Category: Health

Millions will die if world fails on climate promises

Millions will die if world fails on climate promises

By Tim Radford

Action to keep climate promises could prevent millions of deaths each year. Unless nations try harder, that won’t happen.

LONDON, 16 February, 2021 − Scientists have looked at conditions in just nine of the world’s 200 nations and found that − if the world keeps its Paris climate promises, of containing global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100 − millions of lives could be saved.

And another team has looked at what nations actually propose to do so far to hit the Paris targets and found that it is not enough: that everybody will have to be 80% more ambitious.

But, though costly, such ambitions would deliver direct rewards. For a start, the consequences of embarking on policies that would seriously reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel potentially catastrophic climate change could lead to better diets in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK and the US: that alone could save 6.1 million lives.

Thanks to the cleaner air that would come with a drastic reduction in fossil fuel combustion, another 1.6 million people could expect to breathe freely for another year. And the shift from private cars to public transport and foot or bicycle journeys would mean another 2.1 million of us could expect to go on benefiting from the additional exercise for another year, every year.

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change says in the journal Lancet Planetary Health that it selected the nine nations because they embraced around half the global population and accounted for seven-tenths of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The message is stark. Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year; the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health”

The Countdown also looked at a range of scenarios for action. And the researchers also considered what, so far, those nine nations had promised to do to contain climate change − the international bureaucratic language calls such promises nationally determined contributions, or NDCs − and found them far short of the effective target: right now, the world is heading for a global temperature rise by 2100 of 3°C or more.

And with these higher global average temperatures there will be more devastating and possibly lethal heat waves, more intense and more frequent storms, protracted drought, torrential rain and flooding, and rising sea levels that will intensify erosion and coastal flooding.

The damage that these threaten alone delivers a long-term economic case for concerted global action to shift agricultural emphasis, save natural ecosystems and switch to renewable fuel sources. But the right choice of action could make lives a great deal better as well.

“The message is stark,” said Ian Hamilton, executive director of the Lancet Countdown. “Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year; the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health. We have an opportunity now to place health in the forefront of climate change policies to save even more lives.”

On the same day, a US team published the results of a look at what nations had to do to actually meet the goal chosen at a global conference in Paris in 2015 to contain global heating to no more than 2°C above what had been the long-term average for most of human history.

Avoiding despair

In the last century alone the planet has warmed by more than 1°C, and the last six years have been the warmest six years since records began. The promises made in Paris, if kept, could mean a 1% drop in greenhouse gas emissions every year.

But, scientists say in the journal Communications Earth and Environment, that will not contain global heating to 2°C. To deliver on the promise, the world must reduce emissions by 1.8% a year. That is, the global community will have to try 80% harder.

Some nations are nearer the more ambitious target: China’s declared plans so far would require only a 7% boost. The UK would have to raise its game by 17%. The US − which abandoned the Paris Agreement under former President Trump − has 38% more work to do.

“If you say ‘Everything’s a disaster and we need to radically overhaul society’ there’s a feeling of hopelessness,” said Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington, one of the authors.

“But if we say ‘We need to reduce emissions by 1.8% a year’ that’s a different mindset.” − Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Maverick Photo Agency, via ClimateVisuals
Tackling COVID-19 and Climate Change in Unison Will Help Us Better Protect People on the Move

Tackling COVID-19 and Climate Change in Unison Will Help Us Better Protect People on the Move

By Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

This article is part of a United Nations University Migration Network series that explores the interrelations and acute challenges of migration, climate change, and COVID-19. As a build-up to International Migrants Day on 18 December 2020, the series examines these connections at local and global levels, highlights impacts on migrants, and provides evidence-based insights for United Nations member states, governments, and policymakers.

The COVID-19 pandemic gives us a stark image of what a world looks like when health is threatened on a global scale. Life as we once knew it has come to a standstill. When we do overcome this pandemic, however, the health and well-being impacts of climate change, will continue. The 2020 Lancet Countdown report published earlier this month shows how climate change is leading to immediate, profound, and worsening health impacts across the world. Bringing together 120 scientists from various research fields, and covering 43 global indicators, the report reveals how no country is immune, but also how some populations (such as people on the move) will suffer more than others.

