Research Press Release

Impact of increased temperature in Brisbane, Australia

Nature Climate Change

January 16, 2012

Temperature is an important determinant of health and researchers are keen to understand how the temperature-health relationship will change as temperatures increase. Research in Nature Climate Change this week suggests that temperature-related ‘years of life lost’ could potentially worsen if future climate change goes beyond a 2 degree increase without any adaptation to higher temperatures. This prediction highlights that public health adaptation to climate change is necessary. While most studies on climate and health look at mortality risks in general, it has been suggested that years of life lost is a more informative measurement for quantifying premature mortality. This measurement gives greater weight to deaths at younger ages instead of elderly, more vulnerable people who may only have a life expectancy of a few years irrespective of extreme temperatures. Cunrui Huang and colleagues estimate that years of life lost is associated with season and temperature in Brisbane, Australia. They study population data in Brisbane between 1996 and 2004, and convert the figures into ‘years of life lost’. They estimate that a 1 degree temperature increase by 2050 would lead to a total decrease of 98 temperature-related years of life lost across men and women and suggest that this decrease occurs because the increased heat-related years of life lost are offset by the decreased cold-related years of life lost. They go on to project that a 2 degree increase in temperature over the same period ― the global target set out by the IPCC ― would raise the incidence of temperature related years of life lost to 381 in that population, as the heat related deaths reach levels whereby they can’t be offset by cold-related deaths. They also look at a greater increase of 4 degrees and project it would have much greater effects, with a projected net increase of 3,242 temperature related years of life lost in 2050 relative to 2000. They conclude that both extreme heat and cold are important factors for public health even in a subtropical city, but caution that the single location used in this study limits the generalizability of results. They also note that existing frailties within the population weren’t fully taken into account. The work could, however, serve important to decision makers who develop early warning systems and intervention strategies for mitigating the health effects of extreme temperatures.


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