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Communicating the deadly consequences of global warming for human heat stress

Matthews, TKR, Wilby, RL and Murphy, C (2017) Communicating the deadly consequences of global warming for human heat stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114 (15). pp. 3861-3866. ISSN 0027-8424

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In December 2015 the international community pledged to limit global warming to below 2°C above preindustrial (PI) to prevent dangerous climate change. However, to what extent, and for whom, is danger avoided if this ambitious target is realised? We address these questions by scrutinizing heat stress, because the frequency of extremely hot weather is expected to continue to rise in the approach to the 2°C limit. We use analogues and the extreme South Asian heat of 2015 as a focussing event to help interpret the increasing frequency of deadly heat under specified amounts of global warming. Using a large ensemble of climate models, our results confirm that global mean air temperature is non-linearly related to heat stress, meaning that the same future warming as realised to date could trigger larger increases in societal impacts than historically experienced. This non-linearity is higher for heat stress metrics that integrate the effect of rising humidity. We show that even in a climate held to 2°C above PI, Karachi (Pakistan) and Kolkata (India) could expect conditions equivalent to their deadly 2015 heatwaves every year. With only 1.5°C of global warming, twice as many megacities (such as Lagos, Nigeria and Shanghai, China) could become heat-stressed, exposing more than 350 million more people to deadly heat by 2050 under a mid-range population growth scenario. The results underscore that even if the Paris targets are realised, there could still be a significant adaptation imperative for vulnerable urban populations.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: MD Multidisciplinary
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Divisions: Natural Sciences & Psychology (closed 31 Aug 19)
Publisher: National Academy of Sciences
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Date Deposited: 16 May 2017 11:25
Last Modified: 19 Apr 2022 15:45
DOI or ID number: 10.1073/pnas.1617526114
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/6433
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