I have been part of the Lancet Countdown since its very beginning and I currently work with the sub-working group focusing on human migration in a warming world. We estimate that, based on current population data, 145 million people will be exposed to potential inundation with global mean sea-level rise of one metre. The amount of people exposed jumps to 565 million with a five-metre sea-level rise scenario.

Unless we act now, we will be able to observe how more and more vulnerable people face further disruptions to their livelihoods and lives. We do not have the luxury of tackling one crisis at a time. The health harms of climate change are compounding the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Extreme weather events and climatic changes are displacing people at the same time as the pandemic. Adding to this, both climate change and COVID-19 exacerbate existing social inequalities within and between countries. We cannot afford to focus attention only on the COVID-19 pandemic at the expense of climate action.

A globally coordinated effort tackling COVID-19 and climate change will also mean a triple win: better public health, a more sustainable economy, and environmental protection. Unless the global COVID-19 recovery is aligned with the response to climate change, we will fail to meet the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement and in the Sustainable Development Goals. Taking action to address climate change offers a way to protect the health and well-being of vulnerable people on the move now and in the future.

People on the move during the pandemic

It is still too early to get a good picture of how the pandemic has impacted people on the move, whether displaced in their own countries or seeking refuge elsewhere. That said, in our recently published article we give an overview of what we do know. We know that people seeking work in the cites, after being unable to sustain themselves through natural resource-based livelihoods (such as fishing and farming), often settle down in slums upon their arrival. In these informal settlements, migrants often reside in overcrowded spaces while struggling with fragile healthcare systems and lacking basic infrastructure such as access to water and sanitation.

About a billion people around the world, including approximately 30–50% of the urban population in the global South, live in slums. This is also where many internally displaced people end up. Imposing lockdowns in these areas can leave millions of people stranded without livelihood opportunities or food. We also know that migrants sometimes are not entitled to support services available to other citizens, and conflict-traumatised refugee populations often do not trust or seek help from the official authorities when feeling unwell.

Fear among refugees in regards to COVID-19 is also spreading due to misinformation. For example, one Rohingya refugee in the world’s largest refugee camp located in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh stated that ‘If anyone gets infected, the authority has to kill her/him. Because if (s)he stays alive, the virus will transfer to another person’s body.’ In this way, fear and stigma among the Rohingya refugees result in people avoiding to seek care as well as infected people being denied treatment.

Many informal workers, such as this vendor in Bangladesh, were left without social protection schemes as countries went into COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: © Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson / UNU.

Where do we go from here?

The year 2020 will forever be remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that we remember this brutal lesson, but also that the pandemic represents a new beginning. People on the move must be safeguarded throughout the pandemic as well as after. We must unite together in these efforts and refuse to let ultra-vulnerable people be pushed aside. We need to pay more attention to human rights violations, not simply those forcing people to flee, but also those that follow in the footsteps of people on the move — whether it is through the denial of basic health services, water, food, and sanitation, or the intensified justification of hostile treatment and removal of asylum seekers.

It is more important than ever that we ensure that people do not end up in situations where their health and safety are not guaranteed. If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us it is that the risk to one person’s well-being can be a slippery slope towards putting us all at risk. The recommendations long made by human rights and sustainable living frameworks would have reduced the spread of this deadly virus. Ensuing that we ‘build back better’, and create a more sustainable future for people on the move, will benefit us all!

This article was originally posted on Our World, United Nations University.
Image by Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson / UNU.
Science suggests possible climate link to Covid-19

Science suggests possible climate link to Covid-19

By Tim Radford

Researchers think there could be a climate link to Covid-19. In which case, worse could yet happen.

LONDON, 5 February, 2021 − British and US scientists think there may be a connection between global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use, and the emergence of the bat-borne virus that has triggered a global pandemic and has so far claimed more than two million lives worldwide − in short, a possible climate link to Covid-19.

The connection is possibly quite simple. Rising average temperatures encouraged a change in the natural vegetation of the forests of Yunnan, the southern Chinese province, close to the forests of Laos and Myanmar.

