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Climate Change and Heat Waves - Yaren Öztürk


Scientists have been measuring global temperatures for more than a century and report that the Earth is getting warmer. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) annual observations of the world's average temperature, temperature increases are getting more intense every day due to increasing levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In 2022, temperatures reached unprecedented levels in countries such as the United States, Australia, India and Pakistan. Last month, temperatures broke records across the Northern Hemisphere. While Rome experienced its hottest day on record, in Italy and Japan, temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius, the highest since 1875, the first year official records were kept. In London, thermometers registered 40.2 degrees Celsius last month. According to environmental scientists at Oxford University, climate change makes heat waves more frequent and hotter. A heatwave, which had a 1 in 10 chance of occurring before climate change, is now three times more likely to occur and peaks at temperatures about 1 degree Celsius higher. According to the World Weather Attribution, this situation, as mentioned earlier, has increased the likelihood of a repeat of last April's heat extremes in Pakistan and India by 30 times.


The last decade has been the hottest decade on record, while each of the previous four decades has been hotter than the final due to climate change. Exposure to extreme heat has serious effects and consequences in many areas. Looking at the effects on human health, a study conducted in Istanbul showed that three heatwave periods in 2015, 2016 and 2017 increased the risk of death by 11%, 6% and 21%, respectively. Over the three years, the total number of deaths during heatwave periods was 419. Between July 10 and 19 this year, more than 1,000 people died in the Iberian Peninsula due to high temperatures. The human body can generally cool itself through sweating, but if humidity is high, sweat cannot evaporate quickly. This can lead to heat stroke. High night air temperature and high humidity are among the causes of heat-related illnesses and deaths. Low-income people exposed to hot air at night and who do not have easy access to cooling devices such as air conditioners may experience health problems. Babies, children, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and those who have to work all the time outdoors are also at additional risk. On the other hand, extreme temperatures can also damage agricultural land. Plants can be adversely affected by high temperatures. Some crops may be unable to fulfil their need for cool night temperatures. Livestock may experience heat-related stress on nights when temperatures remain high. On the other hand, heat waves and drought exacerbate forest fires. From 2012 until the end of 2021, 27,150 forest fires broke out in Turkey, damaging 226,845 hectares of land. Although the number of fires is not the highest in the last decade, the area damaged in 2021 is higher than the total of the last 9 years. In comparison, an average of 20,760 hectares of land were burned annually between 2008 and 2020 in Turkey; 177,476 hectares were burned between January and August 2021. Again, while Turkey's average number of forest fires in August between 2008 and 2020 was 59, this number increased to 159 in 2021. Also, the number of fires in the European region has also been increasing recently. While the average number of fires across the bloc between 2006 and 2021 was 1,349, more than 2,300 fires were recorded as of mid-August this year. It was stated that more than 700,000hectares burned in the fires. In addition, extreme temperatures lead to water scarcity and food insecurity.Another significant impact of high temperatures is felt in the energy sector. While high summer temperatures lead to an increase in electricity demand, this increase may reduce the capacity of transmission lines and lead to an increase in power outages. Estimates show that by 2050, the increase in average annual energy expenditures due to energy demand could reach 30 billion dollars. In addition, as rivers and lakes heat up, their reduced ability to absorb waste heat from power plants can reduce the thermal efficiency of power generation. This can make it challenging to comply with environmental regulations set around the power plant's cooling water temperature, which can lead to plant shutdowns.


Noting that governments are responsible for minimizing the impacts of high temperatures and protecting people from climate change and heat waves, Human Rights Watch has prepared recommendations and measures in consultation with climate, public health, and disaster preparedness experts. These measures include first identifying the risks to public health posed by high temperatures and identifying the regions where these risks are highest. It is stated that various plans should be made to reduce temperatures and respond to emergencies, and the public should actively participate in this. Public health campaigns and policies must be developed to reduce risks and raise public awareness. There is a requirement to ensure reliable and affordable energy, water and sanitation access. The importance of ensuring accessibility for the entire population is emphasized so that the whole population is united against the need for emergency assistance during heat waves. Also, it is essential that increase access to air conditioning and shaded areas for at-risk populations. There is a requirement to ensure the safety of people working outdoors or in hot environments such as bakeries, limiting working hours and increasing breaks. It calls for controlling capacity by guaranteeing access to social services. There is a need to monitor the impact of the heat and how effective emergency responses are. Finally, keeping national and local plans up to date is essential.

The clock is ticking, and it is no longer possible to ignore the effects of climate change. Unless greenhouse gas levels are reduced, high temperatures will not cease to threaten humans and other living things. Raising awareness and adapting societies and cities to climate change is vital. The high temperatures experienced around the world and the related deaths and illnesses are not fate. The solution to this human invention situation also can be found by humans.