Climate Change Intensifies Heatwaves across Southeast Asia

Laos Still Doesn’t Have a Heat Action Plan to Combat Heat Waves
Man wipes his sweat with cloth.

Amidst a climate of confusion, Laos finds itself grappling with the unpredictable extremes of heatwaves and cold snaps. This trend is not isolated to Laos alone but is a sign of the larger global challenge posed by climate change.

Since mid-February, Laos has experienced a sudden surge in temperature, with some provinces forecast to reach over 37 degrees Celsius this week. Meanwhile, residents of other areas in the north of the country were caught off guard by unexpectedly cold mornings.

While Laos typically experiences rising temperatures during the dry season, the country recorded lower temperatures during the same period last year. In late February 2023, temperatures across Laos ranged from 10 to 22 degrees Celsius for lows and from 18 to 35 degrees Celsius for highs, according to the Meteorology and Hydrology Department.

Not only is Laos experiencing rising temperatures, but February is also on a good track to break numerous heat records regionally and globally due to human-induced global warming and the El Niño climate pattern, the Guardian reported.

“The planet is warming at an accelerating rate. We are seeing rapid temperature increases in the ocean, the climate’s largest reservoir of heat,” Dr. Joel Hirschi, who serves as the associate head of marine systems modeling at the UK National Oceanography Centre, told the Guardian.

Globally, Southeast Asia is widely recognized as one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change, and the region is expected to experience stronger heat waves, with temperatures already surpassing previous records.

Experts predict that due to El Niño, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and other southern Vietnamese localities will experience longer and more intense heat waves this year compared to 2023. In recent exceptionally sunny days, temperatures around noon in the southern region of Vietnam have consistently hovered around 36–37 degrees Celsius, indicating a rise in heat and leading to dehydration and fatigue among the population.

Le Dinh Quyet, head of the forecast department of the center of Vietnam, told Vietnam Express that prolonged heat, along with decreased rainfall, may result in droughts, salt intrusion in agricultural areas, and erosion risks in the Mekong Delta, exacerbated by climate change’s projected higher temperatures and increased rainfall and flooding later in the year.

In Thailand, the Meteorological Department of Thailand also forecasted an onset of summer later this month, with extreme heat anticipated in March and April, reaching temperatures as high as 43–45 degrees Celsius in some provinces. 

To address the issue, urgent global action is needed to mitigate climate change and transition to green development, as discussed at the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in July 2023.