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It's long been said that climate change will be felt earliest and most severely in the poor nations of the world that contributed the least to the problem. A recent study, along with illuminating data from a new World Bank Report, show how this is the case.

Expand chart
Change in extremely hot days by the end of the century based on two emissions scenarios. Data: World Bank Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals, 2018; Adapted from a World Bank report; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

Why this matters: Solving climate change involves a fundamental mismatch between the countries that emit the most greenhouse gases, and those that stand to suffer the earliest and most from the problem. This is part of the reason of why addressing climate change has been so difficult to solve.

A new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, provides a new way of understanding why a global average temperature increase above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial levels would be tough for poor, tropical nations to adapt to.

  • The study uses the concept of a signal-to-noise ratio, factoring in the typical range of temperatures a region is accustomed to.
  • The signal, according to the study, is the local change in average temperatures related to climate change.
  • The noise is how variable the temperature normally is for that region.

Outside the tropics, places have greater year-to-year variability in temperatures, and are more adapted to a wide range of temperatures — from cold conditions to sizzling heat.

  • But in the equatorial regions, where poorer nations tend to be located, society is accustomed to a higher average temperature that has little variability, or low amount of noise, associated with it. Therefore, it wouldn't take much warming to tip the climate outside of the accustomed range, making warming more noticeable.

What they're saying: Study co-author Andrew King, of the ARC Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes and the University of Melbourne in Australia, told Axios that the metric used in the study shows that even the most stringent temperature target under the Paris Climate Agreement would have a major impact in tropical regions by making intolerably hot temperatures far more common.

"The main result is that, in general, it will be the poorest people on the planet who experience the largest shift in their local climate if we go beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius Paris limit. In the tropics the variability is lower, so the perceptibility of local climate change is higher there."
— King in an email to Axios

The bigger picture: Separate World Bank data released May 24 shows what would happen with heat extremes if there were about 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, and an emissions scenario more consistent with greater than 4 degrees Celsius of warming.

  • In both scenarios, areas closest to the tropics — including some of the most populated places on the planet — would see a marked increase in days with a heat index exceeding 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat index combines temperature and humidity, and is used to measure how hot it feels to the human body.

Take note: The world has already warmed by more than 1-degree Celsius compared to the dawn of the industrial era.

Get more stories like this by signing up for our weekly science newsletter, Axios Science. 

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Group of 20 bipartisan senators back $1.2T infrastructure framework

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) arrives for a meeting with Senate Budget Committee Democrats in the Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol building on June 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Majority Leader and Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee are meeting to discuss how to move forward with the Biden Administrations budget proposal. Photo: Samuel Corum / Getty Images

A group of 10 Democratic and 10 Republican senators (the "G20") tasked with negotiating an infrastructure deal with the White House has released a statement in support of a $1.2 trillion framework.

Why it matters: Details regarding the plan have not yet been released, but getting 10 Republicans on board means the bill could get the necessary 60 votes to pass.

DOJ drops criminal probe, civil lawsuit against John Bolton over Trump book

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Justice Department has closed its criminal investigation into whether President Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton disclosed classified information with his tell-all memoir, “The Room Where it Happened," according to a source with direct knowledge.

Why it matters: The move comes a year after the Trump administration tried to silence Bolton by suing him in federal court, claiming he breached his contract by failing to complete a pre-publication review for classified information. Prosecutors indicated they had reached a settlement with Bolton to drop the lawsuit in a filing on Wednesday.

Fed may raise rates sooner, as inflation is higher than expected

Feb chair Jerome Powell. Photo: Susan Walsh/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve kept rates unchanged at its latest policy meeting, but a shift in sentiment emerged as to how soon it should begin raising rates.

Why it matters: The Fed's rock-bottom rates policy and monthly asset purchases helped the U.S. markets avoid a meltdown during the COVID-19 crisis last year. But as the economy recovers, a chorus is growing for the Fed to at least consider a timeline for pulling back its support before things get overheated.