Deforestation drives increasingly deadly heat in Indonesia: study

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 public domain
A study released Wednesday found that global warming and deforestation in one province of Indonesia caused temperatures to soar by almost a whole degree Celsius over 16 years, leading to an 8 percent increase in deaths.

The Lancet Planetary Health published a report that gives rare insight into the effects of global warming and deforestation on people who live in one of the most vulnerable areas in the world.

Nicholas Wolff, lead author of the Nature Conservancy, told AFP that heat from deforestation is killing workers in tropical forests countries and decreasing their ability to work safely.

Because of the concentration of resources in developed countries studies on the effects of global warming on mortality and health have mainly focused on the global north.

Wolff stated that there is a dearth of studies on the effects of climate change on those most at risk and least responsible.

His team used publicly available data to reveal how the clearing of 4,375 square kilometres (1,690 square miles) of forest in the Berau Regency increased daily maximum temperatures by 0.95degC--on top of already warmer global temperatures--between 2002 and 2018.

Berau lost 17 percent of its tree cover, and the heat increased made outdoor work unsafe for 20 more minutes each day. This led to an estimated 104 deaths.

The study uses climate modeling to project that if there is +3degC global warming against preindustrial levels (or +2degC towards 2018 levels), deaths could rise by approximately 260 annually.

"Different reality"

Wolff's team used satellite imagery information to determine how much Berau tree cover was lost between 2002--2018--years in which conditions were generally stable.

The subsequent temperature change was calculated and they found that almost a whole degree Celsius had been recorded in the area in just 16 years, while the temperatures remained stable in the rest of the country.

Wolff said that such rapid change is quite remarkable.

Wolff stated that the globe has warmed by a degree over the past 150 years, referring to warming above pre-industrial levels.

These forests disappear in a matter of weeks or months and you suddenly find yourself living in a totally different reality.

To calculate the likely number of deaths from heat-related causes, researchers used data from public health in other regions.

Wolff however, claims that warmer temperatures make it more difficult to work outside for a greater part of the day. This is a similarly grim finding.

He said that "it's going to impact so many of the larger population." "People will have to make these terrible choices about whether or not to risk their lives in order to put food on the tables."

The third-largest rainforest in the world is found in Indonesia. Although deforestation has slowed significantly since 2015, economic drivers such as agriculture, logging, and mining have meant that the trees are still disappearing.

Global Forest Watch reported that the country had 93.8million hectares (230,000,000 acres) of primary forests in 2001. This is an area roughly the size of Egypt.

This area was down by around 10 percent by 2020.

Wolff claims that forests act as natural air conditioners, which is a positive finding.

He said that they are "probably the best option for adapting to climate changes for these countries", and added that regrowing deforested areas is an important option.

"Keeping what is left is a better option."

Learn more Five million deaths each year due to global climate-related abnormal temperatures

(c) 2021 AFP