In 2019, more than 356,000 people died from the extreme heat caused by climate change, a figure that will increase in the coming years if “immediate, urgent and coordinated efforts are not made at the global level” to mitigate global warming and to increase resilience to extreme heat and save lives.
The UN climate report is an almost ignored red alert: “The world listens, but does not act enough”
Only if measures are taken so that the increase in global temperature does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius, as established by the Paris Agreement (a binding international treaty signed by 196 countries in December 2015), will it be possible to avoid “the substantial mortality “caused by the heat in the coming years.
This is the main recommendation of two scientific articles published this Thursday in The Lancet magazine, led by researchers from the University of Washington (USA), and the University of Sydney (Australia) and in which scientists from China, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, Switzerland and Denmark.
The UN has already warned
Both articles come just ten days after the publication of the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPDD), a devastating text that advances that global warming will cause “irreversible changes” that will last millennia and that the authors outline in five different scenarios, depending on the level of emissions in the future.
In this context, and before the next global meeting on climate change, COP26, which will be held this year in Glasgow (Scotland), The Lancet studies call for combating extreme heat from two strategic approaches: with measures to reduce the emissions and curbing the rise in temperature, and with measures to protect the population from extreme heat.
“If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced and heat action plans are not developed and implemented, a very different future awaits many people and communities around the world,” warns the co-lead author of both. studies, Kristie L’Ebi, University of Washington.
The most vulnerable, the elderly
The first article explains that extreme heat stress overwhelms the body, which, when trying to thermoregulate, induces cardiorespiratory diseases, mental health problems, and problems in pregnancy and childbirth.
The most vulnerable are the elderly and the more than 1 billion workers who are exposed to environmental conditions around the world and, of whom, a third already suffer consequences on their health, which represents a clear and growing problem of global health, the authors warn.
According to the study, between 1990 and 2019, the number of deaths related to cold has grown by 31%, while deaths caused by heat in the same period increased by 74%, especially in the warmer regions of the world.
“Extremely hot days or heat waves that used to occur roughly every 20 years are on the rise and could occur every year by the end of this century if current greenhouse gas emissions continue. This rise in temperatures, added The increase of an increasingly aging population means that an even greater number of people will run the risk of suffering the effects of heat on their health “, warns L’Ebi.
Measures at the individual level
Thus, reducing the effects of extreme heat on human health “is an urgent priority and must include immediate changes in infrastructure, the urban environment and individual behavior to prevent heat-related deaths,” the study states.
Among the cooling strategies, the authors propose individual measures such as using electric fans, cooling with water or wearing wet clothes, and measures to adapt buildings and cool interior environments with panels on the walls and insulating windows, improve ventilation between buildings, increase green spaces, create spaces with water and shadows and reduce pollution in cities, among other ideas.
“The effects that exposure to extreme heat can have on the body is a clear and growing global health problem. There are many sustainable and affordable options to reduce the effects of exposure to heat and cool the body instead of cooling the air that it surrounds us, “proposes Ollie Jay, a researcher at the University of Sydney and a co-author of the studies.
Finally, studies advise having heat action plans, early warning systems, and strong monitoring and control with science-based cooling strategies that help people combat extreme heat in the future.