City-level vulnerability to temperature-related mortality in the USA and future projections: a geographically clustered meta-regression

Elsevier, The Lancet Planetary Health, Volume 5, June 2021
Lay C.R., Sarofim M.C., Vodonos Zilberg A., Mills D.M., Jones R.W., Schwartz J. et al.

Background: Extreme heat exposure can lead to premature death. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme heat events, resulting in many additional heat-related deaths globally, as well as changing the nature of extreme cold events. At the same time, vulnerability to extreme heat has decreased over time, probably due to a combination of physiological, behavioural, infrastructural, and technological adaptations. We aimed to account for these changes in vulnerability and avoid overstated projections for temperature-related mortality. We used the historical observed decrease in vulnerability to improve future mortality estimates. Methods: We used historical mortality and temperature data from 208 US cities to quantify how observed changes in vulnerability from 1973 to 2013 affected projections of temperature-related mortality under various climate scenarios. We used geographically structured meta-regression to characterise the relationship between temperature and mortality for these urban populations over the specified time period. We then used the fitted relationships to project mortality under future climate conditions. Findings: Between Oct 26, 2018, and March 9, 2020, we established that differences in vulnerability to temperature were geographically structured. Vulnerability decreased over time in most areas. US mortalities projected from a 2°C increase in mean temperature decreased by more than 97% when using 2003–13 data compared with 1973–82 data. However, these benefits declined with increasing temperatures, with a 6°C increase showing only an 84% decline in projected mortality based on 2003–13 data. Interpretation: Even after accounting for adaptation, the projected effects of climate change on premature mortality constitute a substantial public health risk. Our work suggests large increases in temperature will require additional mitigation to avoid excess mortality from heat events, even in areas with high air conditioning coverage in place. Funding: The US Environmental Protection Agency and Abt Associates.