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Heat, cold and climate change
  1. Alistair Woodward
  1. Correspondence to Professor Alistair Woodward, School of Population Health, The University of Auckland, Auckland 1142, New Zealand; a.woodward{at}auckland.ac.nz

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Heat is the most direct route from climate change to human health. The links between high temperatures and increased mortality and morbidity have been described in great detail in many settings around the world,1 and the physiological mechanisms are well understood.2 The effects are frequently magnified when there are consecutive days of very high temperatures (heat waves). Indeed extreme events such as the European heat wave of 2003 may provide some of the first evidence of impacts of climate change on human health. (The probability that the 2003 heat wave was caused by human modification of the global climate is more than 75%, according to one recent estimate3: it is more likely than not that the heat wave, and the accompanying tens of thousands of excess deaths, can be attributed to climate change.)

It is ‘virtually certain’, according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate (IPCC) assessment of the science of climate change, that there will be warmer and/or more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas in the remainder of the 21st century.4 Consequently there is great …

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