Scorching temperatures are becoming much more frequent in cities across East Asia, an analysis from Greenpeace East Asia has found, with the environmental group warning that the early arrival of hot weather could have severe effects on people’s lives, as well as agriculture.
Researchers analysed temperature data for 57 cities across mainland China, Korea and Japan and found that hot weather was arriving earlier in the year in more than 80 percent of the cities studied.
“Over the past two weeks we have seen multiple Olympic athletes collapse due to heat stroke. Earlier this summer, extreme temperatures in Guangdong, China forced factories to shut down, and in Korea hundreds of thousands of livestock were reported dead due to heatwaves,” said Greenpeace East Asia climate urgency project manager Mikyoung Kim.
Greenpeace, which released its findings on Thursday, said the extreme heat events were “not a fluke” and were consistent with the region’s changing climate.
“Dangerous temperatures will only become more frequent unless governments switch from polluting fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources, including wind and solar,” Kim said.
Effects of extreme heat were seen elsewhere in the world in recent days, with forest fires ravaging Turkey, Greece and other parts of southern Europe and engulfing residential areas.
A study published last week found an “unprecedented surge” in climate-related disasters, including record-shattering heatwaves and wildfires in Australia and the United States. The scientists warned that several tipping points on climate change are now imminent.
The latest Greenpeace study covered 28 cities in China, 21 in Japan and eight in Korea.
In 24 out of the 28 Chinese cities studied, the first hot day of the year, measured at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher, arrived earlier for the period 2001-2020 compared with the previous 20 years.
In the Chinese city of Shanghai, the first hot day arrived 12 days earlier, while in Beijing it arrived an average of 4.7 days earlier.
In Tokyo and Seoul, the first hot day of the year also arrived on average of 11 days earlier during the period 2001-2020 compared with the previous 20 years, the report said.
Meanwhile, the Japanese city of Sapporo shifted a full 23 days forwards – the earliest of all the cities covered in the study.
In South Korea, the city of Gwangju saw the most dramatic shift, with its first hot day arriving 12.7 days earlier for the period 2001-2020 compared with the baseline.
More severe and more frequent
Cities across the East Asia region are also experiencing increasingly severe and more frequent heatwaves, the study said.
Between 2001 and 2020, the frequency of heatwaves in the Chinese capital, Beijing, was nearly three times that of the previous 40-year period.
In Tokyo, which is notorious for its summer heat and humidity, the number of days with a temperature of 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher has more than doubled since the 1960s, according to the report.
Extreme temperatures and the early arrival of hot weather severely affect people and their livelihood, agriculture and the overall ecosystem, the report added.
It warned that the elderly, people who work outdoors, and those with chronic health conditions are particularly at risk.
Between 2000 and 2018, heat-related deaths in people aged 65 and over increased by 54 percent worldwide, with Japan and eastern China facing disproportionate impacts, the study found.
A separate Greenpeace study published in July found that, for example, 73 of the 98 heat waves in the past 60 years in the Guangzhou area of China occurred after 1998.
The high temperatures we’ve seen at the Tokyo #Olympics aren’t a fluke.
— Greenpeace East Asia (@GreenpeaceEAsia) August 5, 2021
Greenpeace East Asia is urging governments to take action to reduce emissions of climate change-causing greenhouse gases.
“Governments must take immediate measures to protect people’s health amid extreme weather,” Kim said.
“There is an urgent need to strengthen climate targets, including an end to all financing of the fossil fuel industry, and implement a switch to 100 percent renewable energy as quickly as possible.”
The issue of climate change and the reduction of emissions will be taken up anew in November at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
The summit aims to secure a global emissions rate of net-zero by about 2050, as proposed by the Paris Agreement.
Scientists say the reduction of global emissions to net-zero would keep the world away from a possibly catastrophic increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
However, the World Meteorological Organization warned in May that the average global temperature will keep rising toward the critical 1.5-degree Celsius benchmark over the next five years.