What had been tropical shrubland shifted to tropical savannah and deciduous woodland: the province became a suitable habitat for many bat species. It is also home to the scaly anteater known as the pangolin, and the masked palm civet: both of these have been also proposed as intermediate carriers of the virus. 

And, researchers say, in the last century an additional 40 bat species moved into Yunnan: these may have delivered 100 more types of bat coronavirus to the pool of potential infection.

Magnet for bats

And this “global hotspot” − far from the city where the first human cases were first confirmed − is where all the genetic data suggest that the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 may have arisen, says a study in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in Yunnan province suitable for more bat species,” said Robert Beyer of the University of Cambridge, now at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who led the research.

“Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

That animals carry viruses which can infect other species is well established: the HIV-Aids pandemic, the Ebola outbreaks in Africa and many other infections have all been linked to animal-to-human transmission.

For decades, scientists have been recording new “zoonotic” or animal-borne diseases in humans at the rate of two a year. An estimated 80% of all the viruses linked to human disease are of animal origin, including rabies.

“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions”

The link between human disturbance of wilderness and disease outbreak has been made before, and more than once. A study by Cambridge scientists last year identified 161 steps humankind could take to reduce the ever-growing risks of zoonotic infection that could lead to even more devastating pandemics.

The case for bat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 driven by climate change remains circumstantial. It identifies a suspect and a set of possibly incriminating connections, but does not deliver the evidence for a secure conviction.

Using global records of temperature, rainfall and cloud cover, the scientists behind the latest study mapped global vegetation as it must have been a century ago. Then they used what they knew of the ecology of the world’s bat species to estimate the global distribution of each species 100 years ago. And then they matched this with records of species distribution in the last decade.

“As climate change altered habitats, species left some areas and moved into others − taking their viruses with them. This not only altered the regions where viruses are present, but most likely allowed for new interactions between animals and viruses, causing more harmful viruses to be transmitted or evolve,” Dr Beyer said.

There are more than 1,400 species of bat worldwide: these carry around 3,000 kinds of coronavirus, in ways that are mostly harmless to the host.

Risk increases

If the number of bat species increases, in a region also occupied by humans, then the risk of the infection of a new host, via bat urine, faeces, saliva or other transmission, also increases.

Bat viruses have been linked to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Cov-1 and CoV-2.

The region of Yunnan identified as now richer in bat species is also home to the pangolin, and one theory is that the virus jumped from bat to pangolin, or bat to masked palm civet, and then to humans when a pangolin was sold at a wildlife market in Wuhan, in Hubei province, more than 1200 kilometres away, where the first cases of Covid-19 were detected..

The implication of such a research finding is that, if human disturbance of the natural world increases the chance of such animal-to-human infection, then it will happen again. And it could happen with even greater potential loss of life.

That is why the discovery of this possible climate link to Covid-19 will now attract the minutest attention not only of scientists but of policymakers across the world.

“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions,” said Camilo Mora, of the University of Hawaii, another of the research team. − Climate News Network

Cover photo by Louis Mornaud on Unsplash
This article was originally published on The Climate News Network. Read the original story here.
Can SE Asian workers take the heat? Researchers tackle rising temperatures

Can SE Asian workers take the heat? Researchers tackle rising temperatures

By Rina Chandran

BANGKOK, Jan 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The effects rising heat has on vulnerable workers in Southeast Asia is the focus of a new study that also aims to find out what employers and authorities can do to reduce the impact of soaring temperatures in cities.

The three-year study, led by the National University of Singapore (NUS), will examine how heat stress impacts outdoor and indoor workers, including women in Singapore, Hanoi and Phnom Penh, said Jason Lee, the lead researcher.

The project, titled Heat-Safe, views heat as a “complex socio-environmental problem” that affects workers not just in the workplace, but also in public spaces and at home, resulting in lasting mental stress and other health concerns, said Lee.

“The assumption is that only outdoor workers are affected, but factory workers also face heat stress – and in Southeast Asia these are mostly women in garment factories,” said Lee, a research associate professor at NUS.

“The study is all the more relevant now, when we have seen the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on migrant workers who make up the bulk of construction and shipyard workers in Singapore, and garment workers in other countries,” he said.

