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Billions of people endured an extra month of extreme heat in the past year

We all know that the world is getting warmer, but a new report has laid bare the alarming extent to which our planet is heating up. According to a recent study, climate change has gifted us an average of 26 additional days of extreme heat over the past year.

That’s almost an entire extra month of sweltering temperatures that we wouldn’t have experienced without human-caused global warming.

Climate change and extreme heat

Before we delve deeper into this scorching revelation, let’s clarify what we mean by “extreme heat.” For this study, scientists defined it as temperatures that fall within the top 10 percent of what a particular country typically experiences.

The experts analyzed data from 1991 to 2020 to establish this baseline, then compared it to the temperatures recorded in the 12 months leading up to May 15, 2024.

The results were, to put it mildly, sizzling. Not only did the world experience a significant increase in extreme heat days, but this trend was observed across the globe, affecting a staggering 80 percent of the population. That’s approximately 6.3 billion people who endured at least 31 days of extreme heat in the past year.

Heatwaves across continents

The report, published by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the World Weather Attribution scientific network, and Climate Central, highlights that extreme heat waves have become a truly global phenomenon. In the last 12 months, 76 extreme heat waves were registered in 90 different countries, spanning every continent except Antarctica.

While no region was spared from this scorching onslaught, some countries were hit particularly hard. Five of the most affected nations were in Latin America:

  • Suriname endured a staggering 182 extreme heat days, instead of the estimated 24 it would have experienced without climate change.
  • Ecuador faced 180 days of extreme heat, compared to just 10 in a world without global warming.
  • Guyana sweltered through 174 days, far surpassing the 33 days it would have seen without climate change.
  • El Salvador and Panama also experienced a significant increase in extreme heat days, with 163 and 149 days respectively, instead of the estimated 15 and 12 days they would have faced.

Deadly impacts of extreme heat

“Flooding and hurricanes may capture the headlines, but the impacts of extreme heat are equally deadly,” said Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Extreme heat is a silent killer claiming tens of thousands of lives each year. The actual death toll is likely much higher, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands or even millions. Unlike sudden-onset disasters, extreme heat’s impact is insidious and often under-reported.

This deadly phenomenon can exacerbate existing health conditions, cause heatstroke, dehydration, and lead to severe health complications, especially among vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. Despite its devastating effects, extreme heat doesn’t receive the same attention as more immediate and visually dramatic weather events.

As global temperatures rise due to climate change, the frequency and intensity of these deadly heatwaves are increasing. It’s crucial to recognize the severity of extreme heat and implement measures to mitigate its impacts, such as creating more green spaces, improving urban planning, and investing in cooling infrastructure to protect public health.

A call to address climate change

The report’s findings underscore the urgent need to address climate change and mitigate its devastating effects. Extreme heat is not merely an inconvenience; it’s a deadly threat to human life and well-being. As global temperatures continue to rise, we can expect even more frequent and intense heatwaves in the future.

To combat this escalating crisis, we must take decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a clean energy economy. We must invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and develop early warning systems to protect vulnerable populations.

The science is clear: climate change is making our world a hotter place, and the consequences of extreme heat are dire.

As a global community, we need to ensure that everyone has access to the resources and support they need to cope with the increasingly extreme weather conditions that climate change is bringing our way.


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