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Study predicts the impact of climate change on mortality in the short and long term

30 march
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A study conducted by Mónica Rodrigues, researcher at the Centre for Geography and Spatial Planning Studies (CEGOT) of the University of Coimbra (UC), estimates the impact of climate change on mortality in Portugal in the short and long term.

Mónica Rodrigues used advanced models during her research to quantify the effects of temperature on mortality in the short (2051-2065) and long term (2085-2099), and also developed studies that include prospective demographic scenarios in projections of temperature-related mortality under current and future conditions (2046-2065), taking into account cold and heat-related mortality.

According to the researcher, the use of these models allows "obtaining results on the identification of factors inherent to climate vulnerability, considering the impacts of climate change on the aggravation of preventable deaths, as well as identifying the age groups with associated vulnerabilities in the light of future scenarios. The goal is to continue to strengthen knowledge about modelling and simulation of the impacts of climate change on population health in Portugal".

The study identified particularly the age groups (under 65 and over 65) at risk regarding climate change impact on circulatory system diseases in the Metropolitan Areas of Lisbon and Porto.

Mónica Rodrigues explains that these results show that for future periods "an increase in temperature is expected, both in summer and in winter, with a greater frequency of heat waves, influencing mortality. For example, in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, during the summer months, an increase in mortality associated with extreme heat is observed, in all ages, of around 1.58% and 0.10% in both periods (2051-2065 and 2085-2099, respectively), compared to the historical period (1991-2005)".

"Mortality associated with extreme heat is higher in the +65 years group than in the <65 years group, namely 2.22% vs. 1.38% in 2085-2099, compared to the historical period. However, in the Metropolitan Area of Porto, only the group +65 years shows significant impacts with mortality associated with heat from 0.23% in 2051-2065 to 1.37% in 2085-2099, "she adds.

For the winter months the study estimates for the Lisbon Metropolitan Area a decrease in extreme cold-related mortality in the range of 0.55% for 2051-2065 vs. 1991-2005 and 0.45% for 2085-2099 vs. 1991-2005. Similarly, in the Metropolitan Area of Porto there is a decrease in cold-related mortality around 0.31% in the short term (2051-2065) and 0.49% in the long term (2085-2099), compared to the historical period (1991-2005).

According to the expert, the results obtained through climate and health modelling "can, and should, influence policy making and include a preventive approach. The absence of quantitative projections that include climate change in scenarios of possible demographic changes and adaptations limits the evidence on emerging health risks, definitions of temperature exposure at local level and the identification of geographical areas/zones where the risk is higher".

The doctoral thesis conducted by researcher Mónica Rodrigues is unprecedented, being published in the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, which attests to the quality and reliability of the research. Moreover, it was highlighted in one of the most prestigious reports with global relevance, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - "Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (IPCC, WGII)" -, the main world body that studies climate change.

Mónica Rodrigues is an expert member of working groups at the World Health Organization, the European Environment Agency, the Environment Agency (in Austria), and is a member of the group of experts and peer reviewers for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Her research has been focused on studying the impact of climate change on chronic diseases in Portugal and Europe.

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Original news article in Portuguese: Cristina Pinto

English version: Diana Taborda