Heat-related deaths are soaring around the world, and higher temperatures resulted in 302 billion working hours lost globally in 2019 compared with 199 billion in 2000, according to a recent study in The Lancet medical journal.

A 2019 report by the International Labour Organization forecast that an increase in heat stress would lead to productivity losses equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs in 2030.

Besides monitoring hourly heat levels in select workplaces in the three Southeast Asian cities, Heat-Safe will also evaluate psychological strain on workers and the impact on fertility and birth rates among women workers, Lee said.

The study, backed by the Singapore government, will also examine home conditions of workers, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.

“If they are unable to rest comfortably at home, that affects their vulnerability,” said Lee, a thermal physiologist who has studied the effects of heat on the armed forces.

While the study launched on Oct. 1, travel restrictions and curbs on movement because of the coronavirus have posed challenges, but researchers are now gearing up for easing restrictions and the warmer months ahead, Lee said.

More governments are recognising the growing health and economic threats to their workforce from scorching temperatures, exacerbated in many cases by high humidity.

A study published in November on the impact of heat stress on workers in Australia said that current health and safety laws are inadequate, and that employers prioritise productivity over workers’ health.

People whose jobs are “less secure” – including temporary, on-demand and migrant workers – are at greater risk, said the study by the University of Technology Sydney.

“Questions of social justice are deeply embedded in climate change and rising temperatures,” it said.

In Singapore, more than three-quarters of total coronavirus cases were linked to crowded dormitories that house more than 300,000 foreign workers, leading the government to pledge to improve their living conditions.

Elsewhere in the region, migrant workers have been dumped or persecuted during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’d like to think there is greater pressure now on governments and employers to take action to better protect vulnerable workers,” said Lee.

“It is time we paid attention to the working and living conditions of these workers.”

Read the original story here.
Building Climate Resilience to Extreme Heat During COVID-19

Building Climate Resilience to Extreme Heat During COVID-19

By Anjali Jaiswal, Kim Knowlton, Vijay Limaye

This blog originally appeared on the NRDC website.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the coronavirus pandemic puts a spotlight on climate change and health. Temperatures are already rising to 40°C (104°F) while the countries’ 1.3 billion people remain on lockdown. Government officials and health care professionals in India are actively diligently working to contain the spread of COVID-19 while also initiating efforts to protect communities from imminent heat waves through Heat Action Plans and Cool Roofs. NRDC and partners that are leading this work have recently been selected as finalists for the prestigious 2020 Ashden Awards, which recognize pioneering sustainability solutions.

India’s 2020 Heat Season

Brutally hot weather is a major health threat in India and many other parts of the world. Climate change is fueling more frequent, intense, and longer heat waves. The COVID-19 emergency worsens the response to heat-related illness since hospitals and urban health centers are already stressed. In response to this mounting threat, cities and regions across India are taking concrete actions to build resilience and better prepare and protect communities.

Heat is not merely an inconvenience; it kills. Symptoms of heat-related illness include vomiting, headaches, dehydration, and diarrhea. Staff in hospitals, businesses, and municipal buildings often struggle to keep communities cool and healthy. The number of high-temperature days in India has increased over the past fifty years, and especially since the 1990s, in highly-populated cities, such as Mumbai and New Delhi.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) are already working to prepare and respond to anticipated heatwaves. NDMA is also charged as the central agency responsible for COVID-19 response, making the burden of this season even heavier. For the 2020 heat season, IMD’s seasonal forecast shows the heat wave conditions are likely to be severe. NDMA has already activated the network of state disaster response agencies and city leaders to prepare for the soaring temperatures, including an updated list of Do’s and Don’t’s.

Heat Action Plans and Cool Roof Program

NRDC and a broad set of partners, including the Public Health Foundation of India – Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar (PHFI-IIPH-G) work with government leaders and key experts across India and internationally to develop, launch, and implement heat action plans. Heat action plans are a comprehensive plans for building climate resilience to extreme heat events through public awareness and community outreach; early warning system and interagency coordination; capacity building among health care professionals; and reducing heat exposure and promoting adaptive measures.

