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Global warming may 'double heat deaths'
THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Deaths from heatwaves in big cities worldwide are expected to double over the next two decades if nothing is done to curb global warming, the United Nations weather agency has warned.
As world leaders from 185 countries wrestled with negotiations aimed at reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere globally, the U.N.'s weather experts delivered a dour message.
"Heatwaves are expected to become a major killer," said World Meteorological Organisation Secretary General Godwin Obasi.
Small increases in global temperatures due to growing amounts of "greenhouse gases" are amplified in big cities, he told a news briefing on the sidelines of U.N. negotiations to reach a global strategy against climate change.
Negotiators are struggling in The Hague this week to hammer out rules on implementing a pact sealed in Kyoto, Japan, three years ago that set targets for cutting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide implicated in climate change.
In the 15 biggest U.S. cities an average of 1,500 people collapse and die from heatwaves each year, a significant increase over the past decade, Obasi said, without giving previous comparative figures.
The annual death toll from heatwaves in those big U.S. cities is expected to balloon to 3,000 to 4,000 by 2020, he said.
Other cities around the world expected to see burgeoning deaths from heat include Toronto, Shanghai, Athens and Madrid, Obasi said.
The problem is expected to be more acute in sprawling so-called mega-cities in poor countries, which have more difficulty informing people about how to prevent heat stroke and where infrastructure is lacking.
In the U.S., deaths from hurricanes have been slashed drastically due to early warning systems and evacuation procedures, but in poor countries the effects can be devastating, leading to hundreds or thousands of deaths.
Obasi said it is feared the same equation would hold true with respect to heatwaves.
Carbon dioxide and other gases, scientists say, will boost global temperatures by between 2.7F to 10.8F during this century.
U.N. scientific experts say a warmer world is likely to spread disease in tropical regions, cause sea levels to rise and increase the rate of severe storms.
Globally, the 1990s was the warmest decade on record and 1998 the hottest year.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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