Extreme Heat Poses ‘Unacceptably High’ Health Risk Worldwide

Rising temperatures as a result of climate change are already exposing people to health risks across the globe. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Rising temperatures as a result of climate change are already exposing people to health risks across the globe, according to a new report from 27 global institutions co-led by UCL researchers. Outdoor workers, people with underlying health conditions, and the urban elderly are especially at risk, according to the findings published in The Lancet.

Professor Hugh Montgomery, (UCL Medicine), Co-Chair of the Lancet Countdown and Director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance, said:

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Leading doctors, academics, and policy professionals from 27 organizations have contributed analysis and jointly authored the report. As members of The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, partners behind the research include the World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO), UCL, and Tsinghua University, among others.

The report investigated the impact of climate change on health in 478 cities across the globe, identifying health impacts including:

  • 157 million more vulnerable people were subjected to a heatwave last year than in 2000, and 18 million more than in 2016.
  • 153 billion hours of work were lost in 2017 due to extreme heat as a result of climate change. China alone lost 21 billion hours, the equivalent of a year’s work for 1.4% of its working population. New methodologies have captured this data for the first time.
  • Rising ambient temperatures are placing vulnerable populations at increased risks across all regions of the world. Europe and the East Mediterranean are particularly at risk, markedly more so than in Africa and Southeast Asia, most likely due to aging populations living in cities, with 42 percent and 43 percent of people over 65 vulnerable to heat exposure.
  • The report highlights that heat greatly exacerbates urban air pollution, with 97 percent of cities in low- and middle-income countries not meeting WHO air quality guidelines.
  • Heat stress, an early and severe effect of climate change, is commonplace and people, and the health systems we rely on, are ill-equipped to cope.
  • Rising temperatures and unseasonable warmth are responsible for cholera and dengue fever spreading, with vectorial capacity for their transmission increasing across many endemic areas.
  • The mean global temperature change to which humans are exposed is more than double the global average change, with temperatures rising 0.8°C in inhabited areas versus 0.3°C.

The authors say that urgent steps are needed to protect people now from the impacts of climate change. In particular, stronger labor regulations could protect workers from extremes of heat, and hospitals and health systems need to be better equipped for extreme heat.

But the report authors also stress that there are limits to adapting to the temperature increases, so the need for reducing emissions is critical. First author Dr. Nick Watts (UCL Institute for Global Health), Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown, said:

2018 has been an even hotter year in many parts of the world and another recent report found that this summer’s heat wave was twice as likely to have happened as a result of man-made climate change. With 51 percent of the cities surveyed in the report expecting climate change to seriously compromise their public health infrastructure, the researchers say that the need to ensure health systems, hospitals, and clinics can cope when extreme heat strikes is clear.

Leaders in 65 percent of the cities said they have either already completed or are currently doing climate change risk assessments, but spending on climate adaptation for health is estimated to be just 4.8 percent (£11.68 billion) of all adaptation spending, which is woefully inadequate, the report warns. Professor Anthony Costello (UCL Institute for Global Health), Co-Chair of Lancet Countdown and former Director at WHO, said:

Provided by: University College London [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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