Future Heatwaves and Their Effect on Comfort in India

Jenn Hoskins
1st April, 2024

Future Heatwaves and Their Effect on Comfort in India

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In India, heatwaves will increase in frequency and intensity by the century's end, especially in Odisha, MP, UP, Punjab, and Haryana
  • Under a high-emission scenario (RCP8.5), over 90% of India could face uncomfortably warm nights, impacting sleep and health
  • Taking strong climate action (RCP2.6) could significantly reduce heatwave days, spells, and warm nights, benefiting millions
Heatwaves are extreme weather events characterized by prolonged periods of excessively hot weather, which can have detrimental effects on human health, agriculture, and the broader ecosystem. A recent study by researchers at Nalanda University[1] has provided new insights into the projected frequency, duration, and impact of heatwaves across India, a country already known for its challenging summer temperatures. The research focuses on India's vulnerability to heatwaves and the associated human discomfort expected by the end of the 21st century. It utilizes high-resolution regional climate model experiments to examine the effects under two different climate scenarios: RCP2.6, which assumes significant efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and RCP8.5, a business-as-usual trajectory where emissions continue to rise unabated. The findings are alarming: more than 90% of India's population is projected to experience uncomfortably warm nights by the century's end, with the most pronounced increases in western India, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Haryana. Odisha, Chhattisgarh, eastern Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, parts of Jammu & Kashmir, and the densely populated Indo-Gangetic plains are expected to be the hardest hit by intense and frequent heatwaves. The study builds upon earlier research[2] that assessed the current and future heatwave hazards and risks for India, using socioeconomic vulnerability and temperature data. The earlier study had already identified the southeastern coast, Indo-Gangetic plains, and metropolitan regions like Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata as areas of concern. It also projected an increased risk in the eastern and middle Indo-Gangetic plains and the Malabar region under future warming scenarios. By comparing the two Representative Concentration Pathways, the researchers at Nalanda University demonstrate the stark differences in outcomes based on our global response to climate change. The RCP2.6 scenario, which involves stringent policies to stabilize population growth and improve adaptive capacities, as well as measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions, could significantly mitigate the impact of heatwaves. This scenario may lead to a reduction of 50–200 heatwave days, 3–10 heatwave spells, and 10–35% warm nights over India. In contrast, the RCP8.5 scenario paints a grimmer picture, with no action taken to reduce emissions or adapt to changing conditions. Under this scenario, an additional 135–143 million people could be exposed to severe discomfort due to extreme heat conditions by the end of the century. The study's methodology involves analyzing temperature data and modeling future climate conditions to assess the risk of heatwaves. The researchers use temperature projections from the regional earth system model to simulate future climate conditions under both RCP2.6 and RCP8.5. This approach allows for a detailed understanding of how heatwave frequency and intensity could change over time, and how these changes could affect human comfort levels. To mitigate the risks associated with heatwaves, the study emphasizes the need for strict enforcement of policies that focus on population stabilization, local adaptive capacity improvement, and socioeconomic status enhancement of vulnerable populations. Moreover, it underscores the importance of international cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is crucial for limiting global warming and its associated impacts. The research conducted by Nalanda University offers a crucial look at the future of heat stress in India, highlighting the need for immediate action to protect vulnerable populations. It provides valuable insights for policymakers, urban planners, and public health officials to design mitigation strategies and adaptive planning to cope with the increasing threat of heatwaves, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action. By understanding the potential severity and distribution of future heatwaves, India can work towards safeguarding its population and maintaining the well-being of its society in the face of a warming climate.



Main Study

1) Projected changes in heatwaves and its impact on human discomfort over India due to global warming under the CORDEX-CORE framework

Published 15th December, 2023


Related Studies

2) Present and future projections of heatwave hazard-risk over India: A regional earth system model assessment.


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