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Climate change could affect billions by 2100

Climate change could affect billions by 2100

Current policies to limit global warming will expose more than a fifth of humanity to extreme and potentially life-threatening heat by century's end, researchers warned Monday
Global warming has an impact on the health by increasing the extreme humid heat.
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health

Earth’s surface temperature is on track to rise 2.7°C above pre industrial levels by 2100 causing extreme global warming and pushing more than two billion people — 22 percent of projected global population — well outside the climate comfort zone that has allowed our species to thrive for millennia, the scientists reported in Nature Sustainability.

The countries with the highest number of people facing deadly heat in this scenario are India (600 million), Nigeria (300 million), Indonesia (100 million), the Philippines (80 million) and Pakistan (80 million). “That’s a profound reshaping of the habitability of the surface of the planet and could potentially lead to  large-scale reorganisation of where people live,” said lead author Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter. Capping global warming at the 2015 Paris climate treaty target of 1.5C would sharply reduce the number of those at risk to less than half-a-billion, which is five percent of the 9.5 billion people likely to inhabit the planet six or seven decades from now, according to the findings.

Just under 1.2C of warming to date has already amplified the intensity or duration of heatwaves, droughts and wildfires beyond what could have occurred without carbon pollution generated by burning fossil fuels and forests. The last eight years were the hottest on record.
“The cost of global warming are often expressed in financial terms, but our study highlights the phenomenal human cost of failing to tackle the climate emergency,” said Lenton.
“For every 0.1C of warming above present levels, about 140 million more people will be exposed to dangerous heat.”

Global warming is profoundly unjust

The threshold for “dangerous heat” used in the new findings is a mean annual temperature
(MAT) of 29°C. Across history, human communities have been densest around two distinct MATs — 13°C (in temperate zones) and to a lesser extent 27°C (in more tropical climes).
Global warming is pushing up the thermostat everywhere, but the risk of tipping into lethal heat is clearly higher in regions already close to the 29°C red line. Studies show that sustained high temperatures at or beyond that threshold are strongly linked to greater mortality, reduced labour productivity and crop yields, along with more conflict and infectious disease.

As recently as 40 years ago, only 12 million people worldwide were exposed to such extremes. That number has increased five-fold today and will climb ever more steeply in the coming decades, the study found. The risk is accentuated in regions straddling the equator, where human populations are expanding more rapidly: tropical climates can become deadly even at lower temperatures when high humidity prevents the body from cooling itself through sweating.

Episodes of extreme humid heat have doubled since 1979

Those most exposed to extreme heat live mostly in poorer countries with the smallest per
capita carbon footprints, the authors say. According to the World Bank, India emits on average about two tonnes of CO2 per person every year and Nigerians about half-a-tonne annually, compared to less than seven tonnes per person in the European Union and 15 in the United States.

Carbon-cutting pledges by governments and companies. not yet translated into action, would stop the rise in global temperatures at — or even below — 2°C, allowing hundreds of millions to avoid catastrophic heat. But scenarios even worse than the 2.7°C world would result from current policies which cannot
be excluded either, the authors warn. If past and continuing emissions trigger the release of natural carbon stores, such as in the permafrost or warm the atmosphere more than anticipated, temperatures could climb nearly four degrees above mid-19th century levels, they said.

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