Byline: MARY GRIFFIN
FOR THE first time, scientists have mapped out how climate change is set to affect the health of West Midlanders.
The authors of a pioneering new report say the health impacts of the changing climate are already apparent in the region and warn that "their magnitude will only increase as the century progresses".
Using regional climate predictions for the years 2020, 2050 and 2080, a team of public health scientists has tracked the likely effects on climate-related diseases and deaths, working out how and who will fare best - and worst - from the warming of the West Midlands.
The pattern they developed suggests warmer winters will save lives over the next 70 years.
But at the same time, hotter summers will bring an increase in health problems including food poisoning and skin cancer.
Towards the end of the century the West Midlands can expect to see more than 1,400 extra climaterelated deaths each summer - and a similar decrease in winter deaths.
The report warns that beyond 2080, if emissions aren't curbed, climate change could cause a rise in the region's overall death rate.
It also warns that the West Midlands will be at greater risk of extreme weather events, such as the heatwave of summer 2003, which led to more than 2,000 excess deaths in England and Wales, and killed 15,000 in France and more than 37,000 across Europe.
Project leader Emily May, who took a degree in environmental science before going on to study meteorology and climatology, explained how her team came to their findings and what they mean for the average West Midlander.
She said: "For each disease we found the relationship between temperature and the number of disease cases or mortality.
"We then used climate projections to get an idea of the future temperature and find the best-fit line."
The study follows last year's report by environmental public health scientist Paul Fisher, who analysed temperature, population, mortality and climate change projections to predict the effect climate change will have on future death rates.
He found the number of deaths in the region could drop by 255 every year within the next two decades, and by 2080 warmer winters could mean up to 900 fewer deaths each year in the West Midlands.
The new study, funded by Defra and released last week, built on Paul's work, looking at specific health problems in a bid to advise the regional health service how to reallocate resources in the future.
Emily said: "We broke it down into cardiovascular and respiratory diseases etc, to get more of an idea of what's going on in terms of health.
"It's very well saying we're going to have this many more or less deaths but if you don't know what the cause is going to be it's very hard to adapt and cope with the changes."
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the largest health effect of climate change worldwide is likely to be malnutrition, followed closely by a rise in the number of people affected by malaria, diarrhoea, severe weather and natural disasters.
But in the UK we'll see a different pattern. In the West Midlands the biggest downside in terms of health will be an increase in disease and deaths as a result of warmer weather and heatwaves.
Between 1961 and 2006 annual daily mean temperatures in the West Midlands have gone up by a staggering 1.6C.
And under the high emissions scenario they could rise by as much as 7.5C by 2080.
Here, like the rest of the world, food poisoning cases and water borne diseases are likely to increase because of the warmer weather, particularly in summer.
Under the high emissions scenario cloud cover in the West Midlands is set to decrease by up to 30 per cent during the summers of the 2080s, making us more likely to have increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation. …