Pakistan lost around 26 billion hours of potential labour hours due to heat exposure in 2022, causing around $16 billion in lost income, or around 4.4% of its gross domestic product, according to The Lancet Countdown, a major annual assessment carried out by leading researchers and institutions.
With 2023 set to become the hottest year on record, the assessment warned that nearly five times as many people are likely to die due to rising temperatures and heat waves in the coming years and decades.
The assessment on health and climate change released the other day resulted from an academic collaboration of over 200 researchers from around the world who provide an annual snapshot of the links between health and climate change over 40 peer-reviewed indicators.
The assessment noted that Pakistan was at the forefront of climate change impacts, which increasingly overwhelm the local health systems.
It reviewed impacts on Pakistan in four key climate change and health impacts, including extreme heat, droughts and floods, air pollution and scientific and political engagement in health and climate change.
It found that the population was increasingly exposed to health-threatening extreme heat -- with some spots in Pakistan turning into the hottest places on Earth.
Consequently, there were associated increases in heat-related illnesses and mortality while exposure to such heat limited labour productivity, undermining livelihoods.
It noted that from 2013-2022, every infant and adult over 65 was exposed to an average of four health-threatening heatwave days per year. This was more than a 50% increase from the average between 1986-2005.
The extreme heat was causing a loss of 26 billion potential labour hours, an increase of 115% from 1991-2000. This could potentially cause $16 billion in lost income in 2022.
People who work outdoors in the heat, particularly agricultural workers, were the hardest hit. They saw 67% of potential labour hours lost and some 56% lost potential income in 2022.
It noted that Pakistan was also facing an increased frequency and intensity of droughts and floods, which were grossly undermining its food and water security apart from impacting sanitation. The growing unpredictability of weather impacting crop yields increased the risk of malnutrition and infectious disease transmission amongst the population.
With parts of Punjab, particularly Lahore, currently choking, the assessment said that air pollution was increasingly affecting the health of local populations with a high burden of disease and deaths that could be avoided by transitioning to zero-emission clean energy sources.
It noted that the scientific and political engagement in health and climate change has been growing in recent years to find a solution to emerging issues.
The assessment warned that unless steps are taken to mitigate and adapt, rising heat's health impacts will drastically increase in the coming years.
It warned that even if the world meets the two-degree centigrade limit for the rise in global temperatures, heatwave exposure for people over 65 is projected to be 4.5 times greater by the middle of the century (2040-2060).
The assessment said that globally, around five times more people could die due to the rising temperatures in the coming decades, warning that without action on climate change, the "health of humanity is at grave risk".
The study said that in 2022, people globally were exposed to an average of 86 days of life-threatening temperatures. Climate change impacts caused around 60% of those days to become more than twice as likely to occur. As a result, between 2013-2022, there was an 85% increase in the deaths of people who were over 65 years of age compared to 1991-2000.
With the world currently on track for a 2.7 degree Celsius increase, even a lesser increase capped at two degrees Celsius by the end of the century could potentially lead to an increase in annual heat-related deaths by 370% by 2050, a 4.7-fold increase.
Moreover, the study projected that an additional 520 million people will likely experience moderate to severe food insecurity due to the extreme temperatures by 204-2060.
The study, which also tracked the spread of infectious diseases, warned that mosquito-borne diseases will potentially spread into new areas, with transmission of dengue expected to increase by 36% if the world warms by 2C.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reacted to the report by observing that "humanity is staring down the barrel of an intolerable future".
"We are already seeing a human catastrophe unfolding with the health and livelihoods of billions across the world endangered by record-breaking heat, crop-failing droughts, rising levels of hunger, growing infectious disease outbreaks, and deadly storms and floods," he said in a statement.
Despite the growing calls for global action, the report and the UN separately said that energy-related carbon emissions hit new highs last year.
The UN warned that current pledges by countries to cut global carbon emissions by just 2% by 2030 from 2019 levels -- were far short of the 43% drop needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In its 19th annual Global Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the UN's World Meteorological Organisation said levels for the three main heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, all broke records for emissions last year. It tacitly questioned countries' commitment to cutting emissions by 2% by 2030.
As a result, it warned that a much less curtailed global temperature increase would mean greater temperature increases, more extreme weather and higher sea levels.
"The current level of greenhouse gas concentrations puts us on the pathway of an increase in temperatures well above the Paris Agreement targets by the end of this century," WMO chief Petteri Taalas said.
"This will be accompanied by more extreme weather, including intense heat and rainfall, ice melt, sea level rise and ocean heat and acidification.
The report said global carbon dioxide concentrations were at 418 parts per million, methane at 1,923 parts per billion and nitrous oxide at 336 parts per billion in 2022.
They correspond to 150%, 264% and 124% of pre-industrial (before 1750) levels, respectively.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for about 64% of the warming effect on the climate. In 2022, its global average concentration rose above 50% of the pre-industrial era for the first time.
This means that even if countries manage to rapidly lower emissions to net zero levels, they will not be able to lower temperatures from current high levels for several decades.
Atmospheric methane is the second largest contributor to climate change, accounting for around 16% of the warming effect. While it has a shorter life than carbon dioxide, its impact on global warming is far more pronounced.
Nitrous oxide, which contributes to around 7% of the warming effect, increased at a higher rate than at any point in modern history.
The main contributors to greenhouse gasses are G20 countries, which account for around 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.