Queensland and Papua New Guinea among regions most at risk from record-breaking heatwaves

Every region in the world needs to be prepared for extreme heatwaves, according to a new paper in Nature Communications – but Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, and Central America are particularly at risk.

Climate change is already causing an increase in mortality from heatwaves, and this is predicted to become worse as the climate warms more.

The UK team of researchers used a technique called extreme value statistics and global climate data to identify where in the world was statistically likely to have record-breaking heatwaves.

They found that 31% of the regions they assessed had recorded “statistically implausible extremes” between 1959 and 2021.

These extremes included things like the 2021 heatwave in western North America, where some temperature records were broken by almost 5°C.

The researchers identified eight regions that were most likely to experience a record-breaking heatwave.

The most vulnerable according to the research , were Central America (in this study, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama), Afghanistan, and Papua New Guinea.

These regions all have growing populations and limited healthcare and energy resources, hence their vulnerability.

The other five regions were far eastern Russia, Central Europe, northwestern Argentina, Beijing in China, and Queensland in Australia.

In their paper, the researchers say that policymakers in these regions should be planning for these potential heatwaves.

“Heatwaves are deadly—but better preparation can save lives,” they write.

“Planning ahead can reduce mortality from climatic extremes. For example, city heat plans that include actions such as establishing cooling centres or reducing hours of work for outdoor workers can reduce heat impacts.”

But they stress that, while these eight regions are statistically most at risk, anywhere in the world could experience an extraordinary heatwave.

“Everywhere needs to be prepared for a heatwave so extreme it is deemed implausible based on the current observational record,” they write.

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