DEATH, diseases and rising temperatures in Reading are having an effect on people in the town.

The biggest ever Reading climate and health study has highlighted that, despite reduced pollution in the town, traffic congestion remains a key issue.

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Residents therefore remain vulnerable to air pollution in spite of positive recent steps to reduce the town's carbon footprint.

The Reading Countdown report, published this week (November 9) by researchers at the University of Reading and Fondazione CMCC, studied the specific effects of climate change on the health of Reading's population, and assessed efforts to mitigate these.

Among the findings were carbon dioxide emissions from traffic have decreased far less in Reading than from other sources and are linked with rising numbers of deaths locally from respiratory diseases, making air quality a potentially urgent area to address.

It also found that more frequent heatwaves are posing a threat to Reading's growing older population.

Key findings of the report

Temperatures rising in Reading: Average temperatures, frequency of heatwaves (defined in Berkshire as three consecutive days at or above 27°C) and heat stress days (extremely hot days that impact the body's ability to function normally) have steadily increased in Reading, as globally, over past four decades.

The University’s weather observatory recorded 16 heatwaves in the last decade, compared to two during the 1960s.

Reading has experienced 23.4 heat stress days since 2015 – 1.7 more than between 1981-2010.

More heat-associated diseases: The prevalence of diseases linked to heat and heat stress, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and diabetes, has increased.

Respiratory disease deaths rising: Deaths in Reading from respiratory diseases have increased by 3.4 p er cent, chronic kidney disease by 1.5 per cent and transmittable diseases like flu by 5 per cent.

Respiratory disease death rates are higher in Reading than the wider South East region.

Ageing population: There is some evidence that Reading's population is ageing: the number of people over the age of 65 rose from just over 17,000 in 2008 to just over 20,000 in 2018.

Strong carbon footprint reduction: Reading has reduced its carbon emissions by nearly 50 per cent since 2005 – a larger reduction than the average for England of 35 per cent.

Transport emissions remain high: Despite the overall emissions reduction, transport-related emissions have only fallen by 18 per cent in Reading, and deaths from particulate air pollution have been increasing in the town since 2015.

Health may not, therefore, be benefitting from the type of carbon reductions that have taken place.

More people taking the bus: Reading bus journeys rose from 16 million to 22 million (a 38 per cent increase) between 2009-2018, despite public transport use in England as a whole falling during that period.

Above-average electric vehicle charging access: Reading has a higher rate of electric vehicle chargers (31 per 100,000 people) than England as a whole (27 per 100 per cent people).

MPs engaging with climate issue: MPs representing Berkshire mentioned climate change in 121 Parliamentary debates since 2006, out of 5,297 they collectively participated – a rate of 2.28 per cent.

Health impacts were only mentioned in two of these debates (both times by Matt Rodda).

Reading Chronicle:

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The Reading Countdown report is a localised report inspired by the Lancet Countdown, an annual report by world-leading experts including Professor Elizabeth Robinson at Reading, that tracks links between climate change and health globally.

Professor Robinson said: "In Reading, the impacts of climate change on human health may not be so visible, but they are already being felt, harming people's livelihoods and putting increased pressure on our local public health services.

"The strain of climate related health problems diverts resources that could be spent treating other illnesses and diseases.

"I think we can see that Reading has done a lot to lower pollution levels - it has lowered carbon emissions by 50 per cent since 2005.

"Transportation congestion and pollution remains the issue.

Reading Chronicle:

"More people are using public transport in the town, but the type of vehicle also matters to make transportation cleaner.

"People taking care of their own health by walking and exercising more, as well as altering their diets slightly to consume less foods that will have an impact on the environment, also takes pressure off the NHS."