Climate change

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Part of Time to Think Differently

Climate change will have both a number of implications for health in the UK, largely negative.

Climate change is predicted to lead to greater seasonal variation in weather patterns in the UK, meaning:

  • hotter, drier summers, with more heatwaves and droughts
  • wetter winters, with more flooding and severe storms.

Ozone pollution and an increased incidence of extreme weather events will have a negative effect on the health of those in affected areas. There will be some direct mortalities, but the main effect on health will be through exacerbation of existing long-term conditions (1).

The scale of the health impacts will depend on the success of mitigation and adaptation measures, and will vary between geographical areas and population groups. Certain groups (eg, older people) are predicted to be more vulnerable (2).

There are also predicted to be mental health effects, for example as a result of floods and extreme storms.

Health impacts of climate change

Summary of health impacts from 2012 UK climate change risk assessment

Source: Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (2012). Report. UK Climate Change Risk Assessment

Health in a low carbon society

If future governments choose to meet existing carbon reduction targets, these are likely to drive considerable technological and social change – not just in the health sector, but across all of society. Such changes may well have significant health implications.

For example, a shift from motorised transport towards increased walking and cycling could be positive for public health, as could reduced consumption of meat and other carbon-intensive foods. Equally, some socio-political responses to climate change could have a negative impact on health – for example, regressive forms of carbon taxation could exacerbate social inequalities.

There is considerable uncertainty around the scale, timing and direction of these effects. Health impacts would depend in part on the nature of the technological or social changes seen. For example, the development of low-carbon vehicles could cut carbon emissions without the potential health benefits associated with increased walking and cycling.

Next trend: Medical advances


  1. Kjellstrom T, Butler AJ, Lucas RM, Bonita R. (2010). Journal article. 'Public health impact of global heating due to climate change: potential effects on chronic non-communicable diseases'. International Journal of Public Health, vol 55 pp 97-103
  2. Haq G, Whitelegg J, Kohler M (2008). Journal article. 'Growing old in a changing climate. Meeting the challenges of an ageing population and climate change'. Stockholm Environment Institute