This summer’s heatwave is a wake-up call

Francis Sealey from Enfield Climate Action Forum on what needs to be done to adapt to our hotter weather

Forty homes were destroyed by fire as the UK's heat record was smashed on 19th July, with London among the places surpassing 40C for the first time (credit Sky News)
Forty homes were destroyed by fire as the UK’s heat record was smashed on 19th July, with London among the places surpassing 40C for the first time (credit Sky News)

In July we had two days when temperature records were shattered.

In Enfield we reached temperatures of 39°C and in the UK more than one place exceeded 40°C, with 39 weather stations surpassing the previous record of 38.7°C set in 2019.

It was unprecedented but it was not totally unexpected. Recent research at Imperial College London found that every heatwave occurring today has been made more likely by climate change. Climatologists have been sounding the alarm for decades, warning of the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves and droughts.

And it has cost lives. At the time of writing, at least 1,000 people have died across Europe from excess heat this summer. When a heatwave engulfed France in 2019, around 1,500 died – with half of those being aged over 75.

Such high temperatures are a public health emergency and must be a part of any climate emergency that has been declared by local councils. How we avoid it getting worse and how we adapt to what is already there because of existing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are critical questions.

Enfield Climate Action Forum (Encaf) is a network of 130 civil society organisations. We have expressed concern at Enfield Council’s climate action plan because it has excluded proposals for how we can adapt to a warming climate – with public health not being mentioned at all.

We understand the council is now addressing this issue as part of its climate emergency strategy, and we welcome that. We now need to responsibly manage the problems facing our environment by taking sensible steps toward protecting human health and safety. Whether measures are meant to reduce future climate change impacts or address the health impacts of climate change that are happening already, early action provides the greatest health benefits. It makes sense to invest in creating the strongest climate-health adaptation and preparedness programmes we can.

EnCaf is now developing a programme with Enfield Racial Equality Council, supported by health authorities, to examine the impact of climate change on public health – especially in the east of the borough where there is more over-crowding and lack of green space.

With communities there we have made video stories of many of those concerned and affected and we are also building up a knowledge base of webinar interviews. We are also in the process of running two focus groups to help us develop our approach to this issue.

But the main focus of the project will be two community panels being held at end of September and beginning of October at Artist Hive and Forest Road Health Centre, when we will invite local citizens and groups to join activities around the lack of green space, air pollution, poorly-insulated homes, social isolation, healthy eating and more. We will also use these events to listen to local people about their concerns.

In addition, we are developing a number of ancillary events around this, with a live podcast in Edmonton Green and a mini hub at Chickenshed Theatre for young people. We want to work with some housing associations around the pressing issue of social isolation and we hope that at the end of this we will be able to produce a report that will be useful for developing preparedness and resilience in local communities.

Preparing for a future of heat excess will mean looking at our infrastructure in energy, housing and transport, but it will also mean looking at how we can live healthier lives and how communities can aid each other. To achieve this requires working together in partnership from this moment forward, whatever our differences, because the climate emergency is real and immediate.

The temperatures of this July must be a wake up call for all of us.

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