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1 Billion People At Risk From Potentially Lethal Heat If Global Warming Passes 2C, Scientists Warn – Forbes

Topline

A billion people will face potentially lethal heat stress if global warming reaches 2C above pre-industrial levels, according to research from the U.K.’s Met Office announced at the COP26 climate summit, a level already well below what some experts believe is in store unless rapid and deep cuts to carbon emissions are made.   

Key Facts

The 1 billion figure marks a 15-fold rise in the number of people currently exposed to heat stress, which is a potentially fatal combination of heat and humidity.

Some 68 million people around the world are affected by extreme heat stress today, according to the Met Office research, which determined where in the world the ‘wet-bulb’ temperature would be greater than 32C for at least 10 days a year under different warming scenarios. 

Wet-bulb temperature measures the interaction of temperature and humidity to assess skin temperature when the body cannot lose heat fast enough by sweating—a wet-bulb temperature of 35C is considered the very limit of human tolerance, ultimately leading to heat exhaustion, organ damage and, eventually, death. 

If efforts to mitigate climate change were to fail and temperatures rise 4C above pre-industrial levels, “extreme heat risk could affect people in large swathes of most of the world’s continents,” warned Andy Hartley, the Met Office’s climate impacts lead. 

Under this scenario, nearly half the world’s population could be facing extreme heat stress, the research found. 

While most parts of the world would be affected, countries in the tropics like Ethiopia, Brazil and India will be impacted most heavily, said the Met Office’s Andy Wiltshire, and risk facing a litany of climate-driven hazards including flooding, drought and wildfire. 

Crucial Quote

Wiltshire said rapid emission reductions are needed to “avoid the worst consequences of unmitigated climate change.”

Key Background

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading U.N. authority on climate science, concluded in August that global warming is unambiguously due to human activity, with 1.1C already due to greenhouse gases emitted since the second half of the 19th century. In order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, international experts have agreed global warming must be limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This figure is the cornerstone of the Paris climate agreement and the central talking point of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where leaders are discussing how to actually achieve this goal. Heading into COP26, lackluster effort to cut emissions mean the world is on track to warm by more than 2.7C, according to a U.N. report

Big Number 

166,000. That’s at least how many people died due to heatwaves between 1998 and 2017, according to the World Health Organization. More than 70,000 people died during Europe’s 2003 heatwave alone, the WHO said.

Further Reading

One billion face heat-stress risk from 2°C rise (Met Office)

1bn people will suffer extreme heat at just 2C heating, say scientists (Guardian)

Stella McCartney Is ‘Begging’ Governments To Regulate The Fashion Industry (Forbes)

How hot is too hot for the human body? (MIT Tech Review)

Global heating ‘may lead to epidemic of kidney disease’ (Guardian)

The Earth Just Had Its Hottest Month Ever—Setting A Record That Probably Won’t Last Long (Forbes)

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