Adapting to our changing climate

Even if we meet the globally agreed carbon reduction targets to stop catastrophic climate failure, changes to our planet have already been set in motion that cannot be stopped.

We need to plan for these in how we live and work in this new climate and how disease patterns that need our care will change. 

The UK Committee on Climate Change describes this as inevitable changes between now and 2050, and best- and worst-case scenarios by 2100.

This shows the following predictions:

Climate Change Predictions
Climate Factor Inevitable by 2015 Best Case 2100 Worst Case 2100
UK annual average temperature +0.6o +0.7o +3.0o
UK mean sea level rise 3-37cm 5-67cm 27-112cm
UK summer heatwave is at least as bad as in 2018 50% chance 50% chance 90% chance
UK heavy rainfall 10% increase 20% increase 50-70% increase
Global average surface temperature Up to 0.9o Up to 1.1o Up to 4.2o
Global average sea rise level 1-25cm 22-52cm 54-103

Practically, what this means for us in the UK is that :

  • we can expect hotter and drier summers with more frequent severe heatwaves
  • periods of intense storms and localised heavy rainfall
  • more frequent disruption of global supply chains
  • different disease patterns linked to these problems
  • more frequent transport and power disruption

What are the impacts on the people we care for?

We can expect to see;

  • More pregnancy complications, including low birth weight, stillbirth and neonatal admissions, particularly linked to periods of extreme heat.
  • More respiratory illness, renal disease and heat exposure, which is likely to have the most significant impacts on younger children we care for.
  • New patterns of vector-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis have already been seen, and new patterns of malaria and west nile virus will affect travellers to a much wider range of countries.
  • Mental health conditions linked to the impact of extreme weather events (e.g. flooding), as well as anxiety about the changing climate, and the mental health effects of increased economic hardship linked to the costs of our climate deteriorating.
  • Health inequalities (avoidable differences in health outcomes) are likely to widen as those already affected by social deprivation are most likely to be impacted by climate change. 

What are the impacts on our services? 

These inevitable climate changes will give us several new challenges as an organisation;

  • Indoor environments becoming less tolerable during heatwaves, affecting staff and patient comfort, hydration, fatigue and speed of recovery.
  • Flooding affecting our critical infrastructure such as power or data centres.
  • Supply chain disruption of medicines, food and consumables.
  • Extreme weather events disrupting staff and patient travel more frequently.
  • Increased costs of controlling the temperatures in our buildings.
  • More frequent activation of our emergency plans, such as cancelling services or needing to move patients to areas we can actively cool more effectively.

A flooded riverbank

How is BWC adapting for this future?

  • We have prepared a climate adaptation plan that sets priorities and timescales, for example around assessing our deluge flood risk at each of our sites.
  • We now have a climate adaptation group looking at what this plan says needs to be done to update our buildings and policies for this more challenging future. 
  • We have published more detailed information for patients that we can signpost to during extreme weather events.
  • We are making sure that we design new buildings to be ready for the future climate conditions that we now expect, and how we can retrofit existing buildings.
  • We are looking at how we can increase vegetation on our sites and reduce the impact of concrete and tarmac surfaces which currently amplify the effects of hot weather.

A close up of some new plants

What can you do to prepare for our future climate?

As anyone who has slept badly during a heatwave will know, getting our homes ready for climate change is also important. Steps you can take include;

  • Create green spaces outside your house to provide cooling, shade and natural air filtration, even if it’s just window boxes or a balcony. Try and avoid large expanses of paving or tarmac which store and emit heat for longer. 
  • Look at your flood risk, and adapt your home if you are at risk, for example by purchasing door guards, toilet stoppers and air brick seals. 
  • Remove impermeable surfaces (e.g. driveway surfaces), particularly if they slope towards your house, to reduce the risk of deluge flooding.
  • Consider solar shading or reflective window blinds, particularly on south-facing windows.
  • When replacing appliances, look at water efficiency and install generous water butts to collect rainwater.
  • If you're buying a newly built home, check if it has been built for future climate conditions.
  • Install lockable window restrictors or ground-floor security shutters for windows that may need to be left open at night. 
  • Paint exterior walls to increase reflectivity.
  • Think about alternative modes of transport that are less dependent on vulnerable infrastructure.