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Exeter researchers: Climate change is less likely to effect the South West

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: March 26, 2014

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Climate change is less likely to effect the South West and much of England and Wales than the affluent South East and London, say scientists.

The rural Westcountry and less affluent areas of the country are thought to be more resilient to changes in climate, according to the research which is now under consideration by researchers in Exeter.

People living in the South East are most at risk of dying in heat waves, according to historic figures.

Between 2001 and 2010, death rates from heart or lung disease in London and the South East increased by more than 10% for every 1C increase in temperature, a study found.

Districts in the far north were much more resilient and saw no increase in deaths at equivalent temperatures.

Across England and Wales as a whole, a summer 2C warmer than average would be expected to cause around 1,550 extra deaths, the research showed.

But these would be distributed unevenly, with 95 out of 376 districts accounting for half the total.

People aged over 85 would make up just over half the heat victims, and 62% would be women.

Poorer areas of London such as Hackney and Tower Hamlets were predicted to be among the most vulnerable.

The chances of dying in these two districts more than doubled on very hot summer days like those seen in August 2003.

Commenting on the research, Dr Philip Staddon, a climate change expert at University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Particularly intriguing is that the more resilient areas are located in the poorer north and west, whereas the affluent South East seems least resilient.

“It’s possible other factors are at play here, for example the higher life expectancy in the affluent South East.”

Study leader Professor Majid Ezzati, from Imperial College London, said: “The reasons for the uneven distribution of deaths in warm weather need to be studied.

“It might be due to more vulnerable individuals being concentrated in some areas, or it might be related to differences at the community level, like quality of healthcare, that require government action.

“We might expect that people in areas that tend to be warmer would be more resilient, because they adapt by installing air conditioning for example. These results show that this isn’t the case in England and Wales.

“While climate change is a global phenomenon, resilience and vulnerability to its effects are highly local. Many things can be done at the local level to reduce the impact of warm spells, like alerting the public and planning for emergency services.

“Detailed information about which communities are most at risk from high temperatures can help to inform these strategies.”

Across the UK as a whole the effects of warm temperatures were the same in urban and rural districts, said the scientists who report their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Co-author Dr James Bennett, also from Imperial College, said: “It’s well known that warm weather can increase the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory deaths, especially in elderly people.

“Climate change is expected to raise average temperatures and increase temperature variability, so we can expect it to have effects on mortality even in countries like the UK with a temperate climate.”

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