A peer-reviewed and published study found that Ahmedabad, one of India’s largest cities, avoided an estimated 1,190 deaths each year after implementing the country’s first Heat Action Plan. The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan was originally released in 2013 and developed by NRDC, IIPH-G and partners. Heat Action Plans have since expanded to over 23 states and over 100 cities and districts through the leadership of NDMA.

An important component of heat action plans includes cool roofs. Cool roofs reflect sunlight and absorb less heat. Depending on the setting, cool roofs can help keep indoor temperatures lower by 2 to 5°C (3.6 – 9°F) as compared to traditional roofs. They are cost effective solutions that work to protect vulnerable groups and slum communities.

Cities, states and the national government are taking steps to protect communities and save energy costs, through cool roof programs. For example, Ahmedabad has started a cool roofs program for over 15,000 buildings as part of its heat action plan this year, focusing on slum households and city-owned buildings. Building on its initial pilot program two year ago, Hyderabad now has a draft statewide policy as part of its building efficiency program. The national government is working towards sustainable cooling for all with the India Cooling Action Plan, which includes promotion of passive cooling techniques such as cool roofs and energy efficiency programs for buildings, air conditioners and fans.

Ashden Cool Cities Award Finalist

The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan, along with its cool roofs program, is among the two finalists up for the award in the Cool Cities category, as highlighted in the Ashden blog earlier this month. We are honored to share the nomination with a women-led architecture firm ECOnsult, keeping farm workers in the Egyptian desert cool.

The Ashden Cool Cities Award, sponsored by K-CEP and Climateworks, emphasized the link between the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis because “those already disadvantaged are most at risk”. That is why the Ashden finalists include organizations helping the most vulnerable. Ashen also highlights another link between the two emergencies and theme for the finalist: “How all of us, whatever our wealth or status, can come together to create change that benefits everyone.”

NRDC is deeply humbled to share the Ashden nomination with the many partners who contribute to effective Heat Action Plans and Cool Roofs Programs. We congratulate all of our partners and their unique roles.

Many cities, states and institutions around India also contributed to the effectiveness of Heat Action Plans, including public and private hospitals, urban health centers, link works, 108 ambulance response services and more. Several international experts also contributed to the Heat Action Plans and Cool Roofs, including deep expertise from the University of WashingtonMount Sinai Icahn School of Public Health, and Georgia Tech Institute of Technology, as well as, NYC Cool RoofsNational Ocean and Atmospheric AgencyGlobal Heat Health Information NetworkIndo-US Science and Technology Forum, the Climate Development and Knowledge Network, among others.

As climate change continues to fuel brutal heat waves worldwide, effective public health response strategies are more important than ever before. Drawing on the strengths of government leadership, efficient interagency coordination, scientific expertise, robust communication programs, effective community engagement, strong action on heat preparedness can deliver lifesaving benefits. In discussing the commonality between the coronavirus emergency and climate crisis, Shloka Nath with TataTrusts recently reminded us, “The only boat that is going to save us, is the boat we build together.”

Cover photo from Climate Visuals.
Heatwaves too hot and wet for human life are here

Heatwaves too hot and wet for human life are here

By Tim Radford

Scientists who have repeatedly warned of future lethal conditions of temperature and humidity caused by heatwaves in a world of climate change have grim news: that future has already arrived.

They have combed through local records to identify thousands of episodes in which the dangerous combination of high temperatures and high humidity has risen to levels at which humans could not in theory survive for long. These have happened in Asia, Africa, South and North America and Australia.

More than a dozen such episodes have already been recorded around the Persian Gulf, a region that – researchers warned years ago – could one day become deadly for outdoor workers.

These outbreaks of both sweltering heat and stifling humidity have, researchers report in the journal Science Advances, so far been confined to localised areas and have lasted only hours, but they are now increasing in frequency and intensity.

There are many ways in which extreme heat can lead to death – one group has identified as many as 27 – but at its simplest, a species adapted to maintain a stable temperature by shivering when cold and perspiring when too hot can be overwhelmed by very high temperatures, or in conditions in which the body can no longer lose heat because the air is too moist for perspiration to evaporate.

Scientists measure such hazards by what they call a “wet bulb” temperature, and even the strongest and best adapted humans cannot work safely outdoors when this hits 32°C.

