By Anders Lorenzen
Anyone who has been following the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be well aware of the extreme heat many of the athletes have had to compete in.
Greenpeace East Asia has been analysing how the scorching temperatures experienced at Tokyo 2020 are becoming more frequent in cities across East Asia.
Hot weather arriving earlier
The researchers analyzed temperature data for 57 cities across mainland China, Korea and Japan and found that hot weather was arriving earlier in the year in more than 80% of cities.
For instance in Tokyo and Seoul, the first hot day of the year (30°C or higher) arrived on average 11 days earlier during the period 2001-2020 compared to the previous two decades. In Shanghai, the first hot day arrived 12 days earlier, and in Sapporo, it shifted forward a full 23 days. Olympic viewers would have noted that due to the heat, some outdoor events started as early as 6.30 in the morning.
Extreme heat consistent with climate impacts
Greenpeace East Asia climate urgency project manager Mikyoung Kim said: “Over the past two weeks we have seen multiple Olympic athletes collapse due to heatstroke. Earlier this summer, extreme temperatures in Guangdong, China forced factories to shut down, and in Korea, hundreds of thousands of livestock were reported dead due to heatwaves. These extreme heat events are consistent with the region’s changing climate. Dangerous temperatures will only become more frequent unless governments switch from polluting fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources, including wind and solar.”
Extreme heat on the rise
According to the research, across the region cities are also experiencing increasingly severe and frequent heatwaves. Between 2001 and 2020, the frequency of heatwaves in Beijing was nearly three times that of the previous 40-year period. In Tokyo, the number of days with a temperature of 33°C or higher has more than doubled since the 1960s the analysis shows.
Extreme temperatures and the early arrival of hot weather causes severe ecosystem, agriculture and health impacts. The elderly, people who work outdoors, and those with chronic health conditions are, particularly at risk. Between 2000 and 2018, heat-related deaths in people over the age of 65 increased by 54% worldwide, with Japan and eastern China facing disproportionate impacts.
Greenpeace East Asia has taken the opportunity of the extreme heat during Tokyo 2020 to repeat the plea to governments to take urgent action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas emissions. Kim said: “Governments must take immediate measures to protect people’s health amid extreme weather. There is an urgent need to strengthen climate targets, including an end to all financing of the fossil fuel industry, and implement a switch to 100% renewable energy as quickly as possible.”
At the end of this year, world leaders will gather in Glasgow, UK for the crucial COP26 UN climate summit.