PARIS: A stark warning from an international team of experts indicates that the toll of extreme heat on human lives could surge nearly fivefold in the coming decades.
The Lancet Countdown, a renowned annual assessment by leading researchers and institutions, identifies lethal heat as just one of the many health threats stemming from the world’s escalating use of fossil fuels.
The report highlights the ominous consequences of climate change, pointing to more frequent droughts that could leave millions at risk of starvation. Additionally, the spread of mosquitoes to new territories, carrying infectious diseases with them, poses a significant threat. Health systems worldwide are anticipated to struggle under the burden of these escalating challenges.
This dire assessment coincides with projections of this year becoming the hottest in recorded human history. Last month, Europe’s climate monitor declared it the warmest October on record. It also precedes the COP28 climate talks in Dubai, which will feature a groundbreaking “health day” on December 3, shedding light on the profound impact of global warming on public health.
Despite heightened calls for global action, the Lancet Countdown report reveals that energy-related carbon emissions reached new highs last year. Massive government subsidies and private bank investments in fossil fuels continue to exacerbate the climate crisis.
The study reveals that people worldwide faced an average of 86 days of life-threatening temperatures last year, with 60 percent of those days becoming more than twice as likely due to climate change. Shockingly, the number of heat-related deaths among individuals over 65 rose by 85 percent from 1991-2000 to 2013-2022.
Lancet Countdown’s executive director, Marina Romanello, warns that the current impacts may only be early symptoms of a perilous future. If the world warms by two degrees Celsius by the century’s end (currently on track for 2.7C), heat-related deaths are projected to soar by 370 percent by 2050, marking a 4.7-fold increase.
Projections also anticipate that around 520 million more people will experience moderate or severe food insecurity by mid-century. Mosquito-borne infectious diseases, such as dengue, are expected to increase by 36 percent under a 2C warming scenario.
A sobering revelation from the report is that over a quarter of surveyed cities fear that climate change will overwhelm their capacity to cope. Lancet Countdown’s Georgiana Gordon-Strachan emphasizes the disproportionate impact on poorer countries, where communities are least responsible for emissions and face challenges in accessing funding and technical capacity to adapt.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responds to the report by stating that humanity is “staring down the barrel of an intolerable future.” He underscores the unfolding human catastrophe, with health and livelihoods across the world endangered by record-breaking heat, droughts, hunger, infectious diseases, and extreme weather events.
Dann Mitchell, climate hazards chair at the UK’s Bristol University, laments the insufficient progress in cutting carbon emissions, emphasizing that urgent action is needed to avoid catastrophic consequences. The UN’s recent warning that current pledges fall far short of the necessary carbon emissions reduction by 2030 adds urgency to the global call for meaningful climate action.