Parts of Asia, Europe and Central America are most at risk of record heat waves, but are likely the least prepared to deal with such harsh extremes, according to a new study.

The research, published Tuesday in the Nature Communications magazineHe identified places like Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, Honduras and Guatemala as regions where heat waves intensified by climate change, combined with existing socio-economic problems, will create potentially devastating vulnerabilities.

The findings offer a timely warning about the dangers of extreme heat made worse by global warming, particularly as parts of Southeast Asia and China have been scorched by record temperatures in recent days and much of the Northern Hemisphere is heading into the warmer months. of the year.

The study focused on parts of the world likely to experience brutal heatwaves but not yet experiencing extreme temperatures, said study co-author Dann Mitchell, a professor of climate science at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

“It was really about identifying regions where we can statistically predict that there will be an extreme event, but from an observational standpoint we haven’t seen that extreme event,” he said. «Where those two things meet, we highlight it as a potentially at-risk region.»

These areas may not have the resources to cope with the sweltering conditions, Mitchell said. Some communities, for example, may have limited access to air conditioning or already face barriers to health care and social services. In other countries, geopolitical forces can undermine a region’s ability to adapt or build resilience to climate extremes.

A girl holds a fan as she rides a bus on a summer day in Beijing
A girl holds a fan as she rides a bus on a summer day in Beijing in 2019. Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images file

The researchers also found that places experiencing rapid growth, such as Beijing and places in central Europe, are also at risk. If temperatures rise in these areas, millions of people in these densely populated cities would be affected, the scientists said.

And while no part of Earth is expected to be spared from the impacts of climate change, the study identifies parts of the world that can do more to prepare for extreme temperatures.

«We identified regions that may have been lucky so far: some of these regions have rapidly growing populations, some are developing nations, some are already very hot,» Vikki Thompson, a climate scientist at the Cabot Institute for the Environment and the Environment from the University of Bristol. the study’s lead author said in a statement. «We need to ask ourselves if the heat action plans for these areas are enough.»

Mitchell said he and his colleagues were motivated to study heat vulnerabilities in the aftermath of the record-breaking heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2021. 100 heat-related deaths were reported in Washington state during the multi-day event, and nearly 100 deaths reported in Oregon, though experts have said the actual number was likely higher.

“That extreme caught a lot of people off guard,” Mitchell said. “The idea then was: Could we have identified the risk of that region beforehand?”

The researchers identified vulnerable hot spots by analyzing daily maximum temperatures around the world over the past six decades. They then used statistical models and global climate models to zero in on where temperature records were likely to be broken in the coming years.

Mitchell said he hopes the findings spur governments to do more to prepare for heat waves, particularly for populations that could be disproportionately affected by extreme temperatures.

“Climate change makes inequalities even more unequal,” he said. “And just because you haven’t seen something, our data has shown that there are these regions where we expect to see a very extreme event. Don’t wait until it happens.»