Climatic Change

, Volume 142, Issue 3–4, pp 407–418 | Cite as

Cold- and heat-related mortality: a cautionary note on current damage functions with net benefits from climate change

  • Veronika HuberEmail author
  • Dolores Ibarreta
  • Katja Frieler


Several economic assessments of climate change build on the assumption that reductions of cold-related mortality will overcompensate increases in heat-related mortality at least for moderate levels of global warming. Due to the lack of suitable epidemiological studies with sufficient spatial coverage, many of these assessments rely on one particular dataset: projections of temperature-related mortality in 17 countries published almost 20 years ago. Here, we reanalyse this dataset with a focus on cardiovascular mortality and present evidence for two flaws in the original analysis, which would imply a significant bias towards finding net mortality benefits from climate change: (i) the combination of mortality data for all ages with data specific to the elderly and (ii) the confounding of seasonal effects with direct temperature effects on mortality. This bias appears to be further amplified in the integrated assessment models FUND and ENVISAGE, and related economic assessment tools relying on the same calibration scheme, because heat-related cardiovascular mortality is assumed to affect urban populations only in these models. In an exemplary calculation, we show that while FUND currently projects a net reduction of approximately 380,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases globally per year at 1 °C of global warming, correcting for the two potential flaws and assuming equal vulnerability of urban and rural populations would result in a net increase of cardiovascular mortality, with approximately 150,000 net additional deaths globally per year. Our findings point to the urgent need of renewing damage functions on temperature-related mortality currently applied in some of the most widely used integrated assessment models.


Cardiovascular Mortality Damage Function Damage Cost Fund Region Respiratory Mortality 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The study was undertaken as part of a scientific collaboration between the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Joint Research Center of the European Commission. The views expressed are purely those of the authors and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the European Commission. We thank Simon Gosling and three anonymous referees for very helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Online Resource 1 (PDF 993 kb)
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Online Resource 2 (PDF 362 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Veronika Huber
    • 1
    Email author
  • Dolores Ibarreta
    • 2
  • Katja Frieler
    • 1
  1. 1.Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact ResearchPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.European Commission - Joint Research Center, Edificio EXPOSevillaSpain

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