Study shows failure to meet Paris upper climate goal risks nightmare heat deaths scenario

A cracked soil landscape in Sudan
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Meeting the upper end of the Paris climate goals to limit global warming could avert hundreds of thousands of heat-related deaths in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), scientists said on 4 April.

A modelling study, which the Lancet Planetary Health journal published, found slashing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the rise in Earth’s average temperature to 2C would reduce heat-related deaths in the region significantly. It said this limit would reduce deaths by 80% compared to a high-emissions scenario.

The regional focus on the heat risk came as Dubai prepares to host the United Nations COP28 climate summit in November.

‘Walking when we should be sprinting’

The 2015 Paris Agreement set a core goal of trying to limit warming to 1.5C. It also seeks to cap it at “well under” 2C. This has prompted efforts to switch to low-carbon energy sources. As reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have made clear, however, these efforts are woefully insufficient to meet the Paris goals. At a press conference for the launch of the panel’s most recent report, IPCC chair Hoesung Lee warned that:

We are walking when we should be sprinting

The Lancet study effectively spotlights what impact continued inadequate climate action could have on people in the MENA region, specifically in relation to heat-related mortality. Specialists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine led the study.

In the highest-emissions scenario, around 123 people per 100,000 in the region could die per year from heat-related causes by the end of this century. That would be 60-times greater than the current heat-death rate, and far higher than in other regions of the world.

Of the 19 countries analysed, Iran was expected to have the highest annual death rate in a high-emissions scenario. It could face 423 deaths per 100,000 of population. Lead author Shakoor Hajat told Agence France-Presse that temperatures were projected to be very high in parts of Iran.

Warming over Paris climate goal of 1.5C would be catastrophic

Hajat said that MENA countries need to develop their public health measures “to protect their citizens from the dangers of extreme heat”. This could involve strengthening their health systems, along with introducing protection plans and warning systems.

Hajat warned that health impacts would be “catastrophic” if the 2C target were not reached. The study stressed that:

Stronger climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are needed to avoid these heat-related mortality impacts.

The IPCC studies have shown that 2C of global warming will be catastrophic itself. The rise will dramatically increase the risk of extreme weather and poverty. Moreover, it threatens to devastate ecosystems, including through habitat loss for species. 99% of coral reefs, for example, are unlikely to survive 2C of warming. These reefs support around 25% of ocean life.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Bertramz / Wikimedia, cropped to 770×403, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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