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Heatwaves and humidity set to wreak havoc

 By Amanda Saint

Two recent climate change research reports show that communities from Europe to Asia will face more intense heatwaves and a significant rise in humidity…

Many countries are already seeing these effects but the upward rise could be slowed if governments make a proper commitment to taking the steps needed to limit global warming.

Europe’s heatwaves

One of the reports, published in the August 2017 edition of The Lancet Planetary Health, shows that by the end of the century the population of Southern Europe faces severe threats from rising temperatures. Deaths from heatwaves are projected to rise from 11 per million people per year to about 700 per million per year if climate change isn’t controlled.
The research was commissioned by the European Commission and the researchers based their predictions on the assessment of over 2300 records collected from disaster databases.
The continent is already seeing intense heatwaves. Southern Europe was hit by Heatwave ‘Lucifer’ in the same month that this research report was published. Eleven countries, among them Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain and Poland, were put on alert with temperatures above 40° C lasting for nine days. Several people died.

"Lucifer" heatwave surged across southern Europe (thesun.co.uk)

South asia’s humidity

Another report published in the journal Science Advances in August, predicts that if things continue as they are then by the end of this century summer heat waves in Asia would have levels of heat and humidity that exceed what humans can survive.
The findings show that the combination of extremely high temperatures and high levels of humidity, which is known as wet-bulb temperature (TW) for modeling purposes, reaching 35° C mean that humans couldn’t survive for longer than a few hours even under shaded, well-ventilated conditions. This TW temperature was almost reached in summer 2015 in the Bandar Mahshahr, Iran Persian/Arabian Gulf and the same year saw an intense heatwave in Pakistan kill approximately 3,500 people.
The research focused on South Asia (Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) and the conclusion reached is that “extremes of wet-bulb temperature in South Asia are likely to approach and, in a few locations, exceed this critical threshold by the late 21st century under the business-as-usual scenario of future greenhouse gas emissions.”

The colors show what the sea surface wet-bulb temperatures were during the heatwave in July 2015 (nature.com)

Controlling climate change

According to a paper published in Nature, there is still the possibility to control climate change enough to limit global warming to just 1.5° C, which would be a much better scenario than the forecasts the research above is based on. But the findings in this paper are being hotly debated.
However, the intense heat and humidity already seen is these regions has been brought about by an increase of just 1 degree so the threat is still considerable. Particularly when global political commitment to cutting carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions is constantly wavering and Climate Tracker predicts that in the absence of policies global warming is expected, to reach 4.1° C – 4.8° C above pre-industrial by the end of the century.

READ MORE: The cost of climate change in Middle East by Criselda Diala-McBride
Nepenthes, Wikimedia

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.