A billion people could be affected by extreme heat stress if the world’s temperature rises by 2°C, the Met Office has revealed.
Heat stress, a deadly mixture of heat and humidity, is threatening the lives of people in regions across the globe, but figures could rise by nearly 15 times.
According to the Met Office, at the new temperature, the number of people living in areas affected could rise from 68 million to one billion and a 4.0°C rise could see nearly half of the world’s population living in areas potentially affected.
The indicator used is part of the international standard for measuring heat stress in working environments and anything above these levels requires increased rest time recommended per hour in order to avoid heat exhaustion.
Dr Andy Hartley, Climate Impacts Lead at the Met Office, said: “Above this level people are defined as being at extreme risk. Vulnerable members of the population and those with physical outdoor jobs are at greater risk of adverse health effects.
“Currently, the metric is met in several locations, such as parts of India, but our analysis shows that with a rise of 4.0°C, extreme heat risk could affect people in large swathes of most of the world’s continents.”
The findings form part of a series of maps showing regions affected by five different effects of climate change at 2.0 °C and 4.0 °C, including river flooding, risk of wildfire, drought and food insecurity.
A large international team of researchers developed the maps of drought, flood and heat-stress risks as part of the project HELIX (High End cLimate Impacts and eXtremes) which is funded by the EU and led by the University of Exeter.
The Met Office team carried out further analysis for the UK government to assess where the most severe projected impacts overlap with each other.
Prof Richard Betts, MBE of the University of Exeter and Met Office, who led the HELIX project, said: “This new combined analysis shows the urgency of limiting global warming to well below 2.0 °C. The higher the level of warming, the more severe and widespread the risks to people’s lives, but it is still possible to avoid these higher risks if we act now.”
Dr Andy Wiltshire, Head Earth System and Mitigation Science, added: “Any one of the climate impacts presents a scary vision of the future. But, of course, severe climate change will drive many impacts, and our maps show that some regions will be affected by multiple factors.
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, parts of the tropics are most affected with countries like Brazil and Ethiopia potentially facing impacts from four of the hazards. Rapid emission reductions are required if we are to avoid worst consequences of unmitigated climate change.”
Prof Albert Klein Tank, director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, said: “These maps reveal areas of the world where the gravest impacts are projected to occur with higher levels of global warming. However, all regions of the world – including the UK and Europe - are expected to suffer continued impacts from climate change.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to publish the Working Group II Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability report next year. This will evaluate the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change and methods of adapting.
Richard Wright, Chief Executive of Acre commented "COP 26 demonstrated to us all that achieving below 2.0 °C, based upon the current trajectory and commitments is highly unlikely. So humanity faces an even bigger disaster than we have allowed ourselves to consider previously. It's just incredible that we cannot create more urgency around trying to mitigate this".
Operating globally from our hubs in London, New York and Amsterdam, Acre is supporting the world's leading organisations, along with the most innovative start-ups, to build resilience, adapt and manage the risks involved with taking pragmatic action to tackle climate change. If COP26 has left you feeling inspired to address sustainability and climate change within your business, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org learn more about how we can support you.
Richard joined Acre in October 2011 as a Non-Exec Director prior to becoming the Chief Executive in April 2012. He works very closely with the founder, Andrew Cartland, ensuring that Acre's growth is maximised as the business takes full advantage of the rapid development in purpose-led leadership around the globe. Richard has helped the expansion of the business through innovative client services and opening new offices in London, Amsterdam and New York. Richard has a proven track record of building businesses and establishing brand positions, driven by quality and differentiation. Between 1994 and 2009 he built MWA to 225 people / £50m turnover and then sold to Randstad, the world's 2nd largest staffing organisation.