Potentially fatal readings identified in hourly reports from 7,877 weather stations between 1979 and 2017 confirm that such temperatures have already reached dangerous levels – and even as high as 35°C – in Saudi Arabia, Doha in Qatar, in the United Arab Emirates, in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida in the US, India and Bangladesh, south China, northwest Australia and Iran.

Researchers began warning years ago of the notional threat of extreme heat and extreme humidity in a world in which humans continue to burn fossil fuels and increase greenhouse gases’ concentrations in the atmosphere, and repeated studies have confirmed the reality of the hazard.

Humans cannot survive outdoor “wet bulb” conditions of 35°C for long. The number of readings beyond 30°C has doubled since 1979. There have been 1,000 readings of 31°C and 80 of 33°C.

“Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now,” said Colin Raymond, who completed the research at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, but who is now at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The times these events last will increase, and the areas they affect will grow, in direct correlation with global warming.”

This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute.
Extreme summer heat puts millions at risk

Extreme summer heat puts millions at risk

By Tim Radford

Summer on much of the planet could get too hot for comfort by the end of the century, with more than a billion people seriously affected by extreme heat.

As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense”

Humans can survive much higher thermometer readings in dry climates, but are designed to shed surplus body heat through perspiration – something that becomes increasingly difficult as atmospheric humidity begins to rise. Then the risks of heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke begin to multiply.

So researchers in the US looked at how heat and humidity will increase in a warming planet, for the existing population, and played with 40 climate simulations to build up a picture of probabilities as humans burned more fossil fuels, stoked levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and turned up the planetary thermostat.

They calculated that, by 2100, the numbers at risk of sweltering, gasping and sickening heat extremes will have multiplied.

The planet is already around 1.2°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. If the temperature notches up to 1.5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then every year an estimated 500 million could be exposed to unsafe extremes.

If the temperature rises by 2°C – the upper limit the world set itself in an historic Paris climate meeting in 2015 – the numbers at risk would reach 800 million.

And if the planetary average annual temperature rise was by 3°C – and right now the planet is on course to exceed even that figure – then an estimated 1.2 billion would at least once a year be at risk of extended spells of dangerous heat and humidity.

Research leader Dawei Li, once of Rutgers University and now postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, says: “Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense.

“In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have done in the 19th century.”

This article was originally published on The Climate News network.
Cover photo by Chris JL on Flickr.
COVID-19: A dress rehearsal for the climate crisis?

COVID-19: A dress rehearsal for the climate crisis?

By Erin Owain

Today, over a quarter of the world’s population is living under lockdown, with country borders closed, and travel suspended. As social interaction is severely limited and economies are brought to their knees, it is unsurprising that climate change is no longer at the forefront of the global conversation. Officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11th March 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak has unveiled the complexity of the fundamental systems upon which society relies. In so doing, the virus has exposed the reality that transformational changes are essential for the continuation of human prosperity.

COVID-19 is putting the resilience of our global community and fundamental systems to the test. The  global response is beginning to reveal how the global community could react and respond to the climate crisis, providing an insight into the disruption we are likely to see in the coming decades.

Sally Uren, CEO of Forum for the Future, explores this in a recently published blog – shedding some light on the transformative system change which is essential for tackling the climate crisis.  In the blog, Urenhighlights some of the issues that have been visible during pandemic so far, and which are informative with regards to how society may respond to the climate crisis, and the changes needed to increase the resilience of our global community.

Uren touches on many issues , including the potential for the COVID-19 crisis to be a catalyst for global financial reform as the crisis has shed light on the rigidity of the current financial system and stressed the need for a more agile, responsive system. Furthermore, Uren highlights how we are witnessing significant shifts in society behavior, a growing awareness in personal responsibility and care for the wider global community – shifts which are essential if we are to reach net-zero by 2050 and take control of our global emissions. Moreover, the crisis is shedding light on the need for governments, organisations and businesses to radically transform their integral systems and operating models to build flexible, resilient systems.

Sustainability is essential if we are to build a resilient global community and avoid future catastrophes which will inevitably occur if we choose to continue along the current emissions pathway. Transformational systems change is necessary if we are to tackle the climate crisis.

