Extreme heat affects billions of worker productivity

Global warming is draining tens of billions of dollars of economic productivity each year from some of the world’s largest cities, according to new research from the Atlantic Council.

The problem is the effect of extreme heat on workers. The report estimates that annual worker productivity losses averaged $ 44 billion in the 12 cities included in the research. That figure is expected to rise to $ 84 billion by 2050 unless heat-trapping greenhouse gases are reduced, the analysis says.

“Climate-induced heat is changing the way we live and work, but current awareness of this silent and invisible threat is dangerously insufficient,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, senior vice president and director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience. Center at the Atlantic Council, in a statement accompanying the publication of the report.

The researchers looked at a range of cities, from the Greek capital Athens to the Indian capital New Delhi. In the United States they studied Miami and Los Angeles.

They found that as productivity losses increase, cities will have fewer financial resources to pursue climate adaptation and resilience measures, creating what the authors have called the “pernicious effects” of urban heat. Researchers predicted that by 2050, more than 970 cities would experience high average summer temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to 354 cities today.

Yet cities continue to grow as rural economies lose workers, forcing tens of millions of unemployed and underemployed into urban areas. According to the World Bank, 4.4 billion people, or 56 percent of the world’s population, live in urban areas. That figure is expected to rise to 6 billion by 2045 based on population growth and migration projections.

“The disproportionate impact of heat on cities – and the ironic reality that more and more people are flocking to them due to escalating climate impacts elsewhere – has forced us to quantify and explore the economic and social ramifications of our roasted planet.” Baughman McLeod said.

Declines in productivity will vary between cities based on their main economic sectors, geographic location, history and culture, and other socioeconomic factors. As a result, “cities in the global South face greater and rapidly increasing impacts from worker productivity as a share of production in low- and middle-income cities,” the researchers said. They include Bangkok, Thailand; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Freetown, Sierra Leone; and New Delhi.

Dhaka, for example, is expected to see an 8.3% loss in worker productivity as a share of total economic output, according to the report, while Bangkok will see a nearly 5% reduction. “These losses are particularly bad for the low-paid sectors,” with outdoor workers losing 40% of their economic output, according to the analysis.

Freetown, a coastal capital in West Africa with 1.27 million people, will go from nine to 120 extremely hot days by 2050. Night temperatures will also rise, a “critical aspect of predicting injury and loss from extreme heat,” says the analysis. The city, which recently appointed a designated heater, has launched a campaign to plant 1 million trees and is working to provide shade facilities for female traders in three large open-air markets.

“We will continue to work to protect the Freetonians from this invisible threat,” said Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr.

Even the richest cities will experience profound economic pain due to lost productivity.

In Miami, the combination of increased heat and humidity is projected to double economic losses, from $ 10 billion to $ 20 billion, over the next three decades. In a statement, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava noted that extreme heat has a particular impact on “our most vulnerable and enclosed outdoor workers.” She said the city is working to add more green infrastructure, including expanding its canopy, to relieve external heat stress.

Los Angeles, which currently records nearly $ 5 billion in worker productivity loss in an average year, according to the analysis, will also see heat-related economic losses doubling to $ 11 billion by 2050. The city’s economy will be affected but disproportionate impacts would be felt on construction workers, the analysis says.

London, with a generally milder climate than many southern cities, “is not prepared for episodes of intense heat, which occur with increasing frequency.” The problem will be exacerbated by thermal stress on infrastructures such as highways and railway lines that are aging or not designed to withstand high temperatures.

“In the Northern Hemisphere, this past summer painted a stark and terrifying picture of the devastating impacts of our ever-warming planet, where extreme heat currently kills more people worldwide than any other climate-induced disaster,” says the analyses.

Other cities evaluated in the report are Buenos Aires, Argentina; Monterrey, Mexico; Santiago, Chile; and Sidney.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environmental professionals.

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