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West Midlands: Rising Temperatures, Fewer Deaths

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

CLIMATE change in the West Midlands will likely lead to a drop in the region's death rate, according to a new study.

Paul Fisher, an Environmental Public Health Scientist with the Health Protection Agency, has spent months analysing temperature, population, death rates and climate change projections for the West Midlands.

In a new study, focusing on the direct effects of temperature, he estimates that by the 2020s death rates in the region could drop by 0.3 per cent and in winter by 0.8 per cent in the summer - which combined should mean a fall in the total number of deaths in the West Midlands of about 255 a year.

The same calculations suggest that by 2080 the West Midlands will record 912 fewer deaths directly linked to temperature.

Scientists have long predicted that climate change will lead to a drop in UK death rates as winters get warmer and summers get hotter. The conclusions tie in with the Department of Health and Health Protection Agency's 2008 climate change report.

The work is the first to specifically investigate the impact of climate change on the West Midlands' death rates.

The study noted that in the West Midlands;

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* Temperatures have been climbing quickly since 1960 and that there has been a continual fall in the number of days with a temperature below 0°C since the 1770s.

* According to the latest UK climate projections (UKCP09), between 1975 and 2004 average temperatures in the West Midlands have gone up, on average, 1.02°C in winter and 1.05° in summer.

* If industrial emissions are kept to a low level then average summer temperatures could be 0.4C higher in the 2020s than they were in 2004. If emissions are high than average summer temperatures would be 3.6C higher than the 2004 level by 2080.

The report suggests that health bodies could use the work to begin development of climate change linked public health surveillance systems as a changing climate could lead to more food poisoning, water-borne diseases, extreme weather events and changes to the quality of drinking water. If such problems were monitored it could be determined if climate change was a priority public health issue for the region.

It also concludes the work could aid understanding of the potential for impact of climate on sickness and death rates and in the development of regional health programmes to ensure climate change does not continue to affect the most vulnerable people in society.

Mr Fisher said: "This project only represents a rough estimate of the future changes in all-cause deaths due to the direct effects of temperature. This work looked at one element of climate change in a comparatively small, clearly defined, region. But as the issue is hugely complex it does not follow that the findings could be applied wider than for the West Midlands.

"It may appear on the surface that in the short term the health effects of climate change in Birmingham could have a beneficial effect - because of the anticipated drop in winter deaths.

"But it is not all good news as this study also found that the most deprived people in the West Midlands will be the most susceptible to climate change impacts, because of the location of many of these people in hotter city centres and the fact they have less opportunity to adapt their behaviours and lifestyles.

"Furthermore, work should be undertaken to study the wider impacts of climate change. The benefits of warmer winters could soon be outweighed by the impacts of stronger and more frequent extreme weather events, rising sea levels and the impacts on the global economy.''