Extreme Heat Saps Billions in Worker Productivity

Extreme Heat Saps Billions in Worker Productivity

Global Warming is destroying tens billions of dollars of economic productivity each year from some of world’s most important cities, according to new research by the Atlantic Council.

The problem is the impact of extreme heat on workers. The report estimated that annual worker productivity losses amounted to $44 billion on average across the 12 cities included in the research. That figure is projected to rise to $84 billion by 2050 unless heat-trapping greenhouse gases are drawn down, the analysis said.

“Climate driven heat is changing how we live and work, but current awareness of this silent, invisible threat is dangerously inadequate,” stated Kathy Baughman McLeod (senior vice president and director, Adrienne Arsht–Rockefeller Foundation Ressilience Center at Atlantic Council), in a statement that was released with the report’s publication.

The researchers looked at a variety of cities, including Athens in Greece and New Delhi in India. They also studied Los Angeles and Miami in the United States.

They found that cities will lose more productivity, which means they will have less money to invest in climate adaptation and resilience measures. This creates what the authors call the “pernicious consequences” of urban heat. Researchers projected that by 2050, more than 970 cities would experience average summertime high temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to 354 cities today.

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

“Heat has a disproportionate effect on cities–and it is ironic that more people are flocking there due to increasing climate impacts elsewhere–compelled me to quantify and explore both the economic and social consequences of our roasting planet,” Baughman McCLeod stated.

Productivity drops will vary between cities depending on their core economic sectors and geographic location. According to the researchers, cities in the Global South will experience greater and more rapid increases in worker productivity as a percentage of output in low- and middle-income cities. These include Bangkok, Thailand, Dhaka Bangladesh, Freetown, Sierra Leone, and New Delhi.

The report showed that

Dhaka will experience an 8.3 percent decrease in worker productivity as a percentage of total economic output. Bangkok, however, will see a nearly 5% reduction. “These losses are particularly damaging to lower paid sectors,” with outdoor workers losing 40 percent of their economic output, the analysis found.

Freetown is a West African capital on the coast of 1. 27 million people, will go from nine to 120 extremely hot days by 2050. The analysis also states that nighttime temperatures will rise, which is “critical for predicting injury or loss from extreme heat.” The city recently appointed a heat officer and has begun a campaign to plant 1,000,000 trees. It also plans to provide shade structures for female traders at three large open-air marketplaces.

“We will continue our efforts to protect Freetonians against this invisible threat,” Mayor Yvonne Aki–Sawyerr stated in a statement.

Wealthier communities will also experience 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. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava stated that extreme heat can cause severe heat stress and will lead to double economic losses. The city plans to invest in green infrastructure, including expanding its tree canopy to reduce heat stress.

Los Angeles, which currently experiences nearly $5 billion in lost worker productivity in an average year, according to the analysis, also will see a doubling in heat-related economic losses, to $11 billion, by 2050. The analysis stated that all sectors of the city’s economy would be affected, but construction workers will suffer the most.

London has a milder climate than most southern cities. This problem will be exacerbated by heat stress on infrastructure, such as highways or rail lines, that are not built to withstand high temperatures.

“The analysis shows that the past summer in the Northern Hemisphere painted a frightening picture of the catastrophic effects of climate change. Extreme heat is currently killing more people than any other climate-driven catastrophe.

Other cities analyzed in the report include Buenos Aires (Argentina), Monterrey (Mexico), Santiago, Chile, and Sydney.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from

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