Days where the temperature exceeds 50C degrees have doubled since the 1980s, and now occur in more parts of the world, according to new analysis from the BBC.
The analysis was commissioned by the BBC World Service for their new series, Life at 50°C and carried out by BBC News’ data journalism unit. It reveals that temperatures reached 50C or more on 14 days per year on average between 1980 and 2009, but since 2010 the number of days that has surpassed the extraordinary temperature is now 26.
BBC News examined data across a forty-year period and found that the total number of days above 50C increased in each decade since 1980. The BBC’s research also found significant increases in maximum temperatures around the world.
Days above 50C mostly occurred in places in the Middle East and the Gulf. Scientists expect even more areas to break the 50C mark in future.
The BBC’s analysis also revealed that the number of days over 45C has increased by around two weeks per year on average when comparing the same 40-year period.
The Life at 50°C research also found that globally, in the most recent decade, maximum temperatures over both land and sea increased by 0.5C compared with the long-term average from 1980 to 2009.
Some areas like Eastern Europe, southern Africa, and Brazil saw maximum temperatures rise by more than 1C, while parts of the Arctic and the Middle East recorded increases of more than 2C.
The research was carried out to launch the BBC’s Life at 50°C. The series, which will run across BBC outlets and digital platforms, presents the reality of climate change through stories of people around the world and explores how communities living in cities and rural areas have had to adapt their lives to cope with extreme heat. It has been produced by BBC News Arabic, in collaboration with BBC’s Indian language services, BBC News Mundo and BBC News Urdu.
Life at 50°C launched with Nigeria Burning a film set in Nigeria that explores the impact severe heat has had on communities in the country’s Niger Delta and its central areas.
Film on Pakistan How to Cool a Megacity: One man in Pakistan is trying to find a solution of rising temperatures that is causing respiratory problems, exhaustion and heat stroke.
Follow more films highlighting the challenges of climate change in India and other parts of the world on BBC, BBC Indian Languages website and social media.
Dr Friederike Otto, a leading climate scientist from the University of Oxford, told the BBC that she believes the increase in the days and places above 50C “can be 100% attributed to the burning of fossil fuels.”
Extreme heat can make disasters, such as wildfires and droughts more likely, and can have devastating consequences for human health. It can also parch the land as higher temperatures boost evaporation from the soil. Increasing temperatures could even lead to many parts of the planet becoming too hot for people to live in.
Heat stress conditions could affect as many as 1.2 billion people around the world by 2100 if current levels of global warming continue, according to a Rutgers University study published last year. This figure is at least four times more than those affected today.
Dr Sihan Li of the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford told the BBC: "We need to act quickly. The faster we cut our emissions, the better off we'll all be. With continued emissions and lack of action, not only will these extreme heat events become more severe and more frequent, but emergency response and recovery will become more challenging."