Heat is one of the key intersecting drivers in the issues of climate and health – and in a world that is growing warmer by the day, heat directly impacts every facet of life, ranging from the environment to health.  

Latest research from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) predicts that over the next five years, temperatures across the world are likely to ‘rise by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels’. This development, the WMO maintains, represents an acceleration of the adverse impact of human activities on the climate.  

Brightly lit globe

The report published by the World Meteorological Organisation on 17 May indicates that in the period between 2023-27, there is a 66% likelihood that global temperatures will be above the 1.5C threshold, during at least one of the years, with the prediction pegging a definite annual increase anywhere ‘between 1.1C and 1.8C above the pre-industrial average’.  

This, coupled with the perpetually oscillating El Nino weather system, will result in increased heatwaves, directly impacting matters such as health, food security, and overall well-being.

Recognising the need to mitigate the impact of a progressively warming world on the planet, researchers from across disciplines at The University of Edinburgh are working on several projects of strategic importance and value.  

In a collaboration with Dr Daniel Friedrich of the School of Engineering, and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Professor Jamie Cross, in his Covid-19 and Extreme Heat project, investigates the impact of the Covid-19 and extreme heat nexus on poor urban populations across the regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The project also seeks to examine how the pandemic-induced lockdowns have affected the lives of the people living in already poorly ventilated housing facilities in prisons and urban areas.  

Further, in December 2022, of the eight seed funding collaborations announced in partnership with Cornell University, New York, two have heat as their focus – the ‘Making the Thermal Future: A Cornell-Edinburgh Platform for Interdisciplinary Collaboration’ and ‘GEOHUB: A Trans-Atlantic Collaboration on Deep Geothermal Energy Risk Communication’ – projects respectively. The ‘Making the Thermal Future’ project seeks to understand the social and economic implications of a thermal future, with a focus on the ability of emerging heating and cooling solutions to bring communities together. The project also seeks to establish a cross-campus, multidisciplinary network ‘capable of seeding future research and funding opportunities.’  

The GEOHUB project, on the other hand, has the recent advances in deep geothermal systems at its forefront, and concerns itself with what its widespread adoption could mean for the issues of climate change and energy insecurity. Conducting a cross-national US-UK survey to address the public’s concerns on deep geothermal energy, organising multi-stakeholder workshops, and developing an international grant application are also in the pipeline.

Furthering the heat-health nexus, Professor Rebecca Reynolds of the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, researches the impact of heat exposure on maternal health in Malawi.

Climate change is the single, greatest threat to humanity with many impacts on human health. As part of our current campaign, we’re highlighting some of the vital, interdisciplinary research underway here at University of Edinburgh that addresses the complex, intersecting drivers of climate and health globally. Explore further on our dedicated climate and health page.