Climate change is becoming increasingly life-threatening. According to a study published Wednesday in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, global warming will cause nearly five times more people to die from extreme heat in 2050 than today.
Even if the average global temperature increase remained at just under two degrees compared to pre-industrial times, the number of global heat deaths would rise by 370 percent by the middle of the century, write the authors of the "Lancet Countdown on health and climate change." .
The experts point out the health consequences of the climate crisis with further drastic figures. 114 international experts led by Marina Romanello from University College London published the report.
Today, people around the world are already exposed to extreme heat on twice as many days as in the period 1986 to 2005. This is particularly life-threatening for small children and older people. The number of heat-related deaths of people over 65 years of age has recently increased by 85 percent compared to the years 1991 to 2000. "Inaction will cost us dearly. We cannot afford to be so inactive - the price will be human lives," Romanello said, according to a statement.
The increasing heat also means there are fewer and fewer safe hours to work or exercise outdoors. In addition, the dangers from forest fires and the spread of tropical infectious diseases are increasing. Mosquitoes that transmit infectious diseases such as malaria or dengue fever are becoming more widespread as temperatures rise. According to the study, if global warming increases by two degrees, the spread of dengue fever will increase by 36 percent.
In Germany, people were exposed to potentially life-threatening heat for an average of 7.9 days per year between 2013 and 2022. Although this is significantly less than the global average of 86 days, the average summer temperatures in this country in the years 2018 to 2022 were 1.8 degrees Celsius higher than in the period 1986 to 2005.
The high temperatures in Germany, for example, led to around 34 million working hours being lost due to heat in 2022 - especially in construction. That's an increase of 12 percent compared to the period 1991 to 2000, according to the report.
Although 31 percent of electricity in Germany was generated from renewable energies in 2020, it was only six percent in all energy areas combined - heating, transport and others. "Low use of clean renewable energy and the continued use of fossil fuels and biomass result in high levels of air pollution, increasing the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, diabetes, neurological disorders and adverse pregnancy outcomes and a high morbidity and... mortality burden," write the study authors in a special evaluation for Germany.
Another part of the report is dedicated to the connection between nutrition, climate change and health. The scientists determined that keeping livestock is responsible for 57 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture worldwide. Not only do cattle in particular emit large amounts of methane, but the cultivation of fodder consumes large parts of the agricultural land. By mid-century, approximately 520 million more people than before would suffer from moderate to severe food insecurity. In addition, 1.9 million deaths globally were associated with excessive consumption of red meat, processed meat and dairy products in 2020; in Germany there were over 87,000 deaths. The researchers therefore advocate a plant-based and low-meat diet.
But the scientists also have positive things to report. Global deaths caused by air pollution have fallen by 15.7 percent since 2005. In addition, around 1,500 billion euros were invested in clean energies in 2022, 61 percent more than in fossil energies.
In order to avert climate change with catastrophic consequences, the international community agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 to limit global warming to well below two degrees, but if possible to 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial era. However, as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, the earth is currently heading towards a warming of 2.7 degrees. At the UN climate conference COP28, which begins in Dubai at the end of the month, there will be a health day for the first time focusing on the health consequences of climate change.
The researchers acknowledge that the number of renewable energies is increasing and that further measures are being taken to protect the climate. But: "With 1,337 tons of carbon dioxide still being emitted per second, we are not reducing emissions nearly fast enough to keep climate threats at the level that our health systems can manage," said Romanello.