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Record-breaking heatwaves show that we must adapt to climate crisis now | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW

Record-breaking heatwaves show that we must adapt to climate crisis now | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW

A girl selling water uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun in New Delhi, India

The effects of India’s heatwave One of many just this yearThey are all-encompassing. Temperatures topping 40°C (104°F) across the country have put millions at risk for heat-related illnesses, decimated wheat crops, intensified a power crisis and interrupted schooling. 

India is not the only country suffering from this heatwave. Pakistan, which is not far from India, is also struggling with scorching temperatures. And this year, before Western Australia claimed the title, central South America was the hottest region on the planet. 

As the climate crisis continues ExacerbationsThere are heat waves all around the world, and temperatures rise unseasonably early. Countries are now faced with the dilemma of how to live. 

It all comes down to wealth, preparedness

Ramping up electricity bills with air conditioning, cooling down with fans, working indoors — these options are only available to a privileged few. 

“The story of climate change is one of high inequality and we’re seeing that playing out already in the poorest and hottest regions of the world,” said Tamma Carleton, assistant professor of economics at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

Carleton co-authored A 2022 studyThis distilled the city’s ability reduce deaths in extreme temperatures down to two main factors. The city’s wealth and the number of hot summer days it experiences. 

The cost of technology a city can afford for its most vulnerable residents is determined by their financial resources. Carleton states that when these adaptation costs don’t get covered by the government, the burden falls on the individuals to fund their own protection. This is a situation that leaves the most vulnerable high and dry.

Even wealthy cities can fall if they’re not careful and don’t have an action plan. This happened in the US’s Pacific Northwest, a region that is known for its temperate climate and where more than 100 people died in the last year. Heat wave

 “We tend to see in our projections of climate change into the future that poorer places are going to be facing a really large increase in death risk and wealthier places are going to see an increase in adaptation costs,” said Carleton. 

A girl selling water uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun in New Delhi, India

Heat waves are particularly dangerous for outdoor workers

Spurring into heat action

Just how high this death risk is in developing countries became clear when Ahmedabad, a city in western India’s Gujarat state, lost more than 1,344 people as thermometers hit 47°C (116°F) in 2010. 

The city was motivated to take action by the rising death toll. The city developed a plan that prevented 1,100 heat-related deaths per year in 2013, and it was implemented in 2013. According to a study

It is the South Asia’s first heat action plan. This includes an early warning system, outreach to vulnerable communities, and education for health personnel about heat exposure. It also provides cooling centers in temples and malls, as well as reduced or staggered work hours for outdoor laborers. 

Since the Ahmedabad heat plans has been used as a template to create similar models in 23 of the country’s 28 states, because India’s temperature consistently exceeds the baseline in spring/summer months, 

An info graphic showing that most spring and summer months since 2000 have been warmer than the baseline 1951 to 1980

However, high temperatures continue to make these models vulnerable to climate change, according Polash Mukherjee (Lead for Climate Resilience and Air Pollution at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s India Program). The non-profit was instrumental in the development of Ahmedabad’s heat action program.

 “The focus has shifted significantly in the last couple of years from merely protecting human health and mortality against extreme heat to more proactive measures,” said Mukherjee. “These include changing building by-laws so that new constructions are better insulated and the cool roofs program.”

The cool roofs program is a low-cost option to reduce indoor temperatures. It targets houses that are poorly insulated in slums that have informal workers or other vulnerable groups. The roof becomes more reflective and absorbs heat when it is coated with lime-based whitewash or whitetarp.

Cool pavements and green passages

 Ideas like these are budding around the world. Cool pavements were introduced by Tokyo, Japan’s capital, using thermal-barrier technology. Medellin in Colombia has planted “green corridors,” vegetated passages that offer more shade in public spaces, while the city of Toronto, Canada, offers grants for people to install green or cool roofs.

Some cities have heat officers who coordinate the response to rising temperatures. 

Eugenia Kargbo was Africa’s first heat officer after she took up the post in Freetown (Sierra Leone). Her goal is to provide shade covers for outdoor produce sellers that reflect sunlight. To make the capital more accessible, she also introduced a tree-planting program in which planters can earn micro-payments through an app. 

 “This is the future I envision for my children and all the children in Freetown: A safe environment not limited by the risk of extreme heat,” she told DW’s EcoAfrica. 

Concentrate on the climate crisis

Although some regions have found ways to mitigate some of the effects of scorching heat waves in some areas, scientists stress that governments should not forget the cause of the rising temperatures: climate change.

Aditi Mukherji was the co-author of the water chapter in The Guardian. Assessment of IPCC on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” says the onus to come up with solutions shouldn’t be on the most affected, who historically have emitted the least amount of CO2.

“I feel that when it comes to these kinds of heat extremes, the only solution is that the high emitting countries stop emissions immediately and stop burning fossil fuels,” she said.
Edited by Tamsin Walker


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