Projecting Future Climate Change Impacts on Heat-Related Mortality in Large Urban Areas in China

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Global climate change is anticipated to raise overall temperatures and has the potential to increase future mortality attributable to heat. Urban areas are particularly vulnerable to heat because of high concentrations of susceptible people. As the world's largest developing country, China has experienced noticeable changes in climate, partially evidenced by frequent occurrence of extreme heat in urban areas, which could expose millions of residents to summer heat stress that may result in increased health risk, including mortality. While there is a growing literature on future impacts of extreme temperatures on public health, projecting changes in future health outcomes associated with climate warming remains challenging and underexplored, particularly in developing countries. This is an exploratory study aimed at projecting future heat-related mortality risk in major urban areas in China. We focus on the 51 largest Chinese cities that include about one third of the total population in China, and project the potential changes in heat-related mortality based on 19 different global-scale climate models and three Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). City-specific risk estimates for high temperature and all-cause mortality were used to estimate annual heat-related mortality over two future twenty-year time periods. We estimated that for the 20-year period in Mid-21st century (2041-2060) relative to 1970-2000, incidence of excess heat-related mortality in the 51 cities to be approximately 37,800 (95% CI: 31,300-43,500), 31,700 (95% CI: 26,200-36,600) and 25,800 (95% CI: 21,300-29,800) deaths per year under RCP8.5, RCP4.5 and RCP2.6, respectively. Slowing climate change through the most stringent emission control scenario RCP2.6, relative to RCP8.5, was estimated to avoid 12,900 (95% CI: 10,800-14,800) deaths per year in the 51 cities in the 2050s, and 35,100 (95% CI: 29,200-40,100) deaths per year in the 2070s. The highest mortality risk is primarily in cities located in the North, East and Central regions of China. Population adaptation to heat is likely to reduce excess heat mortality, but the extent of adaptation is still unclear. Future heat mortality risk attributable to exposure to elevated warm season temperature is likely to be considerable in China's urban centers, with substantial geographic variations. Climate mitigation and heat risk management are needed to reduce such risk and produce substantial public health benefits.