Deadly heat wave in India wave adds urgency to UN climate talks

The record heat wave in India this week, which sent temperatures soaring to an astonishing 50 degrees Celsius and killed more 1,100 people, serves as a stark reminder of the new reality of life and death in a warming world, and should add urgency to the U.N. climate talks that begin in Germany on Friday

Just in March a study published in Nature Climate Change found that three-quarters of all hot spells occurring over land could be traced to human activity. “With every degree of warming it is the rarest and the most extreme events—and thereby the ones with typically the highest socio-economic impacts—for which the largest fraction is due to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions,” the researchers wrote.

The study looked at heat waves and heavy rains from 25 climate models in the period from 1901-2005 as well as projections for 2006-2100.

To be sure, India has experienced an unsettling increased in deadly heat waves in recent years: in 2010, high temperatures that killed hundreds of people and, in 2013, intense heat left some 500 people dead.

The Guardian reported that the extreme heat in the country has melted sections of roads and high-humidity has exacerbated conditions: in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, temperatures reached nearly 47 degrees C with relative humidity of 70 percent. Delhi hit 45 degrees C.

Heat waves intensify strains on the nation’s aging electrical grid, as people try to stay cool using air conditioning and fans. In July 2012, for example, a blackout left some 700 million people without power—pointing to renewable energy sources, like solar power, as an important solution to simultaneously improve grid reliability, public health, and cut emissions.