As of Thursday, more than 1,000 people have died because of a heat wave in Pakistan, a catastrophe made worse by its coincidence with Ramadan, during which many Muslims refrain from eating or drinking water during daylight hours. The heat wave is the latest of several episodes of fatally severe weather across the world this summer, including droughts, storms, and floods in the United States and Mexico.
As NPR’s Christopher Joyce has explained, it can be difficult to trace whether any single bout of extreme weather is attributable to climate change—witness the debate among scientists in Pakistan on whether the country’s heat wave is linked to a changing climate. But there is widespread scientific consensus that climate change generally makes extreme weather events such as flooding, droughts, and heat waves much more frequent and more intense.
A major report this week from The Lancet finds that climate change significantly increases the fatal risks of these types of events. The report, which was backed by the World Health Organization, diagnosed climate change as “a medical emergency” with the power to undo 50 years of progress in global health. In a landmark document released last week, Pope Francis aimed to focus the world’s attention on the matter of how climate change impacts the poor. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” he wrote. According to NOAA and NASA, this year is on track to supplant last year as the warmest year on record.