Heat-related deaths in the UK could treble to 7,000 a year by 2050, the British Red Cross has said in a new report.
The charity said there was a “dangerous perception gap” associated with the British public’s awareness of the dangers posed by heatwaves.
It said heatwaves were generally viewed positively in the UK, seen as bringing good weather, instead of being regarded as a risk to public health.
The warning was made after Britain’s Met Office issued its first extreme heat warning on July 19 as temperatures nudged 33°C in some parts of the country.
Scientists gave warnings at the weekend that the UK should start preparing for its first 40°C day within the next ten years.
The highest temperature so far in the UK was 38.7°C, recorded in July 2019 in Cambridge.
The UK is the host nation of the UN Cop26 climate change summit in November and has been rallying support among major economies for a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions.
The conference may be the last chance to set international policies that would prevent the planet from warming more than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.
Scientists say the benchmark is critical to staving off the worst effects of climate change.
The Red Cross report, titled Feeling the Heat, found the average length of warm spells had doubled in the UK in the past few decades.
It said that climate change was likely to make heatwaves in the UK more prolonged and intense.
“By 2050 the UK will be 50 per cent more likely to experience hot summers, while heat-related deaths could more than triple, to around 7,000 per year,” it said.
In a poll of 2,000 people, researchers said more than a quarter (26 per cent) viewed heatwaves positively.
More than a third (37 per cent) believed heatwaves would be a problem in the future, but not now.
The poll found many in high-risk groups, such as those older than 75, do not perceive themselves to be especially vulnerable.
The survey results also suggest that the majority of British adults (60 per cent) have experienced one adverse reaction to heatwaves, like headaches, dizziness, feeling faint or heat rash.
It said 40 per cent of adults have never seen information on how to protect themselves when a heatwave strikes.
There were a record 2,556 excess deaths from heat last summer in the UK.
Matthew Killick, director of crisis response and community resilience at the British Red Cross, said heatwaves were life-threatening and should be taken seriously.
“We are calling on all UK governments to ensure people most vulnerable to heat risk are able to access the targeted information, advice and support they need to take action and stay safe and healthy,” he said.