Study finds global warming is reducing the number of people dying from the cold, but there's a catch

Five million people die every year as a result of abnormal temperatures linked to climate change, a new study has found.

But while that number would be even higher if the planet wasn't warming, scientists say climate change is nothing to celebrate. 

Scientists at Melbourne's Monash University analysed temperature and mortality data from dozens of countries across the world over the first 20 years of this century, which have seen the rate of warming speed up. 

The conclusion? More than 9 percent of all deaths around the world can be blamed on the temperature - most of them due to the cold. 

Cold-related deaths decreased 0.51 percent between 2000 and 2019, and heat deaths rose 0.21 percent - this led to a "reduction in net mortality due to cold and hot temperatures", the scientists said. 

The most deaths due to heat per capita happened in Europe, while sub-Saharan Africa had the worst mortality when it came to the cold. 

New Zealand and Australia were lumped together in the study, which said between them they experience about 19,000 excess deaths each year due to abnormal temperatures - only about one in seven of those due to excess heat. 

Overall, most deaths due to abnormal temperatures happen in Asia - 2.6 million each year, 2.4 million of them due to cold. 

According to NASA, 19 of the world's hottest years since records began have happened in the past 20 years. Every year in the past decade has been hotter than the 20th century's record-holder, 1998. Global mean temperatures are increasing about 0.26C a decade. 

"As each new year is added to the historical record, it becomes one of the top 10 warmest on record at that time, but it is ultimately replaced as the 'top ten' window shifts forward in time," according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Global warming may "slightly reduce the number of temperature-related deaths, largely because of the lessening in cold-related mortality" said Prof Yuming Guo, who led the research.

But that doesn't mean we should stick with gas-guzzling cars and coal-burning power stations.

"In the long run, climate change is expected to increase the mortality burden," the study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, said. That's because, Dr Guo says, "hot-related mortality would be continuing to increase". 

In other words, eventually the growing number of deaths attributable to excess heat would surpass those saved.