During such times of crisis, the strength and resilience of the human race is  extraordinary. COVID-19 is an unprecedented test of our resilience as a global community; climate change will  provide a far sterner test for societies and economies, undermining the natural systems on which social and economic stability is built. As Uren suggests, COVID-19 may be a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency.We must learn all the lessons we can, and seize the opportunity to build resilience into the fabric of our societies.

Cover photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash.
Health-related costs of climate change will add billions to damage assessments

Health-related costs of climate change will add billions to damage assessments

By Dr. Marc Kodack

The recent physical damage and destruction of facilities and infrastructure in the United States, both on and off military installations, e.g., Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida from Hurricane Michael in 2018; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska and flooding from the Missouri River in 2019, will cost billions of dollars to repair or replace. Both Hurricane Michael and the Missouri River flooding were likely influenced by climate change. Besides the physical effects of these and other events, there are also health-related costs from climate change that will also affect the populations that live and work on installations, their surrounding communities, and the larger surrounding region. These health care costs will be in the billions of dollars.

To estimate what these climate-related health costs may be, Limaye et al (2019) used data from 10 cases across 11 states that occurred in 2012. The research improves on 2011 research by Knowlton et al. Understanding these costs are important because health costs are regularly absent from the damage assessments prepared for facilities and infrastructure, whether this infrastructure is military or civilian; identifying these costs raises their importance for estimating future health costs and their implications to the holistic damage estimates that climate change is forecasted to cause; and better estimating these costs prepares communities to assess whether the kinds of adaptation efforts they undertake, including those related to health, will return the benefits they anticipate.

Limaye et al focus on considering “morbidity and mortality costs across a range of health impacts in a consistent way, in order to “demonstrate a conceptual framework [and method] for the estimation of other health-related costs linked to climate-sensitive events.” Earlier studies used different methods to estimate health costs making combining the results difficult.

The year 2012 was selected because multiple events of different duration and intensity occurred in different places across the U.S. In addition, morbidity and mortality data were available for each event. While not all of these events have been directly attributed to climate change, these events are consistent with the likely range of direct and indirect climate change effects. The events selected include “wildfires in Colorado and Washington, ozone air pollution in Nevada, heat stress in Wisconsin, infectious disease outbreaks of tick-borne Lyme disease in Michigan and mosquito-borne West Nile virus in Texas, extreme weather in Ohio, Hurricane Sandy (impacts in New Jersey and New York), allergenic oak pollen in North Carolina [increased asthma] and harmful algal blooms on the Florida coast.”

The estimated total health-related costs in 2018 dollars for all the events was almost $10 billion, with a sensitivity range of $2.7-to-$24.6 billion. The two highest estimated cost events were for Hurricane Sandy at $3.2 billion and the wildfires in Washington at $2.3 billion. The $10 billion is likely a conservative estimate. For example, mental health data were only available for Hurricane Sandy and none of the other events. Cases of extreme heat and Lyme disease are usually underreported leading to lower estimates of these costs.

If climate change effects worsen over the next several decades because of inaction to reduce greenhouse gases, the consequences will cost billions of dollars. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published their annual summary of billion-dollar weather and climate disaster damage events. For 2019, there were 14 separate events with a total cost of $45 billion. For 2015-2019 the total costs exceeded $525 billion. However, these costs do not include the health-related costs associated with these events which would cause these costs to rise by billions of dollars more. Thus, when estimating climate change adaptation costs and benefits, including health-related costs in these estimates would more accurately reflect the potential consequences of climate change to populations across the U.S.

This article was posted on PreventionWeb.
Cover photo by Friends of Earth Scotland, Climate Visuals
Taking action on air pollution at city level to build urban resilience

Taking action on air pollution at city level to build urban resilience

By Emma Marsden and Bulganmurun Tsevegjav 

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on 8–9 October hosted a regional inception workshop to kick start the implementation of the regional technical assistance titled “Strengthening Knowledge and Actions to Improve Air Quality” (TA 9608) at the ADB headquarters in Manila. The TA addresses urban air pollution, which has become a serious environmental and social problem in many of Asia’s cities, posing a major health risk, among other negative impacts, to their residents, particularly vulnerable groups.

