The Heat Is Online

UN Sees Doubling of Heat Deaths in World's Cities by 2020

Global warming seen doubling heat deaths by 2020


Reuters News Service, Nov. 22, 2000

THE HAGUE - Deaths from heatwaves in big cities worldwide are expected to double over the next two decades if nothing is done to curb global warming, the United Nations weather agency said yesterday.

"Heatwaves are expected to become a major killer," World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Godwin Obasi said.


Small increases in global temperatures due to growing amounts of "greenhouse gases" are amplified in big cities, he told a news briefing on the sidelines of U.N. negotiations to reach a global strategy against climate change.


Negotiators are struggling in The Hague this week to hammer out rules on implementing a pact sealed in Kyoto, Japan, three years ago that set targets for cutting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide implicated in climate change.


In the 15 biggest US cities an average of 1,500 people collapse and die from heatwaves each year, a significant increase over the past decade, Obasi said, without giving previous comparative figures.


Last year, several hundred people alone died in one US heat wave in the northeast and midwest.


The death toll from heatwaves in those big US cities is expected to balloon to 3,000 to 4,000 by 2020, he said.


Other cities around the world expected to see burgeoning deaths from heat include Toronto, Shanghai, Athens and Madrid, Obasi said.


The problem is expected to be more acute in sprawling so-called mega-cities in poor countries, which have more difficulty informing people about how to prevent heat stroke and where infrastructure is lacking.


In the United States, deaths from hurricanes have been slashed drastically due to early warning systems and evacuation procedures, but in poor countries the effects can be devastating, leading to hundreds or thousands of deaths.


Researchers fear the same equation would hold true with respect to heatwaves, Obasi said.


Carbon dioxide and other gases, scientists say, will boost global temperatures by 1.5 to 6.0 degrees Centigrade (2.7 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) during this century.

U.N. scientific experts say a warmer world is likely to spread disease in tropical regions, cause sea levels to rise and increase the rate of severe storms.


Land surface temperatures are showing the highest rises in winter and at latitutes greater than about 50 degrees, the WMO said.


Globally, the 1990s was the warmest decade on record and 1998 the hottest year.