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Extreme heat made worse by climate change places global security on thin ice

Sun beaming over dry, cracked soil and rock landscape
Sun beaming over dry, cracked earth landscape. Photo by M K on Unsplash.
  • More frequent and severe extreme heat is threatening global stability. Global security cooperation is critical, and the United Nations Security Council must step up to address this existential threat.


A new briefing from E3G examines the global security implications of increasingly frequent and severe heatwaves. Extreme heat events are on the rise globally, with climate change ‘making heat waves longer, hotter, more likely, and more dangerous’. From Canada to Greece to Siberia to Iraq, the heatwaves experienced in 2021 ‘were so extreme that they lie far outside the range of historically observed temperatures’, contributing to wildfires, power outages, and instability.

Demand for mechanical cooling is projected to treble by 2050 as heatwaves intensify, driving further emissions. The cascading risks of extreme heat will exacerbate ongoing global challenges – including resource pressures, widening inequality, and political instability – acting as a threat multiplier. Global security cooperation is critical, and the United Nations Security Council must step up to address the threat to health, food security, and political stability.

  • Extreme heat has direct impacts on health, infrastructure, and habitability. In June 2021, Pakistan experienced extreme heat that exceeded wet bulb temperatures safe for humans. Regions in Pakistan, India, China, and the Arabian Peninsula are at risk to experience wet-bulb temperatures under which humans are unable to cool themselves. Exceeding this threshold may lead to higher rates of urbanisation, migration, and increased resource pressures.
  • Extreme heat has indirect impacts on agriculture, energy security, and productivity. Heat stress is projected to cost $2.4 trillion in GDP and reduce working hours by 2.2% by 2030 – the equivalent of losing 80 million full time jobs. Extreme heat can also threaten medical cold chains, compromising essential medicines and vaccines.
  • Extreme heat has systemic implications for conflict and political stability. During recent heatwaves in Iraq, 24-hour power outages were experienced across the country. Frustration over lack of basic services led to protests in Basra and Baghdad and the resignation of Iraq’s Electricity Minister. Prolonged heat and drought, combined with government mismanagement, has been highlighted as contributing to the 2011 uprising in Syria.

The threat posed by extreme heat requires efforts that both reduce the emissions that cause extreme heat and alleviate its impacts. On mitigation, it is critical that sustainable cooling methods, ones which are resilient to blackouts and stable in the face of extreme heat, are established for all. On adaptation, the UN Security Council must, as a priority, address the impact of extreme heat on political stability and delivering the UN mandate.

Read the briefing in full

Quote on extreme heat and global security

Larissa Gross, Research Manager of E3G said:

“This briefing makes clear that extreme heat – worsened by climate change – is putting global security on thin ice. Power systems, food security, and human health are threatened by heatwaves with critical negative impacts on global stability. The UN Security Council must act now to support adaptation and resilience to extreme heat, proactively addressing the cascading risks of extreme heat and safeguarding our common agenda.”

Sophie Bordat, COP26 Champions Team said:

“The world won’t get to net zero if cooling isn’t delivered sustainably. As heatwaves enveloped much of the world, consumers have turned to air-conditioners, fans, and refrigeration products to beat the heat. The sad reality is that much of this cooling is heating the planet further. The cooling sector already represents 7% of GHG emissions and this figure is likely to increase if we keep supplying cooling inefficiently. We need to find the right balance to protect people from heat shocks whilst reducing emissions and alleviating power infrastructure from highly demanding cooling systems.”

Available for comment

Larissa Gross, Research Manager, Cooling & Clean Economy, E3G | +44 (0) 207 593 2043

Taylor Dimsdale, Programme Director, Risk & Resilience, E3G | +1 202 466 0573


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