Climate change in Birmingham could lead to illness caused by inner-city heatwaves and disruption to the Midlands transport network with massive costs to businesses, according to a new detailed study.
But there could also be advantages for the region – including new opportunities for manufacturers to develop “green” products and even a boost in business for hotels and restaurants as hot weather makes the Midlands a popular tourist destination.
The findings were published by Sustainability West Midlands, the official body set up to advise businesses and local authorities on coping with climate change.
At the same time, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a major national study on the effects of climate change, the first of its kind.
Birmingham and the surrounding towns, along with London and Manchester, will be particularly affected by climate change because of an effect called the “urban heat island” caused by a lack of green spaces, the regional study warned. Already, night-time temperatures in Birmingham are 5C higher than in the surrounding rural areas.
The report warned: “Hotter temperatures are likely to cause an increase in food and water-borne diseases and respiratory diseases.”
It added: “The working population, vulnerable groups and the elderly may be more susceptible to heat stress.”
And warmer winters could also lead to health problems because damp conditions will encourage mould and fungal spores, the report warns.
But it also highlighted potential benefits – including fewer deaths from cold weather in the winter and cheaper fuel bills.
And the study predicted that climate change could lead to opportunities for the region’s businesses.
It said: “The region is known for its high concentrations of construction and manufacturing firms and knowledge base. This creates business opportunities through the provision of new weather proofing technologies and products for buildings.”
Other changes caused by climate change are expected to include:
l Increased risk of flooding, with more than 21,000 residential and commercial properties at significant risk across the wider West Midlands region. With more than 300 power and gas stations at risk, homes and businesses could find electricity and water supplies cut off.
l New economic opportunities for West Midlands manufacturers, “include new markets such as renewable energy and technologies”.
l Disruption to the region’s transport network, including the M5, M6, M40 and M42, part of the West Coast Mainline railway and Birmingham Airport, “all of which could face severe disruption with future changes in climate”.
l Hot weather could make the West Midlands a more attractive tourist destination. This would be a mixed blessing for Birmingham Airport as it would reduce demand for flights to foreign countries, although the study predicts that the extra capacity could be used to provide more business flights.
l New crops could be grown in the Midlands “such as fennel, soya bean, thyme, grapes, garlic and rocket”.
l The West Midlands is already one of the driest regions in the country and projected shortages in rainfall could have a significant effect on local wildlife.
Nationally, the Government study warned that higher temperatures could see up to 5,900 more people dying as a result of hot summers, but thousands of cold-related deaths – between 3,900 and 24,000 – are likely to be avoided in winter by the 2050s.
Flooding costs could rise from the current £1.2 billion a year to between £2.1 billion and £12 billion a year by the 2080s.
And fish and chip shops may be forced to stop stocking cod and offer customers plaice instead, as fish move north to cooler waters, away from traditional fishing grounds.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, MP for Meriden, said: “This world class research provides the most comprehensive case yet on why we need to take action to adapt the UK and our economy to the impacts of climate change.
“It shows what life would be like if we stopped our preparations now, and the consequences such a decision would mean for our economic stability.”
Chris Crean, of West Midlands Friends of the Earth, said: “These timely and considered reports into how we could all be affected by climate change deserve digesting and acting upon. By acting early not only will we head off many of the threats from our changing climate but we can also develop new business models and practice which will show resilience.”
He criticised the Government’s handling of plans to cut the payment made to firms who use solar panels to generate electricity and feed power back into the electricity grid, known as the feed in tariff.
“The Government must show the leadership that is required to enable us all adapt to our changing climate.
“The reports are not all doom and gloom but highlight many of the opportunities that could arise from the climate crisis. If we, all together, act quickly and early enough we can avert the worst of the threats as well as creating new economic activities for the people and communities of the region. Indeed we also need to share this knowledge with other regions across the globe.
“West Midlands Friends of the Earth would like to see the Local Enterprise Partnerships engaging with Sustainability West Midlands and establishing their own Climate Adaption Partnerships. These could become real centres of excellence and show the world at large that the business community from the West Midlands is taking its responsibilities to current and future generations seriously.”