Nearly five times as many people are at risk of dying from extreme heat on Earth in the coming decades, international experts warn in a report published on Wednesday (15 November), warning that "the health of humanity is in grave danger" if nothing is done about climate change.

Under the scenario of global warming of 2° Celsius by the end of the century (it is currently on track to reach 2.7°C by 2100), annual heat-related deaths are projected to increase by 370% by 2050, a 4.7-fold increase, according to the 2023 edition of a reference paper published annually by the medical journal The Lancet.

And waste heat is just one of the threats to human health stemming from the increasing use of fossil fuels, confirms this "countdown to health and climate change" a few weeks before the international climate conference (COP28) in Dubai, where, for the first time, a day will be dedicated to health, December 3rd.

Other dangers include more frequent droughts putting millions of people at risk of starvation, mosquitoes travelling farther and carrying infectious diseases, and health systems struggling to cope with the burden.

Despite growing calls for global action, energy-related carbon emissions reached new highs last year, the report's authors lament, pointing to governments, companies and banks that still subsidize and invest heavily in fossil fuels that fuel global warming.

"Early symptom"

In 2022, people around the world were exposed, on average, to 86 days of life-threatening temperatures, according to the Lancet's "countdown." And the number of people over the age of 65 who died due to heat jumped by 85% between 1991-2000 and 2013-2022, the report estimates.

The estimates come as 2023 is shaping up to be the hottest year in human history: the European Climate Observatory said last month was the hottest October on record.

"The effects we are seeing now could be just an early symptom of a very dangerous future," Marina Romanello, the report's executive director, told reporters.

In the 2°C warming scenario by 2100, the impact on human health would exceed excess mortality. About 520 million more people would be moderately or severely food insecure by mid-century, according to projections published by the Lancet.

And infectious diseases spread by mosquitoes would continue to spread to new areas. As a result, dengue transmission could jump by 36%. Faced with these multiple impacts of climate change, more than a quarter of the cities studied by the researchers expressed fear of overwhelmed health systems.

'Unbearable future'

"We're facing crisis after crisis," Georgiana Gordon-Strachan, whose home Jamaica is experiencing a dengue epidemic, told the report's authors.

"People in poorer countries, who are often less responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, pay the price for health impacts, but have less financial and technical capacity to adapt to deadly storms, rising seas or devastating droughts, exacerbated by global warming," he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has repeatedly warned about climate change, responded to the report by saying that "humanity is facing an unbearable future". "We are already witnessing the catastrophe for the health and lives of billions of people around the world, put at risk by record heat, devastating droughts for crops, growing famines, growing outbreaks of infectious diseases, deadly storms and floods," he said in a statement.

Dann Mitchell, chair in climate risk at Britain's University of Bristol, told the Science Media Center that the "already catastrophic" health warnings on climate change have "failed to convince governments to reduce carbon emissions enough to meet the Paris Agreement's first target of +1.5°C".

For Marina Romanello, without real progress on climate change and emissions, "the growing focus on health in climate negotiations risks being limited to empty words".

With AFP

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