Adverse impacts on health caused by climate change have been a low or non-existent priority among many policymakers until recently, but this is beginning to change (EASAC 2019). Among the most significant threats to health exacerbated by climate change is heat stress. Across Europe, heat extremes have increased in recent decades, particularly in cities, resulting in significant increases in mortality and morbidity in some cases. For example, around 50,000 deaths in Europe in the summer of 2003 have been attributed to the extreme heat waves (Jendritzky and Koppe 2008).
Recent analysis by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (Ciscar et al. 2018 ) suggests that for the EU, a global temperature rise beyond 2°C above pre-industrial levels could result in an additional 132,000 heat fatalities per year by the end of the century. In addition to the direct effects of heat on cardiovascular disease/heart failure and heat stroke, mental health and well-being are also significantly affected. Depression and other mental disorders are linked with a significantly increased risk of dying on hot days. Heat-induced stress can also negatively impact productivity and increase aggression and interpersonal violence (Clayton et al. 2018).
Various policy responses to these threats have been categorised in terms of increasing budgets for health protection and social care, improving housing quality and urban design to lessen city heat-island effects, and addressing inequality and building social capital (EASAC, 2019), as well as the use of protocols to be followed during heatwaves to reduce health impacts. Recent research confirms that increasing green space in cities can improve urban heat-island effects, and has been observed to have a mitigative effect on clinical depression (Geletic et al., 2019).