As Canadian cities prepare for more deadly heat waves, limiting increase of climate change could save lives

sexta-feira, junho 14, 2019

A man with long grey hair and a large beard relaxes in the shade in Memorial Park, during a heat wave in Winnipeg in August 2018.WINNIPEG SUN/CHRIS PROCAYLO

Scientists say thousands of heat deaths could be prevented in cities if the climate goals set by the Paris agreement are achieved

In the summer of 2018, Ontario and Quebec were hit with one of the worst heat waves both provinces had ever experienced. Temperatures went as high as 35 degrees Celsius — without accounting for the humidity — and almost 100 people died in Quebec, 66 in Montreal alone.

At one point, the Montreal morgue was filled to capacity and a deal was made with a local funeral home to house more bodies.

To all involved, it was a traumatic experience and scientists have said the number of heat-related deaths will only get worse.

Heat waves are caused by the presence of a high-pressure atmospheric system, which traps warm air in place and causes the temperature to rise to abnormal levels.

In instances of extreme heat, people who are medically vulnerable, including the elderly and people with mental illnesses, are increasingly in danger if left alone, especially in areas with no air conditioning. The Montreal Gazette reported that 66 per cent of those that died during the heat wave last year were at least 65 years old.

As the next heat wave season approaches, cities have begun to prepare for how to best manage the extreme heat in the coming months.

Montreal has released a report stating the city will keep a registry of neighbourhoods and homes at the highest risk of extreme heat effects. When the next heat wave hits, Montreal police officers and firefighters will visit homes and areas marked as vulnerable and check on the occupants’ health.

This month, the City of Toronto released its Resilience Strategy, which outlines how the city plans to manage the various effects of climate change, including flooding, ice storms, and heat waves. The city plans to include cooling spaces around the city, more shaded areas, and a neighbour-check program.

A new study published last week in Science Advances says there’s still hope to reduce heat-related deaths and potentially save thousands of lives — if countries commit to and succeed in reducing the global effects of climate change.

The new study led by researchers at the University of Bristol in the U.K. found that if countries achieve the global temperature reduction goal set by the Paris Agreement, major U.S. cities would see a reduction of up to 2,720 heat deaths over the next few decades.

By talking about mortality, it brings it right home to people
The Paris Agreement, signed by 194 countries including Canada, the U.S., China and the European Union, aims to limit the global temperature increase due to climate change to a maximum of 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Ideally, the agreement would limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Though the U.S. is currently part of the agreement, President Donald Trump has indicated he intends to withdraw the country from the initiative.

According to Dann Mitchell, a research fellow at the University of Bristol and co-lead author of the study who specializes in studying the impacts of climate change, the team began to look into heat mortality rates because it’s one of the areas of climate change research with the least amount of uncertainty in the data. And, he says, bringing the effects to a local level is one of the most effective ways to get people to understand the severity of climate change. A regular person might feel a few steps removed from the significance of a global climate increase of a few degrees.

“It doesn’t sound scary,” Mitchell said. “They don’t understand, on a global scale, that’s really, really significant. By talking about mortality, it brings it right home to people.”

Although heat waves have been occurring naturally for years and the severity of the events depends on your environment, according to Mitchell, the rising global climate means that heat waves will hit harder than they have in the past.

“If you warmed the planet by one degree, then that exact same event is still a heat wave, but it’s a one degree higher heat wave,” Mitchell said. “Yes, we get weather and heat waves all the time, but climate change is increasing the probability that these heat waves will be hotter than otherwise.”

Mitchell and his colleagues analyzed the data on heat-related deaths for 15 U.S. cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Miami — and made predictions for how they would change if the global climate increased by increments of 1.5 degrees Celsius, two degrees Celsius, and three degrees Celsius.

Compared to a global climate increase of three degrees — which is not ideal — the study found that almost every city they studied would see a reduction in heat-related deaths if the Paris Agreement numbers are reached, and even more if the ideal goal of 1.5 degrees is achieved.

For example, a city like New York would be spared 1,980 heat-related deaths with a two-degree increase, but 2,716 deaths would be avoided if the increase was limited to 1.5 degrees.

An Indian patient lies on a bed at a government hospital after suffering heat stroke, in Churu, Rajasthan on June 4, 2019. – Temperatures in an Indian desert city hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) for the second time in three days as a deadly heatwave maintained its grip on the country. MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images
While these numbers are large, Mitchell added that the statistics for heat-related deaths would be significantly higher in developing countries. The problem, he said, is that many of those countries either don’t gather information on heat-related deaths or don’t make that information public, which limits the scope of his team’s research.

“We can’t build these very unique heat/health city-level relationships, and that’s the real problem. That’s where we really want to progress this, and that’s where the results are particularly meaningful, but we’re just not there yet,” he said.

Page: National Post

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