Talking About the Heat... Aiming To Do Something About It

Just days ago, I was in freezing-cold New York City. Now, here in Ahmedabad, India, it’s 39°C (103°F) on this late March day, and going to get much hotter.

I’m here in India with my NRDC colleagues Anjali Jaiswal and Shravya Reddyto help lead a climate change workshop focused on heat stress, in the ancient city of Ahmedabad. With our partners the Public Health Foundation of India and the Indian Institute of Public Health leading the way, dozens Indian expert scientists, and local health and government officials all have gathered to talk about the heat and aim to do something about it - namely, develop ways to reduce city residents' heat vulnerability.

Along with a group of leading US scientists who work on climate change’s effects on health, we're here to listen and learn from one another. We know that the burden of heat-related illness and mortality here in Ahmedabad is already a grave concern. Climate change is projected to raise temperatures another 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) by the 2080s - heat that will likely be too much for the most vulnerable among the City's 5.5 million people, especially children, the elderly, people who work outdoors or are street vendors. The frequency and duration of heat waves is projected increase, too, according to global climate models.

The workshop is off to a great start, with fantastic support from the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum. A refreshing difference here at the Ahmedabad workshop is, none of the officials are denying the reality of rising temperatures and accelerating climate change. This western state has long experienced extreme heat, and is among the driest in India. Its own expert scientists document the rapid rise of temperatures in the recent past, and project that further health-harming changes are in store. There’s a high level of commitment to finding ways to help reduce deaths from the heat that sweeps over this booming city each year from May through September, when temperatures of 45-51°C (113-124°F) are not uncommon.

Ahmedabad has an estimated 440,000 residents who live in its slums and are highly vulnerable to heat stress during the hottest days. But it also has technical centers, universities, and research institutes, and is a magnet for high-tech industries. An inspired way to turn young people's sights toward solving issues of climate change and health came from Mr. Chandrasinh Thakor, Deputy Secretary to the Government of Gujarat’s Climate Change Department during Day 1 of the Workshop. Mr. Thakor says all first-year college students at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad are required to pass a 100-point test on climate change.

That’s one way to make sure the next generation is up-to-date on climate-health issues. Around the conference table here in Ahmedabad, all discussion for the next two and a half days will be aimed at imagining ways to help the people of the city thrive in a dramatically warmer future. Today, we will discuss ideas for developing strategies reduce harm from heat in local communities, especially the most heat-vulnerable, and see what opportunities and challenges exist to implementing a successful adaptation plan. Stay tuned!