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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Heat wave exposure in India in current, 1.5 °C, and 2.0 °C worlds


Heatwaves with large impacts have increased in the recent past and will continue to increase under future warming. However, the implication for population exposure to severe heatwaves remains unexplored. Here, we characterize maximum potential human exposure (without passive/active reduction measures) to severe heatwaves in India. We show that if the global mean temperature is limited to 2.0 °C above pre-industrial conditions, the frequency of severe heatwaves will rise by 30 times the current climate by the end-21st century. In contrast, the frequency is projected to be about 2.5 times more (than the low-warming scenario of 2 °C) under conditions expected if the RCP8.5 'business-as-usual' emissions scenario is followed. Under the 2.0 °C low-warming target, population exposure to severe heatwaves is projected to increase by about 15 and 92 times the current level by the mid and end-21st century respectively. Strategies to reduce population growth in India during the 21st century may provide only limited mitigation of heatwave exposure mostly late in the century. Limiting global temperatures to 1.5 °C above preindustrial would reduce the exposure by half relative to RCP8.5 by the mid-21st century. If global temperatures are to exceed 1.5 °C then substantial measures will be required to offset the large increase in exposure to severe heatwaves in India.

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