In advance of next month’s COP27 climate change summit in Egypt, the United Nations and the Red Cross released a report arguing that heatwaves will become so extreme in several regions of the world that human life there will become unsustainable. For instance, in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and south and southwest Asia, heatwaves are predicted to “exceed human physiological and social limits,” with extreme events triggering “large-scale suffering and loss of life,” as the experts put it.
“There are clear limits beyond which people exposed to extreme heat and humidity cannot survive,” the report authors wrote. “There are also likely to be levels of extreme heat beyond which societies may find it practically impossible to deliver effective adaptation for all. On current trajectories, heatwaves could meet and exceed these physiological and social limits in the coming decades, including in regions such as the Sahel and south and southwest Asia.”
According to the researchers, extreme heat is a “silent killer,” claiming thousands of lives each year as the deadliest weather-related hazard. “Projected future death rates from extreme heat are staggeringly high – comparable in magnitude by the end of the century to all cancers or all infectious diseases – and staggeringly unequal,” the experts explained.
The scientists estimate that the number of poor people living in extreme heat conditions in urban areas will increase by 700 percent by 2050, particularly in southeast Asia and west Africa. Among them, agricultural workers, the elderly, as well as pregnant or breastfeeding women will be at the highest risk of death.
“As the climate crisis goes unchecked, extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and floods, are hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest,” said UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths. “The humanitarian system is not equipped to handle crisis of this scale on our own.”
The UN and the Red Cross suggest several strategies for combating the impact of extreme heatwaves, including providing early information to help people and authorities react in time, finding new ways of financing local actions, building more thermally-appropriate emergency shelters and cooling centers, and convincing communities to change their development planning to take into account such extreme weather events.
If aggressive steps to mitigate climate change are not taken immediately, the world will likely (and very soon) face previously unimaginable levels of extreme heat. “We don’t want to dramatize it, but clearly the data shows that it does lead towards a very bleak future,” concluded Jagan Chapagain, the secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
The report can be found here.
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By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer