‘What the Climate Emergency Looks Like’: Extreme Heat Busts Records Across Asia

Sweltering temperatures have devastated numerous Asian countries this month, eliciting demands for lifesaving climate action.

By Kenny Stancil. Published 4-19-2023 by Common Dreams

The European model shows temperatures across Southeast Asia rising well above normal Monday. Image: WeatherBell.com

Hundreds of millions of people throughout Asia are suffering Wednesday as a deadly heatwave turbocharged by the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis continues to pummel large swaths of the continent, with little relief in sight—reigniting calls for immediate action to slash greenhouse gas pollution.

Record-high temperatures have been observed in several Asian countries this month, including at 109 weather stations across 12 Chinese provinces on Monday. Scorching heat in India, meanwhile, has killed more than a dozen people and forced school closures this week.

Last Friday, Bangkok-based climatologist and weather historian Maximiliano Herrera described the ongoing predicament as the “worst April heatwave in Asian history.” Since then, additional records have been shattered in Southeast Asia.

Over the weekend, temperatures in Thailand surpassed 45°C (113°F) for the first time in recorded history. The Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka saw its hottest day in decades when temperatures soared past 40°C (104°F) on Saturday, causing road surfaces to melt. On Monday, temperatures in Myanmar surged to 44°C (111°F), a record for April. Laos is among the latest Asian countries to set a new all-time high, reaching 42.7°C (109°F) on Tuesday.

“Earlier this month, Thai authorities issued a health alert for several provinces as the heat index was forecast to reach 50.2°C [122°F] in the Bang Na district of the capital Bangkok. The heat index is what the temperature ‘feels like’ and considers both air temperature and humidity to measure its impact,” CNNreported Wednesday. “On Tuesday, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha expressed concern over ‘dangerously high temperatures in various parts of Thailand’ and said in Bangkok’s Bang Na area, temperatures ‘could reach 52.3°C [126°F].'”

“April and May are typically the hottest months of the year for South and Southeast Asia as temperatures rise before monsoon rains begin and bring some relief. But the heat in Thailand has been compounded by an intense smoggy season that has caused pollution levels to spike,” CNN noted. “The tourist hotspot of Chiang Mai in the north ranked as the world’s most polluted city for seven straight days as smoke from forest fires and widespread crop burning deteriorated the air quality. At least one hospital in the city said it had reached ‘full ward capacity’ as patients sought medical treatment for respiratory issues.”

Fears are mounting that dangerously high temperatures could persist in Thailand beyond the typical summer months, potentially resulting in drought and crop failures.

“Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh have all seen temperatures topping 40°C (104°F) for many days,” CNN noted. “Heatwaves in India usually take place between March and July, but in recent years these hot spells have become more intense, more frequent, and longer” due to global warming.

As The Guardian reported Wednesday:

In recent years, India has become particularly vulnerable to extreme heat and experts fear this year could be even worse. The April heatwave has battered north and east Indian states, with this week the meteorological department issuing an orange warning of a severe heatwave in parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal, all states with a high proportion of rural workers and laborers who are forced to work outside even as temperatures and humidity soar.

Six cities in north and east India recorded temperatures above 44°C (111°F) on Tuesday, and the heatwave is projected to continue until at least Friday.

Last April and May, the Indian subcontinent experienced a brutal heatwave that caused multiple deaths and intensified glacial melt, which contributed to calamitous flooding in Pakistan in August.

China also endured a historic heatwave and drought last year, though it occurred later, from June through August.

The heatwave currently hammering much of Asia is occurring in the context of roughly 1.3°C of global temperature rise since the late 1800s.

Recent data shows that annual emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide increased again in 2022, pushing atmospheric concentrations of the three main heat-trapping gases to all-time highs.

Before last year’s COP27 climate summit—which ended, like the 26 prior meetings, with no concrete blueprint to rapidly move away from planet-heating fossil fuels—the United Nations warned that existing emission reduction targets and policies are so inadequate that there is “no credible path” currently in place to achieve the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting planetary heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, beyond which impacts will grow increasingly deadly, especially for people in low-income countries who bear the least responsibility for the crisis.

The U.N. made clear that only “urgent system-wide transformation” can prevent catastrophic temperature rise of up to 2.9°C by 2100. Nevertheless, oil and gas corporations—bolstered by trillions of dollars in annual public subsidies—are still planning to expand fossil fuel production in the coming years, prioritizing short-term profits over the lives of those who will be harmed by the resulting climate chaos.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest synthesis says that heatwaves and other extreme weather disasters will become more common and severe with each additional degree of global temperature rise.

One 2022 study included in the IPCC assessment found that “heatwaves will be between three and 10 times more often by the turn of the century,” CNN reported Wednesday. “In the tropics, which encompasses much of Asia, people could be exposed to dangerous heat most days of the year, the study found. Days of ‘extremely dangerous heat’—which is defined as 51°C (124°F)—could double and experts say those levels of heat push the limits of human survivability.”

The U.N. warned last year that in the absence of swift decarbonization, extreme heat is projected to kill as many people by the end of the century as all cancers and infectious diseases combined, with disproportionate impacts on people in impoverished nations. By mid-century, more than 2 billion children are projected to be at risk of suffering from frequent heatwaves.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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