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Abnormal temperatures linked to climate change cause over seven lakh deaths annually

drought. A dried-up reservoir in northern Karnataka. Depleting water supplies are among the signs of India's climate crisis. Image credit: Lakshmiprasad Sindhnur / 123rf
A dried-up reservoir in northern Karnataka. Depleting water supplies are among the signs of India’s climate crisis. Image credit: Lakshmiprasad Sindhnur / 123rf

Almost 740,000 deaths in India can be attributed to abnormal hot and cold temperatures related to climate change annually, according to a study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health

Laying bare the link between non-optimal temperatures and increased mortality, the study evaluated the impact on a global, regional, and national scale. The findings showed that, in India, 655,400 deaths can be linked to abnormally cold temperatures per year, whilst increasingly high temperatures cause an estimated 83,700.

Forming part of a wider picture that shows more than five million deaths a year can be attributed to non-optimal temperatures, the study led by Monash University’s Yuming Guo reveals cold-related death actually decreased by 0.51 percent between 2000 to 2019, whilst heat-related deaths rose by 0.21 percent.

Climate change’s impact has the potential to “slightly reduce the number of temperature-related deaths, largely because of the lessening in cold-related mortality,” according to Professor Yuming Guo, from Monash University. “However,” Guo added, “in the long-term climate change is expected to increase the mortality burden because heat-related mortality would be continuing to increase.”

Understanding the link between temperature to mortality 

Importantly, the study is the first of its kind to definitively link non-optimal temperatures to annual increases in mortality, recognising that 9.43 percent of global deaths could be attributed to cold and hot temperatures. These figures translate to 74 excess deaths for every 100,000 people, with most deaths caused by cold exposure.

While previous studies have tended to focus on trends in one particular country or region, the study published in The Lancet Planetary Health provides a greater perspective of the geographic patterns being seen. “All of the models show a progressive increase in temperatures and, consequently, a decrease in cold-attributable mortality and an increase in heat-attributable deaths,” says ISGlobal researcher Èrica Martínez, lead author of the study.

Demand for climate change mitigation 

Critically, understanding the link between temperature and mortality should now lead to action. Equipped with their findings, the authors of the study have called for swift climate change efforts, the likes of which are fundamental for managing the future scale of the problem and preventing a boom in deaths. 

“Our findings underscore the urgency of adopting global mitigation measures, since they will not be effective if they are only adopted in specific countries or regions,” says researcher Joan Ballester, co-author of the ISGlobal study. “Moreover, one decisive factor not included in our models is our capacity to adapt to new scenarios, which is already helping to reduce our vulnerability to temperatures.”

India’s capacity for dealing with climate change 

As Health Issues India has previously reported, India is one of many countries already being forced into climate adaptation scenarios. From the Bay of Bengal to flooding in Kerala, many of the effects are already being felt. 

Facing up to these prospects, alongside recent understanding that heatwaves in India claimed more than 17,000 lives in a near half-century, the country has no option but to accelerate the adoption of climate mitigation measures. This comes as slow- and rapid-onset climate change hazards present more and more challenges to the health and wellbeing of its population. 

With insurmountable research and increasing real-world evidence of the effects of climate change building ahead of the upcoming COP26 talks, the issue of increasing mortality rates due to abnormal temperatures are likely to be one of many prospects raised.  

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