The Guardian view on the climate crisis and heatwaves: a killer we must fight | Editorial

WWhile Britons don sweaters and complain about the unusual cold, much of the world is reeling from soaring temperatures. India is in the grip of its country longest heat wave in written history, with thermometers reach 50C in some places. Greece closed the Acropolis in the afternoon last week when temperatures reached 43 degrees Celsius; There has never been a heat wave so early in the year. Rising temperatures in the Sahel and West Africa reportedly left mortuaries in Mali running out of space this spring, while parts of Asia suffered in May.

Mexico and the southwestern US have also experienced sweltering conditions; it was particularly shocking to hear Donald Trump again promise “drill, baby, drill” at a rally that saw supporters taken to hospital with heat exhaustion. These episodes of extreme weather are increasing as the climate crisis worsens. Although the El Niño weather pattern has contributed to heat waves over the past twelve months, they are becoming more and more so more frequent, more extreme and longer lasting thanks to global warming. By 2040, almost half of the world’s population will be are likely to experience major heat wavestwelve times more than the historical average.

These pose a major threat to food security. But the immediate consequences are also frightening. In 2022, there were more than 60,000 heat-related deaths across Europe, including 4,500 in Great Britain alone. In the US 11,000 passed away last year. The already warm climate in some countries is becoming unbearable. Young, old, pregnant and disabled people are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and deaths. This also applies to the poorest, because of their living conditions and often physically demanding work. Experts say deaths are far underreported and many deaths occur long after temperatures drop. Doctors around the world have reported rising numbers chronic kidney disease related to heavy labor in extremely hot and humid conditions. One study found that more than a third of deaths occurred from heat attributable to the climate crisis.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and USAid co-hosted one global heat summit this spring to put the issue higher on the agenda of governments and agencies. Addressing the underlying cause is essential. But this also applies to adapting to the new challenges. That means everything from redesigning cities – in Colombia, The “green corridors” of Medellín sheltering pedestrians and street vendors – to introducing social programs. Berlin 2022 “heat aid” scheme for the homeless provided daytime shelter, cool showers and sunscreen.

Crucially, it means protecting workers. A recent UN report estimated that 70% of the world’s 3.4 billion working population will be exposed to excessive heat at some point. Some countries, such as China and Spain, have specific maximum temperatures above which outside work must be suspended or additional measures taken – although enforcement is often woefully inadequate. There are many more countries that need such measures.

The number of workers killed in the U.S. from heat exposure has doubled over the past three decades, yet the U.S. has no federal standards — though the Biden administration has asked the Occupational Safety and Health Association to draft them. Industry lobbyists have opposed legislative efforts to protect workers’ health. Shockingly, in Florida – the hottest state in the country – Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed a law banning municipalities from implementing protective measures such as proper rest breaks and access to water and shade. That is not only unfair to those who now have to toil on construction sites and in the fields; for some it can be fatal.