Climate Change

Climate crisis: Expect more extreme heatwaves in near future

India witnessed a concurrent increase in meteorological droughts and heatwaves in various parts of the country over the last 60 years

By Seema Prasad
Published: Tuesday 11 October 2022

Extreme heatwave events are predicted to occur more frequently in the near future, according to a recent report.

Extreme heat risks will increase significantly as the global mean temperature increases to 1.5°C by the 2030s, noted the report titled Extreme Heat: Preparing for the heatwaves of the future.

The report was published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, a worldwide humanitarian aid organisation October 10, 2022.

The global mean temperature was close to 1°C  between 2017 and 2019. However, the global mean temperature was at 1.2°C in 2016 and 2020, according to data on the global surface temperature compiled by the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration between 2016 and 2021.

“From the humanitarian perspective, a critical point is a non-linear relationship between global increases in mean temperatures and increases in the frequency and severity of extreme events,” the report read.

Extreme heat is the only climate hazard where this effect is so pronounced, it added.

The report warned of compound events that may occur in succession or simultaneously. Such events could have detrimental effects on human health and communities.

India witnessed a concurrent increase in meteorological droughts and heatwaves in various parts of the country over the last 60 years, said the researchers.

The significant increase would present “communities unaccustomed to such events with an unprecedented challenge to adapt.”

The analysis also said compound ‘tropical storm-heat’, an event where a storm follows extreme heat, could occur more frequently in the future.

“Hot extremes” have become recurrent and more severe over the earth’s land since the 1950s, according to the Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Humans may not be able to adapt

No one is protected from the rising global mean temperatures, according to the researchers. Even those who are acclimatised to tropical areas may suffer, they added.

Acclimatisation also takes time to develop and it wanes in the absence of prolonged heat exposure,” the report said.

This means that it offers less protection against abrupt and unusual changes in temperature and humidity that are made much more likely by climate change, the report added.

“Some coastal subtropical locations may have already exceeded human body’s safe temperature limit for very brief periods,” according to the researchers.

Data gaps

In dire circumstances, children’s dehydration due to heat can result in mortality if its combined with diarrhoea.

Schools in India reduce teaching hours during extreme temperatures. This can impact education, according to the researchers.

Nevertheless, national disaster data recorded by countries often don’t consider heat waves as a cause of health issues.

The immediate cause of death, such as diabetes or heat strokes, is reported as the reason for hospital admission or death in places like Sub-Saharan Africa despite evidence showing an increase in heatwaves.

This causes a misrepresentation of the data, according to researchers. They believe that heat waves must be linked to health outcomes more conclusively.

Thermal inequality

The world’s poorest countries have been experiencing more hot days and nights over the past three decades, according to a literature review on the subject.

Suppose the world’s temperature increases beyond 1.5°C. In that case, the most tangible impact will be felt in the tropical regions, which are home to poverty-stricken populations, stated a study quoted by the researchers.

Loss of working hours

Refugees, migrants, industrial workers and construction and agricultural labourers risk losing working hours and income with prolonged exposure to heat. 

If global warming reaches 1.5°C, southern Asia and western Africa may lose 5.3 per cent and 4.8 per cent of working hours, respectively, according to projections by the International Labor Organization for 2030.

In contrast, the loss of working hours is less than 1 per cent across Europe.

Countries should develop national heat action plans, the authors suggested. They insisted on investing in forecasting systems, social protection schemes, community-led warning systems and designated cooling systems to survive the impending heat.

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