Heat stress experienced by the people of Sydney in Australia could be further exacerbated by climate-change-induced temperature rises and increasing levels of air pollution, according to new research by CSIRO scientist, Dr Martin Cope.
Speaking at the GREENHOUSE 2009 conference in Perth, Dr Cope said the number of days Sydney experiences temperatures of 30°C or more is projected to increase significantly in the future.
"This, in turn, will increase fire risk and associated levels of air pollution," Dr Cope said.
"At higher temperatures, polluting compounds from sources such as motor vehicles or bushfires react in the air to generate ozone.
"This again is of particular concern because high levels of ozone in the atmosphere can also trigger a number of health problems including aggravation of asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema."
He said increasingly frequent hot days could lead to more frequent smog episodes and a major increase in heat stress-related deaths and hospitalisations, particularly among the elderly.
"We have modelled climate and ozone pollution for Sydney for a 2050-2060 climate change scenario and found that the number of hospital admissions due to ozone pollution is predicted to increase by up to three times the current rate."
The World Health Organisation estimates that climate change may already cause over 150,000 premature deaths worldwide each year.
In a related address to the conference, a consultant with sustainability firm Net Balance, Nicole Joffe, said that between 2081-2100, extreme heat stress cases in the Melbourne region could increase by at least 100 per cent and up to 226 per cent above levels recorded in 1981-2000.