Heat stress would make life intolerable for humans in most currently inhabited regions on Earth if the worst-case global warming scenario was to happen, a new study finds.

In an often overlooked consequence of climate change, the research looks at potential global temperature increases over the next three centuries and finds that even modest increases would subject many communities to unprecedented levels of heat stress.

The authors note that the depletion of available fossil fuels might lead to global warming of 12 °C or more, although this is a worst-case outcome, and would only happen well after 2100.

Severe warming would be intolerable because it would push most humans and other mammals beyond the point at which their bodies could eliminate heat through sweating and other biological mechanisms.

"Heat stress is already a leading cause of fatalities from natural phenomena," say Professor Steven Sherwood, of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, and Associate Professor Matthew Huber of Purdue University, in an article published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read the full story at the Faculty of Science website.

Media contact: Steven Sherwood | s.sherwood@unsw.edu.au; Denise Knight, UNSW Media Office | 9385 8920