The past few weeks have been scorching hot for many parts of Asia, with record-breaking temperatures and heat-related deaths reported in several countries.
The heat wave is not only a public health emergency, but also a sign of how climate change and geopolitics are intertwined.
- The heat wave in Asia is causing a spike in energy demands, leading to a return to coal in many countries, undoing years of progress in shifting to transition fuels like LNG and renewables.
- The Russia-Ukraine war has caused a seismic shift in energy markets, forcing poorer countries to fall back on dirtier energy like coal and resulting in energy shortages and eventual blackouts amid the heat wave.
- The heat wave is exacerbating the public health and economic effects in Asia, hitting the poor the hardest, and is scientifically linked to aggravated air pollution, threatening countries like India where air quality is already one of the worst in the world.
According to a rapid study by the World Weather Attribution group, the heat wave in April was made at least 30 times more likely by climate change, which has increased the average global temperature by about 1.2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times.
The study found that temperatures were at least 2 degrees Celsius hotter in the region because of human-induced warming. If the world continues to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate, such heat waves could become a yearly occurrence in India and Bangladesh by the end of the century.
A Deadly Consequence of Climate Change and Geopolitics
The heat wave is also linked to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, which has disrupted the global energy market and forced many Asian countries to rely on dirtier fuels like coal. Europe’s boycott of Russian oil has reduced the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is considered a cleaner and cheaper alternative to coal and oil.
As a result, Asian countries like China, India, Thailand and Vietnam have increased their coal consumption to meet the rising demand for electricity amid the heat wave. This in turn has worsened the air quality and carbon emissions in the region, creating a vicious cycle of more warming and more pollution.
The heat wave has exposed the vulnerability of millions of people in Asia, especially those who live in poverty, work outdoors or lack access to cooling and health care. It has also highlighted the need for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to extreme weather events and promote cooperation among countries to address the common challenges of climate change and energy security.