Australia’s major cities could see four times the number of heat-related deaths by 2050, according to a new report commissioned by the Australian federal government.
The State of Australian Cities, which was released Tuesday, predicts the number of heat-related fatalities in Australia’s cities will rise to 2000 by mid-centry, compared to the approximately 500 recorded in 2011. The report found the cities of Brisbane on Australia’s east coast and Perth on the west coast will see the most heat-related deaths, with predictions of nearly 800 in each city by 2050, compared with compared with fewer than 200 in 2011. Sydney could experience close to 350 heat-related deaths by 2050, compared to about 70 in 2011.
The report noted that the urban heat island effect made cities particularly at risk for heat-related deaths, since the prevalence of dark, heat-absorbing surfaces and lack of trees often cause cities to have significantly higher average temperatures than surrounding suburban and rural areas. It also stated that the victims of intense heat would likely be the cities’ most vulnerable populations: the elderly, sick, poor and homeless. Australian cities’ populations are aging — according to the report, by 2056, 19 percent of most of Australia’s capital cities’ populations will be over 65 — a demographic shift that could aid the increase in heat-related deaths.
Australia has been experiencing record-breaking heat in recent years. From 2012 to 2013, the report notes, Australia “registered the hottest September to March period on record, the hottest summer on record, the hottest month on record and the hottest day on record and the longest national-scale heatwave. It was also the hottest summer on record for Australian sea-surface temperatures.” Heat waves in Australia have been more deadly than any other natural disaster — from 1890 to 2013, Australia has had 2,887 heat-related deaths, compared to 842 fire deaths and 453 flood-related deaths, according to the report.
Multiple cities in Australia have created plans for how to deal with future heat waves — the report highlighted a program in South Australia called the Extreme Heat Operational Plan, which has guidelines for how to recognize symptoms of heat stress or exhaustion and creates a readiness plan for emergency workers and local government. It also aims to ensure that the state’s most vulnerable populations are supported.
Australia has been active in studying the the effects climate change is having on the country. The government’s Climate Commission, an panel of experts set up by the government but not subject to its oversight, published “The Angry Summer” in March, a report which outlined the bought of heat, wildfires and torrential rain and flooding the country experienced in just a 90-day period of the 2012–2013 summer. Based on the report, researchers from the University of Melbourne concluded with 90 percent confidence that “human influences on the Australian atmosphere had dramatically increased the odds of extreme temperatures.” Another Climate Commission study from April went back further than the past few years, linking the extreme and sometimes deadly weather events of the past decade in Australia to climate change.
While Australia — currently in the midst of winter — prepares for warming weather, other regions around the world are experiencing it now. On Tuesday, Greenland hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest temperature ever recorded in the country. Parts of China are experiencing their worst heat wave in 140 years — temperatures have reached 104 degrees in some places, and dozens of people have died. And Anchorage, AK has set a record for highest number of consecutive days over 70 degrees over the past two weeks, warm weather that’s likely responsible for a die-off of 1,100 king salmon in the region.