The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) new report on Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Working Group II Contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) emphasizes the need for local knowledge to inform adaptation processes and actions that reduce climate risk. In EmCliC, we strive to capture the local context that is relevant for a better understanding of the impacts heat stress has on human health and wellbeing in two European cities: Warsaw and Madrid. We do this by combining high resolution climate data with epidemiological models, demographic projections and qualitative and quantitative data gathered among and with older adults, with the aim to better understand and illustrate climate risks related to increasing temperatures.
This latest IPCC report reviews how climate change impacts our lives and communities, particularly vulnerable groups, and what adaptation measures could be implemented. It also discusses the maladaptations: interventions that are supposed to help, but in fact, do more harm than good. In EmCliC, we are particularly interested in the report’s chapter 7, “Health, Wellbeing, and the Changing Structure of Communities”. This chapter emphasizes the impact of climate change not only on physical but also on mental health. It shows that many direct and indirect effects of climate change pose cascading threats to the health and wellbeing of most vulnerable populations, including women, children, older adults, migrants, people with disabilities, people living in difficult socio-economic circumstances. Participants in EmCliC’s focus groups and ethnographic studies have raised the issue of being advised to stay indoors due to COVID-19 and extreme heat, but for many people who cannot afford air conditioning staying indoors during heat waves can have worse consequences, especially if they live alone, in very hot apartments.
The report emphasizes that negative effects of climate change are not solely a problem of the future, but they are already visible today. According to the report, while the cost of adaptation is large, the health and social benefits would exceed those investments in the long run. Suggested solutions include not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions or improving air quality, but also introducing climate resilient urban planning, organizing sustainable food systems, ensuring universal access to both healthcare and social support systems.
Extreme heat events and heat stress are listed as one of the main hazards that will keep increasing, influencing morbidity and mortality rates at the population scale, and impacting the mental and physical health and wellbeing of communities and individuals. Most vulnerable groups, such as older adults, are particularly affected by the increasing heat stress. The report emphasizes the inequality of climate change impacts not only among different sub-populations but also geographically, with some regions already experiencing temperatures in which people can barely survive. Although Europe is not among the most affected regions, heat is also impacting the most vulnerable groups, including older adults, and increasing the burden on public health here. Simultaneously, Europe is growing more urbanized and populations are aging, with more and more seniors living alone in the cities. In EmCliC we recognize heat stress to be a major climate change threat. We do research with older adults in Warsaw and Madrid to study how climate change and heat stress affects their lives, communities, their health and mental and physical wellbeing. Furthermore, we aim to harness local knowledge and learn how can we collaboratively create adaptation measures that are better tailored to the needs of the most vulnerable groups.
The full report is accessible here: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/