Climate Health Uncategorized

Newer regions of world at risk from severe heat waves, says research


Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

HQ Team

May 1, 2023: Heat waves and record temperatures in regions with cooler climates are raising concerns about disaster preparedness and the socioeconomic fallout of changing climate. 

The past eight years have been the warmest on record, fuelled by ever-rising greenhouse gas concentrations. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) provisional State of the Global Climate in 2022 report, extreme heatwaves, drought and devastating flooding have affected millions and cost billions this year.

New research by the University of Bristol published in Nature Communications has identified regions most vulnerable to heat wave harm. These include Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, and Central America. Beijing and Central Europe are vulnerable too, with their large populations putting relatively large numbers of people at risk.

The “at risk factors” that the researchers have included take into account factors such as socioeconomics, population growth, the stability of energy networks, and the availability of healthcare services. Their model for determining the chances of extreme climate events repeating is based on extreme value statistics. 

Implausible heat waves

Statistically implausible heat waves – extreme enough not to be predicted by models – have happened in 31 percent of the 136 regions covered by the study over the last 60 years or so, the researchers say. The 2021 Western North America heatwave of the past three years is a prime example. Over 20,000 people died across western Europe in 2022 summer’s heatwaves, in temperatures that would have been virtually impossible without climate breakdown.

Lead author, climate scientist Dr Vikki Thompson at the Cabot Institute for the Environment, said: “As heatwaves are occurring more often we need to be better prepared. We identify regions that may have been lucky so far – some of these regions have rapidly growing populations, some are developing nations, some are already very hot. We need to ask if the heat action plans for these areas are sufficient.”

“Policymakers and governments need to prepare for events beyond current records – particularly with trends caused by anthropogenic climate change enhancing the probability of extremes,” writes the research team in their paper.

Human-induced climate change is causing an increase in the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves, potentially leading to thousands more excess deaths globally. High temperatures will make carrying out daily tasks more difficult, especially for people engaged in farming and agriculture. And they have knock-on effects such as an increased risk of wildfires.

Climate change and developing nations

“All too often, those least responsible for climate change suffer most – as we have seen with the terrible flooding in Pakistan and deadly, long-running drought in the Horn of Africa. But even well-prepared societies this year have been ravaged by extremes – as seen by the protracted heatwaves and drought in large parts of Europe and southern China,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof Petteri Taalas in a WMO report 

“Increasingly extreme weather makes it more important than ever to ensure that everyone on Earth has access to life-saving early warnings,” said Prof Taalas.

India has just experienced its hottest December and February since 1901. Last month, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and its counterpart in Pakistan (PMD) warned of above-average temperatures and heatwaves until the end of May. Studies put the loss of man hours in India and Pakistan due to the heat waves at 15-20 minutes per hour at the hottest times. India loses 101bn man-hours yearly to heat, and Pakistan 13bn.

Climate change and preparedness

With the addition of newer regions in the heat wave susceptible categories, climate change and related fallout combativeness must become urgent policy matters.

Being prepared saves lives,” says atmospheric scientist Dann Mitchell, from the University of Bristol. “We have seen some of the most unexpected heat waves around the world lead to heat-related deaths in the tens of thousands.”

“Often, regions are only prepared for events as extreme as they have already experienced, with planning initiated by past disasters,” write the researchers in their published paper.


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