experience of extreme weather events has shown that the level of resilience is an important factor in the ability of a community to pull together and withstand difficult events. Building resilience in people’s lives and communities is therefore critical to adapting to threats such as climate change and is now key to modern social care.

A key action identified in the National Adaptation Programme for Directors of Public Health, Health & Wellbeing boards and Clinical Commissioning Groups is to implement local, evidence-based actions to address health risks from climate change and to prepare, respond and recover to severe weather events associated with climate change, for example through Joint Strategic Needs Assessments, Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy and Local Health Resilience Partnerships (LHRPs). Kent’s draft Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2014-2017 recognises the importance of tackling climate change resilience. To address this, Kent partners have developed a Sustainability Needs Assessment as part of the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA).

Climate change adaptation and resilience is also a central issue for planning. The National Planning Policy Framework requires local authorities to “adopt proactive strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, taking full account of flood risk, coastal change and water supply and demand considerations” (paragraph 94). This is in line with the provisions and objectives of the Climate Change Act 2008. In addition Section 19 (1A) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires local planning authorities to include in their Local Plans “policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority’s area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”.

Clearly there is a significant opportunity for joint working between planners, public health professionals and environmental sustainability specialists to adopt a holistic approach to addressing the effects of climate change. A multi-agency approach is demonstrated in the National Adaptation Programme (NAP) and by Kent’s Adaptation Action Plan, both of which set out a series of actions for key sectors that have been identified as most at-risk from a changing climate, including health and social care.

A joint approach could build on the framework provided by the Kent Environment Strategy [inset link to Kent Environment Strategy page], which includes ‘Rising to the climate change challenge’ as a key theme including a target to:

“Help the public sector, the business community and Kent residents to manage both positive and negative impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events”

Based on local evidence of climate change impacts, such as the Local Flood Risk Management Strategy, joint working can ensure a coordinated approach to enhancing climate change adaptation and building local resilience, recognising wider links with issues such as:

  • Climate change resilience and risks to health
  • Kent’s Severe Weather Impacts Monitoring System (SWIMS) – collects data about how the services provided by Kent Partners (including Kent County Council, Kent Police, district and borough councils and the Environment Agency) are affected during severe weather events.
  • Climate change and health: a tool to estimate health and adaptation costs – a World Health Organisation tool to estimate the full health-related economic implications of climate change and of alternative or complementary adaptation activities.
  • London’s changing climate: in sickness and in health – A tool aimed at health and social care commissioners and providers to help integrate climate change into the design and shape of services.
  • Climate change impact assessment tool– A tool developed by Bournemouth Council to help service areas – including social care – to carry out risk assessments for climate change and embed these risks into the existing corporate risk management process.
  • BUCCANEER – A practical risk mapping tool developed by Birmingham’s Green Infrastructure and Adaptation Partnership based on climate and health inequalities data, and the likely vulnerability of local communities.
  • Under the weather: Improving health, wellbeing and resilience in a changing climate – this toolkit, produced for the Environment Agency, provides guidance on developing ‘climate ready’ JSNAs that acknowledge the value of a whole system approach to climate adaptation and health and wellbeing. It suggests that JSNAs need to identify vulnerable populations and quantify the impacts of climate change on these groups in order to provide a strong basis for integrated policies to reduce health inequalities.
  • UKCP09 – A set of tools developed by the Met Office for regional weather projections in the UK under climate change scenarios.
  • AdaptME toolkit: adaption, monitoring, and evaluation – A tool to think through some of the factors that can make an evaluation of adaptation activities inherently challenging, and help design a robust evaluation.
  • Health contacts
  • Planning contacts
  • Kent Coastal Communities 2150 – Coastal Communities 2150 (CC2150) is a project part-funded through the INTERREG IV A Two Seas Programme developed to explore opportunities and risks from a changing climate through engaging communities or sectors at long-term risk and supporting locally developed responses.
  • Gloucestershire’s scrutiny inquiry into the summer emergency 2007 – The 2007 floods in Gloucestershire caused widespread disruption and damage: three people died, around 4,000 homes and 500 businesses were flooded, and approximately 10,000 people were stranded overnight. Gloucestershire County Council’s scrutiny review of the response to the flooding made 75 recommendations. Some of these relate to planning and health matters (e.g. flood risk assessment and water contamination) as well as to how to support people and strengthen community resilience.
  • Birmingham: climate change and vulnerable communities – Birmingham’s Climate Change Adaptation Partnership is a subgroup of the local strategic partnership, Be Birmingham. It is focusing on the needs of the city’s most vulnerable communities as they are more likely to be affected by extreme weather caused by climate change. Adaptation measures will include providing a greener infrastructure, which could contribute to reducing health inequalities.
  • City and Hackney health and wellbeing profile – City of London and Hackney’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment 2011/12 includes a section on climate change which identifies the main sources of carbon emissions in the area and sets out the health benefits of tackling climate change.
  • Adapting health and social care services for older people –  Horsham District expects a 60 per cent increase in older people by 2026; it had concerns about the impacts of climate change on services to this potentially vulnerable group. Participation in Durham University’s Built Infrastructure for Older People in the Context of Climate Change (BIOPICCC) research project has helped to establish closer working relations between Horsham District Council, Sussex County Council and NHS West Sussex. This has enabled the Adult Services directorate within West Sussex County Council to focus their programme of work around adapting to future weather conditions. Consideration has been given to older adults and also the wider health and social care system and supporting infrastructure including roads and utilities. It is hoped that the experience gained in the case study communities can be used in working with other communities in Horsham District and across West Sussex.