About 98 percent of cities in Asia experience levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) beyond the internationally recognized World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guideline.1 Given this high level of exposure, several questions arise: What are the main causes and consequences of urban air pollution in Asian cities? Are national and city governments taking adequate measures to address the problem? How can city governments, including the energy and transport sectors, best tackle urban air pollution at the city level? How can lessons learned and best practices adopted in other countries and cities, such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), be shared?

These questions sit behind the TA outputs and were at the heart of the dialogues during the regional inception workshop.

Major Sources of Air Pollution Presented in the Workshop. Source: Clean Air Asia. 2014. Mainstreaming Air Quality in Urban Development through South–South Twinning.

Highlights of the workshop

Around 80 participants (40% female) from government, non-governmental organizations, and civil society attended the workshop. Participants included national and city government officials from the five developing member countries (specifically, seven cities) targeted by the TA: Bangladesh (Faridpur), Mongolia (Erdenet), Pakistan (Peshawar and Sialkot), the Philippines (La Trinidad), and Viet Nam (Ho Chi Minh and Vinh Yen). Representatives from WHO and the International Labor Organization, academia, ADB Youth, and international health, energy, transport, and finance experts were also in attendance.

The two-day event was designed so that city-level participants without any technical knowledge of air quality management could benefit from the workshop sessions as much as the experts. The first sessions introduced the basic concepts of urban air pollution, major sources, and how it affects public health.

Conversations around air pollution are often focused on the perception that it is the outside air that is the most polluted. However, participants heard that in some countries indoor air pollution levels can be even higher that outside, and therefore cities also need to address it alongside outdoor air pollution. Policy and legislative, institutional, technological, and financial solutions, including low carbon technologies and the use of market-based instruments for air pollution control, were presented.

Following this, city representatives were given the opportunity to present the urban air pollution challenges they face in their cities and how the TA through its support for developing a Clean Air Action Plan can aid their current efforts.

Overall, the objectives of the remaining sessions were to: 

  • Provide information on the TA including project background, the overall approach, method, scope and deliverables.
  • Introduce the process of Clean Air Action Plan development, including case study examples from Mongolia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam.
  • Provide an opportunity for the country and city representatives to discuss their air quality issues and to prepare a draft of the workplan for development of the City-Level Clean Air Action Plans.

Following the regional inception workshop, city-level inception workshops are being held, from which the City-Level Clean Air Action Plans will be developed. To inform the action plans, the TA will refer to existing baseline data, and the TA team will also collect new data on the air quality situation and undertake analytical studies at the city level to fill in knowledge gaps.

Furthermore, policy and legislative, institutional, technological, and financial solutions will be evaluated, taking on board lessons learned and best practices from other countries and cities, including a technology transfer event planned for the PRC in late 2020.


Image: Indoor Air Quality Can Have a Large Impact on Health Outcomes in Cities. Source: B Tsevegjav, Presentation on Indoor Air Quality: Case from Mongolia. TA 9608 Regional Inception Workshop.

Background of the project

The TA project aims to increase the commitment of the selected countries to improve air quality management, helping the target cities to build a business case for investment through the preparation of City-Level Clean Air Action Plans, and investment plans that will see to its implementation.

The TA has three main outputs (also detailed in the diagram below):

  •  Output 1 focuses on “assessment” of air quality status and capacity for air quality management at city level, including monitoring of air quality levels in secondary cities using low cost monitors, which will help to raise political and public awareness and provide the scientific basis for taking action.  
  • Output 2 is oriented towards “solutions” and is intended to help cities identify applicable and deliverable policy and legislative, technological, and financial solutions to tackle their air pollution sources as identified by Output 1.   
  • Output 3 intends to build on these two outputs to “mainstream air quality management” through the development of City-Level Clean Air Action Plans that are backed by investment roadmaps and have stakeholder buy in.
Image: Key outputs of the ‘Strengthening Knowledge and Actions for Air Quality Improvement’ project

This article was originally posted on the Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities Blog.
Cover Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash