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World’s Biggest Capitals See 52% Surge in Extremely Hot Days

A new study has revealed that the world’s biggest capitals are experiencing an increase in the number of extremely hot days.

The study analyzed the most populous capital cities, together home to more than 300 million people. These included New Delhi, Beijing, Dhaka, London, Cairo, Manila, Kinshasa, Tokyo and Paris.

Scorching Heat

According to the analysis, published on Friday by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the world’s largest capitals have seen a 52% surge in the number of days reaching 35°C over the past three decades.

By using surface temperature data from airport weather stations, researchers found that from 2014 to 2023, the number of days where temperatures exceeded 35°C were nearly 6,500 cumulative days. However, in the decade from 1994-2003, they were just 4,755 days.

This overall rise in the number of days of extreme heat means that millions of people who live under increasing levels of heat stress are facing risks to their health and infrastructure.

Asia in the Lead

Asian capitals have recorded the biggest temperature increases, given the recent heat waves that hit the continent from Southeast Asia to China and India. The analysis showed that New Delhi recorded the highest number of days over 35°C, with 4,222 days.

Similarly, Jakarta saw one of the biggest increases in the number of days over 35°C in the past 30 years. In the decade from 2014 to 2023, it had reached 167 days.

Seoul and Beijing have also experienced sharp increases in extremely hot days over the past 30 years. In 2018 alone, Seoul experienced 21 days over 35°C, more than the previous 10 years combined. Meanwhile, Beijing has seen a 309% rise in the number of days of extreme heat over the past three decades.

Increasing Frequency

Other capital cities around the world are witnessing an increasing frequency of days over 35°C. The number of days of extreme heat in Cairo has increased by 61.5% during the past 30 years. It increased to an average of 823 days per year.

Moreover, Paris has seen a 57% increase in the number of days over 30°C over the past three decades, rising to 189 days in the most recent decade from 141 days in the decade from 1994 to 2003.

Meanwhile, London has seen an increasing frequency of days exceeding 35°C, reaching 59 days in the past decade.

Prolonged Periods

According to the analysis, some cities are experiencing an increase in the number of consecutive days of extreme heat. For example, Jakarta saw 30 consecutive days over 35°C in October 2023, more days than the entire 10-year period between 1994 and 2003.

Extreme heat can have deadly effects, especially for vulnerable groups who may not have access to cool spaces. In the period between June 11 and June 19, New Delhi saw 192 heat wave-related deaths among its homeless population, reported CNN.

Heat waves put children, pregnant women and elderly people at high risk. They also impact economies by damaging crops and livestock and reducing labor productivity. Furthermore, extreme heat hurts infrastructure, including highways, roads, electrical wires and railways. It could lead to supply chain disruptions and blackouts and disease.

Climate Change

Many countries have recognized that extreme heat waves are a result of climate change, and should be officially categorized as disasters. The recent study by the IIED underscores the urgent need for policymakers to put more effort to help their communities adapt to hotter temperatures.

Against this backdrop, IIEd senior researcher Tucker Landesman said: “Climate change is not just a future threat – it is already happening and getting worse. In just one generation, there’s been an alarming increase in the number of days of extreme heat affecting some of the world’s biggest capitals – made worse by the urban heat island effect,” which happens when cities replace natural lands with roads and buildings that retain more heat.

“Millions more people are experiencing heat stress as temperatures reach dangerously high levels in some cities, which is having a profound impact on people’s health,” he added.

Landesman stressed the need to deal with heat waves as the new reality. “Responding to the challenge of extreme heat will require bold action from policymakers, including serious investment to adapt to this new reality. For many cities, it’s not a lack of knowledge or capacity or resources that’s preventing large-scale action to address climate change, rather it’s a lack of political will and governing tools.”

He noted: “To make change happen, there needs to be strategic coordination between health, finance, environment and transport policy experts, along with civil society groups and frontline communities. Without a properly resourced response to the climate crisis, millions of people will continue to suffer the worst effects of climate change.”

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