Featured News Heatwave risk needs quick response

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Thu, 16 Mar 2023

Heatwave risk needs quick response

Image: Josh Withers

James Cook University researchers examining heatwave deaths across Queensland are calling for government action to lower the toll as global climate change sees temperatures rise.

Miss Hannah Mason and Professor Richard Franklin from the College of Public Health, Medical and Vet Sciences at JCU were among the authors of a paper examining the effects of heatwaves on mortality in Queensland between 2010 and 2019. The Queensland Department of Environment and Science provided $17,500 of funding for the research.

Miss Mason said heatwaves contribute to more deaths in Australia than any other environmental disaster.

“It’s estimated that climate change will cause peak heatwave temperatures to rise 3.2 °C from 1986–2005 to 2081–2099 across Queensland, with sharp intensification of heatwaves from 2040 onwards.”

She said there are 77 local government areas in Queensland, but little was known about the impacts of heatwaves on mortality outside of Brisbane.

The researchers found that overall, the total risk of mortality was 5% greater in Queensland during heatwaves between July 2010 and January 2019.

“What’s important is that this number varied across regions in Queensland and varied for different population groups too.  People living in major cities, in low socioeconomic regions, the elderly, and those with medical conditions, were at greater risk,” said Miss Mason.

She said that even though the number of heatwave days per annum in Queensland is increasing, from 9504 cumulative days in 2010/11 to 31,236 days in 2018/19, heat-health impacts are considered largely preventable.

“As heatwaves increase in Queensland, understanding who is at greater risk of mortality is important for local and state authorities to tailor public health messages. There is considerable variability across communities, demographic groups, and medical conditions, and there can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

“To protect these groups, protective measures such as cooling systems, cool refuges, shady green spaces, access to cool drinking water, and social supports must be in place,” said Miss Mason.

She said more research in partnership with local authorities is needed to ensure effective solutions for population sub-groups, those with co-morbidities and to address other factors at play such as air quality and humidity.

“Without appropriate government action and policy informed by proper research we expect heatwave deaths will continue to increase as the climate warms,” said Miss Mason.

Link to paper here.


Hannah Mason
E: hannah.mason@my.jcu.edu.au

Professor Richard Franklin
E: richard.franklin@jcu.edu.au