RTL Today – Global warming: deadly heat waves also threaten economies
More frequent and intense heat waves are the deadliest form of extreme weather worsened by global warming, with thousands of deaths, but they can also have devastating economic effects, experts say.
The prolonged, off-season scorch that grips the central United States and rolls north through western Europe, sending the thermometer above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), is likely to cause both.
Deadly and expensive
Extremely high temperatures caused nearly 10% of the two million deaths attributed to extreme weather events from 1970 to 2019, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Moreover, virtually all of this heat-related mortality has existed since 2000, particularly the last decade: from 2010 to 2019, scorching heat was responsible for half of the 185,000 extreme weather-related deaths recorded.
In Europe, heat waves accounted for around 90% of weather-related mortality between 1980 and 2022, the European Environment Agency (EEA) reported.
Heat waves also incur economic costs, but they are harder to quantify than storm or flood damage, and harder to insure.
But prolonged episodes of high heat can lead to more hospital visits, a severe loss of productivity in construction and agriculture, reduced crop yields and even direct damage to infrastructure. Excess mortality also has an economic cost.
The EAA estimates that heat waves in 32 European countries between 1980 and 2000 cost €27-70 billion. Damage over the past 20 years – which included the deadly heat wave of 2003, with 30,000 additional deaths – would almost certainly be higher.
The national public health agency in France, which will be covered by extreme conditions over the next few days, called the heat waves a “mostly invisible and underestimated social burden”.
In France alone, the heat waves from 2015 to 2020 cost 22 to 37 billion euros due to health expenses, loss of well-being and above all “intangible costs linked to premature deaths”.
The heat waves of 2003, 2010, 2015 and 2018 in Europe caused damages totaling 0.3 to 0.5% of GDP across the continent, and up to 2% of GDP in southern regions, according to a peer-reviewed study published in Nature.
This level of impact could be multiplied by five by 2060 compared to a 1981-2010 baseline without a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and measures to adapt to high temperatures, the study warns.
At sustained temperatures of around 33°C or 34°C, the average worker “loses 50% of their working capacity,” according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The ICO estimates that by 2030, heat waves could reduce the total number of hours worked worldwide by more than 2%, the equivalent of 80 million full-time jobs, at a cost of $2.4 trillion, nearly 10 times the 1995 figure.
“Heat stress associated with climate change will reduce physical capacity for outdoor work globally,” the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest report. summary, noting that in some tropical regions, outdoor work may become impossible by the turn of the century for 200 to 250 days each year.
Drought and agriculture
Heat waves and drought are a major threat to agriculture, and therefore to food security.
Long-term drought is agriculture’s worst enemy when it comes to extreme weather, but heat waves can also cause significant damage.
In 2019, a heat wave caused a 9% drop in corn yields across France and a 10% drop in wheat, according to the French agriculture ministry.
A 2012 scorch in the United States led to a 13% drop in corn production and a sharp rise in world prices.
Heat waves also have a negative impact on animal production and milk production, according to the IPCC.