Background: In China, most previous projections of heat-related mortality have been based on modeling studies using global climate models (GCMs), which can help to elucidate the risks of extreme heat events in a changing climate. However, spatiotemporal changes in the health effects of climate change considering specific regional characteristics remain poorly understood. We aimed to use credible climate and population projections to estimate future heatwave-attributable deaths under different emission scenarios and to explore the drivers underlying these patterns of changes. Methods: We derived climate data from a regional climate model driven by three CMIP5 GCM models and calculated future heatwaves in China under Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 2.6, RCP4.5, and RCP8.5. The future gridded population data were based on Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 2 assumption with different fertility rates. By applying climate zone-specific exposure-response functions to mortality during heatwave events, we projected the scale of heatwave-attributable deaths under each RCP scenario. We further analyzed the factors driving changes in heatwave-related deaths and main sources of uncertainty using a decomposition method. We compared differences in death burden under the 1.5°C target, which is closely related to achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century. Findings: The number of heatwave-related deaths will increase continuously to the mid-century even under RCP2.6 and RCP4.5 scenarios, and will continue increasing throughout the century under RCP8.5. There will be 20,303 deaths caused by heatwaves in 2090 under RCP2.6, 35,025 under RCP4.5, and 72,260 under RCP8.5, with half of all heatwave-related deaths in any scenario concentrated in east and central China. Climate effects are the main driver for the increase in attributable deaths in the near future till 2060, explaining 78% of the total change. Subsequent population decline cannot offset the losses caused by higher incidence of heatwaves and an aging population under RCP8.5. Although health loss under the 1.5°C warming scenario is 1.6-fold higher than the baseline period 1986–2005, limiting the temperature rise to 1.5°C can reduce the annual mortality burden in China by 3,534 deaths in 2090 compared with RCP2.6 scenarios. Interpretation: With accelerating climate change and population aging, the effects of future heatwaves on human health in China are likely to increase continuously even under a low emission scenario. Significant health benefits are expected if the optimistic 1.5°C goal is achieved, suggesting that carbon neutrality by mid-century is a critical target for China's sustainable development. Policymakers need to tighten climate mitigation policies tailored to local conditions while enhancing climate resilience technically and infrastructurally, especially for vulnerable elderly people. Funding: National Key R&D Program of China (2018YFA0606200), Wellcome Trust (209734/Z/17/Z), Natural Science Foundation of China (41790471), and Guangdong Major Project of Basic and Applied Basic Research (2020B0301030004).
The Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific, Volume 28, November 2022,