Hundreds of millions of people could be affected heatwaves within 30 years - study

·3-min read

Fatal heatwaves could affect hundreds of millions of people as global temperatures rise, a new study estimates.

The research, led by international climate change scientists, found that Bangladesh, Pakistan and India are most at risk of catastrophic heat events if climate change targets are missed.

Fahad Saeed, lead author of the Climate Analytics study said: "Already today, at 1C of warming, we are seeing the deadly consequences of extreme heat.

"In 2015, 3500 people in Pakistan lost their lives during the world's fifth-deadliest heat wave."

Heat stress events are considered potentially deadly when 'wet bulb' temperatures exceed 35C for three or more days.

In this new research, the team found that, with an increase of 2C, there could be 774 million exposures to potentially unsurvivable heat by 2050.

At 1.5C, that number would be nearly half, at 423 million.

Dr Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, co-author of the Climate Analytics study, said: "In South Asia, the climate of the future is already here.

"Countries' continued investment in new coal power plants are incompatible with the urgent need for global decarbonisation."

In 2015, world governments pledged to limit the global temperature rise to under 2C while trying to keep it to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

But the impact of rising temperatures is already being felt, even in countries considered to be at low risk from the climate crisis.

Earlier this month, Oxford University researchers estimated that there had already been 1,500 UK deaths attributable to climate change events.

Scientists linked the deaths to heatwaves in 2003 and 2018, which saw record temperatures broken in cities such as Glasgow and Belfast.

In areas most at risk, such as South Asia, climate scientists believe the heat rise would make some areas uninhabitable, leading to mass migration and over-population in areas still deemed cool enough to live in.

Monjur Mourshed, Professor of Sustainable Engineering at Cardiff University, says that densely populated cities like Bangladesh's capital are particularly at risk.

"Effects of increasing temperature are exacerbated in dense south Asian cities such as Dhaka because of the urban heat island phenomenon where cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside.

"Closely spaced buildings retain more heat than sparsely spaced ones with green buffer spaces such as parks and lakes, thus worsening the urban heat island effect."

Professor Mourshed also points out that women in Bangladesh's cities are disproportionately affected by increasing temperature "as they spend more time in hotter kitchens with inadequate ventilation."

"Air temperatures in kitchens were found to be as high as 46°C - too hot for human physiological wellbeing," he said.

There would also be a significant impact on rural economies in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, where 60% of people are involved in outdoor agricultural activities.

Sky News is set to launch the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

Hosted by Anna Jones, The Daily Climate Show will follow Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

First airing on Wednesday 7 April, the show will also highlight solutions to the crisis and show how small changes can make a big difference.