Jaime Martínez-Urtaza


“This climate crisis affects all living organisms on the planet, not just us”

“last year individuals were exposed to 86 days of temperatures so high they are dangerous to health”

UAB Department of Genetics and Microbiology researcher Jaime Martínez-Urtaza is one of the experts who participated in the Lancet Countdown 2023, the annual report on the impact of climate change on health published in prestigious scientific journal, The Lancet. The molecular epidemiologist and genomics specialist has spent the last few years studying how organisms of different biological complexity can adapt to the changes caused by climate change and survive. The report warns that humanity’s health is at serious risk if there is no profound and rapid mitigation of the causes of climate change, including urgent health-focused climate measures. The study found that last year, on average, individuals were exposed to 86 days of temperatures so high that they are dangerous to health, while also predicting that heat-related deaths will increase 4.7 times by mid-century.

How great is the threat of climate change to our health?
The threat grows year by year, as inaction by the authorities and society increases. We don’t seem to understand where we are headed and this aggravates the situation with regard to the climate and the planet. This is a climate crisis that will affect all living organisms on the planet, not just us. As the problems worsen, more interventions are needed. And there will come a time when these needs will further exacerbate the problem and bring us closer to collapse. Heat waves are an example.
The report says there are already health emergencies caused by climate change.
Right now there are areas of the planet that are already uninhabitable. Places where this year the government had to declare non-working and non-school days so that people did not leave their homes, because temperatures were above 50 degrees. This is the risk we are heading towards, and it has a series of direct and indirect consequences and implications that are difficult to quantify. The movement of populations and arrival of immigrants will be one of the most directly related to this and of greatest concern, depending on how droughts and floods may condition food production and accessibility.
Will we see 50-degree temperatures?
I think it will come to that, the way things are going. I’ve been studying how people in northern Peru and the southern US have been living with these temperatures for some time now. At 30 or 40 plus you can still manage, but over 50 degrees life changes completely, to the point where children go out to play at night.
Will the impact of climate change affect all organisms equally?
The rate of species destruction we’re seeing is exceeding any known figure. The impact on biodiversity is both a very simple and very complex concept, because it is based on balance and, when it is broken, nobody knows what the consequences might be. This is what we study in our research group in the genomics of adaptation to climate change… we look at how different organisms adapt and if they can survive these changes. And what we see is that most complex organisms with a long life cycle, such as mammals, will be impacted very severely, while others benefit. This is the case of organisms that are very effective biologically and have a very short life cycle, such as mosquitoes and other insects. They reproduce very effectively and warming causes their distribution areas to expand. And the fact that they reach places where they were not before is related to the spread of infectious diseases.


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