The heat waves caused by climate change -increasingly frequent, long-lasting and intense- will not be a problem of the future, they already are. Between 1992 and 2013 alone, extreme heat caused losses of more than 16 billion euros to the global economy.
In addition, according to a study led by the University of Dartmouth (New Hampshire, USA) and published this Friday in the journal Science Advances, and collected by EFE, the poorest countries with the lowest carbon emissions have been the ones that have suffered the consequences of these extreme phenomena.
The study, which is one of the first to examine specifically how much heatwaves affect economic output, concludes that until now, the costs of climate change have been completely underestimated.
To make the calculations, the team combined economic data from regions around the world with the average temperature of the five hottest days of the year in each region.
They found that, between 1992 and 2013, heat waves statistically coincided with variations in the economy, in which, due to the effect of high temperatures on human health, productivity and agricultural production, more than 16 billion euros were lost.
In view of these data, the authors call for ‘immediate’ measures to protect the population in heat episodes, especially in the warmest and most economically vulnerable nations in the world.
Furthermore, “the cost of such adaptation measures should not be assessed by price alone, but relative to the cost of doing nothing. Our research has already shown what the price of doing nothing is,” warns Christopher Callahan, lead author of the study and researcher at Dartmouth.
Justice and climate inequality
The study denounces that the economic costs of extreme heat have been and will be borne “disproportionately” by poor countries (tropical and southern) which, moreover, are the ones that have contributed the least to global warming.
According to their data, while economic losses due to extreme heat events averaged 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the richest regions of the world, low-income regions lost 6, 7% of GDP per capita.
The study also reveals that, to some extent, certain regions of Europe and North America – which are among the world’s biggest carbon emitters – could theoretically benefit economically from having periods of warmer days.
“We are in a situation where the drivers of global warming and changes in extreme heat have more resources to be resilient to those changes and, in some rare cases, could benefit from it,” says co-author of the paper, Justin Mankin.
There is, adds the study, “a huge transfer of international wealth from the poorest countries in the world to the richest through climate change, and that transfer must be reversed.”
Mankin and Callahan conclude that the world’s top emitters should foot much of the bill for adaptation to extreme heat events, in addition to helping lower-income nations develop low-carbon economies. Sharing the costs of adaptation measures would benefit everyone, Mankin concludes.
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