In past few years, the world has seen some of the direst consequences of climate change— from blazing bushfires in Australia, melting ice sheet in Greenland, vanishing snow cover in mountains to floods in Venice, drought and cyclones like Idai in Africa. The unabated emission of carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels and other anthropogenic activities have raised the average temperature of the earth which has disturbed the delicate balance nature maintains to regulate its weather patterns. One of such extreme weather patterns has emerged in the form of deadly heat waves. A heat wave can be defined as a period of abnormally and uncontrollable hot weather often accompanied by humidity. Since the industrial period, earth has seen a rise of 1°C temperature globally. In the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, such warming effects have been more palpable.
In the past two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of incidents of heat waves all across the world causing fatalities, mass displacement, and an immense loss of biodiversity. The European heat waves of 2003 claimed 70,000 lives; in 2010, heat waves in Russia resulted in deaths of 56,000 people. In 2017, for three days, Southern Europe was lashed by extreme heat waves called Lucifer. Recently, the summer of 2019, broke all records of previous heat waves in Europe. The two heat waves which were just one week apart, not only sweltered the European countries but the heat also reached North in the Arctic leading to biggest melt day in the history of Greenland. Scientists and climatologists say such incidents would have been highly unlikely a hundred years ago, but with climate change, today the frequency has gone up multifold. The heat wave in the Tasman sea between 2017 and 2018 would not have occurred if the humans had controlled their carbon emission.
With the ongoing rise in global temperature, the events of heat waves will not only become more frequent but the time between them will also become shorter. A 1°C rise in temperature is estimated to cause 3 to 34 days of heat waves per season while a 5°C will lead to 120 extra days of heat waves per season by 2100. If we go about the business, as usual, the Middle East and the tropics could become so hot and humid that these regions would almost become uninhabitable. The marine heat waves can have detrimental effects on the coral reefs and by the mid of this century, these coral reefs could be gone completely along with several creatures which inhabit these reefs. More heat wave will cause more evaporation which in turn could desiccate vegetation. This will not only result in loss of agricultural output but it will increase the incidents of wildfires and longer fire seasons. The productivity of outdoor workers is also likely to decline sharply in hot and humid work conditions. The humidity in regions like South China and the Persian Gulf will become unbearable.
To tackle the challenges caused by climate change, a lot needs to be done. More shade trees are required to be planted. Policymakers and government need to ensure that people have access to cooling centres. Not only we will have to take aggressive and immediate steps to curb carbon emissions by cutting down our fossil fuel consumption, but we will have to increase the adaptive capacity of the vulnerable people to fight against the repercussions of climate change.