Direct health effects of extreme temperatures are a significant environmental health problem in Lithuania, and could worsen further under climate change. This paper attempts to describe the change in environmental temperature conditions that the urban population of Vilnius could experience under climate change, and the effects such change could have on excess heat-related and cold-related mortality in two future periods within the 21st century.
We modelled the urban climate of Vilnius for the summer and winter seasons during a sample period (2009–2015) and projected summertime and wintertime daily temperatures for two prospective periods, one in the near (2030–2045) and one in the far future (2085–2100), under the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5. We then analysed the historical relationship between temperature and mortality for the period 2009–2015, and estimated the projected mortality in the near future and far future periods under a changing climate and population, assuming alternatively no acclimatisation and acclimatisation to heat and cold based on a constant-percentile threshold temperature.
During the sample period 2009–2015 in summertime we observed an increase in daily mortality from a maximum daily temperature of 30 °C (the 96th percentile of the series), with an average of around 7 deaths per year. Under a no acclimatisation scenario, annual average heat-related mortality would rise to 24 deaths/year (95% CI: 8.4–38.4) in the near future and to 46 deaths/year (95% CI: 16.4–74.4) in the far future. Under a heat acclimatisation scenario, mortality would not increase significantly in the near or in the far future. Regarding wintertime cold-related mortality in the sample period 2009–2015, we observed increased mortality on days on which the minimum daily temperature fell below − 12 °C (the 7th percentile of the series), with an average of around 10 deaths a year. Keeping the threshold temperature constant, annual average cold-related mortality would decrease markedly in the near future, to 5 deaths/year (95% CI: 0.8–7.9) and even more in the far future, down to 0.44 deaths/year (95% C: 0.1–0.8). Assuming a “middle ground” between the acclimatisation and non-acclimatisation scenarios, the decrease in cold-related mortality will not compensate the increase in heat-related mortality.
Thermal extremes, both heat and cold, constitute a serious public health threat in Vilnius, and in a changing climate the decrease in mortality attributable to cold will not compensate for the increase in mortality attributable to heat. Study results reinforce the notion that public health prevention against thermal extremes should be designed as a dynamic, adaptive process from the inception.
- Heat-related mortality
- Cold-related mortality
- Climate change