There is growing scientific evidence that climate change leads to more severe, and more frequent, extreme weather events in most parts of the planet (IPCC, 2021; Wuebbels et. al, 2017; Perkins-Kirkpatrick et. al, 2017; Bloschl et. al, 2017; American Meteorological Society, 2018). These extreme events, coupled with rising atmospheric temperatures and moisture across the world, are some of the most obvious manifestations of climate change. It is well documented that increasingly hot and humid conditions – as measured by heat stress – adversely affect human health and work productivity. This has a negative impact on people’s livelihoods and wider economies.
The Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index (CRI), derived from the MunichRe database, quantifies the socio-economic impacts of extreme weather events (fatalities and direct economic losses) and ranks 180 countries based on these impacts. The ranking provides a measure of the vulnerability and exposure of these countries to climate change. The index covers only weather-related extreme events such as storms, floods and temperature extremes. Geological and geophysical risks such as earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions are not included. The CRI measures only the direct socio-economic impacts attributable to these weather extremes. These direct impacts are limited to deaths and direct economic losses. Indirect impacts of the extreme events such as food and water insecurity are not included (Eckstein et. al, 2021)
According to the CRI results, in 2019, the countries most affected by the growing extreme weather were Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and the Bahamas. Over a longer period from 2000 to 2019, the ten most affected countries and territories were Puerto Rico, Haiti, Myanmar, Philippines, Mozambique, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, and Nepal.
During the same period, more than 11,000 extreme weather events were recorded globally, resulting in more than 475,000 fatalities and direct economic losses in excess of US$ 2.5 trillion (PPP). Lower-income countries in tropical regions tend to be the ones affected the most.
The 2019 data (shown above) indicates that storms and their associated hazards (landslides, floods, precipitation) were the main causes of the economic losses due to extreme weather incurred in that year. A comprehensive global scientific evidence summarized in the Sixth Assessment report by IPCC (2021) suggests that the number and intensity of severe storms, particularly tropical cyclones, has been increasing with rising global temperatures. This trend is set to continue as the world warms further. It also applies to other extreme weather events. Indeed, the 2019 CRI values were higher in most countries compared to the 2000-2019 averages (as shown below).
Labour productivity is known to start dropping beyond heat stress levels of around 25°C and could reduce by up to 50% at 33°C for moderate work intensities. Economic activities requiring higher levels of physical exertion in outdoors settings, such as agriculture and construction, tend to be affected most. However, there are also considerable impacts on predominantly indoors industrial and service sector jobs, particularly if building heat is not managed properly.
In 2019, the International Labour Organisation carried out a comprehensive assessment based on historic and projected climate data, epidemiological and physiological data for human body’s responses to heat and humidity, and historic and projected demographic data in all countries.
The results show sizeable losses in heat-related productivity between 1995 and 2030 in most countries across the key economy sectors, with the biggest impacts occurring in the tropical regions. Globally, 2.2% of total working hours are projected to be lost due to rising heat stress by 2030, an equivalent of 80 million full-time jobs when accounting for the underlying population growth. This is up from around 1.4% of working hours lost in 1995, equivalent to 35 million full-time jobs.
In economic terms, when adjusted to the inflation and accounting for the underlying economic growth, annual heat-related productivity losses are set to grow nearly tenfold from $280 billion in 1995 to $2,400 billion in 2030. These figures do not include broader impacts of heat stress on human health. Lower-middle income countries are set to experience the biggest losses relative to the GDP: rising from 2.8% of GDP in 1995 to 4.3% in 2030.
The unprecedented pace of warming in the Arctic region serves as a barometer of climate change and the associated labour productivity impacts globally. Rapid change in the far north also directly contributes to these negative effects through two main feedback processes. First, the loss of the Arctic sea ice cover (during spring and summer) and land snow cover (during spring) means less sunlight is reflected from the white surfaces back into space, causing additional absorption of solar energy and subsequent warming. Second, the degradation of the Arctic permafrost cover leads to thawing and decomposition of previously frozen organic matter, releasing large quantities of CO2 and methane, the main human-generated heat-trapping gases, in the atmosphere.
Most of the projected near-term (to 2030) impacts of climate change on labour productivity are already locked in given limited progress with reducing global emissions to date, and people will have to adapt to increasing heat stress. In the longer-term, however, livelihoods of billions of people are at stake, and keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C would significantly limit the productivity losses. Click and zoom in on the graph above to see data for each country.
Arctic warming can causes extreme weather across the northern hemisphere. The catastrophic and costly storms, heat waves and other extreme weather hammering the world’s cities and regions have been linked to changes in the rapidly warming Arctic. Between 2010 and 2019, record-breaking storms, floods, and other natural disasters were the costliest in modern history with losses totaling US$2.98 trillion.
Science finds close links between Arctic warming and extreme weather across the Northern Hemisphere. Devastating and costly cyclones, heatwaves, droughts and other weather disasters across North America, Europe and Asia have all been tied to the effects of super-charged Arctic warming.
Some of the world’s most populated places are on the shores of rising oceans. Seas are rising faster now than over any century in the past 3,000 years. Coastline flooding of low-lying cities and regions as well as devastating coastal erosion will worsen and happen more often in the decades ahead.
Melting glaciers and ice sheets, including those in the Arctic, are the main reason sea levels increased between 2006 and 2018. Oceans, which rose by 20 millimetres (0.79 inches) between 1901 and 2018, are now rising by almost four millimetres (0.16 inches) per year. Higher oceans, combined with more intense storms and rain, are expected to cause more catastrophic flooding in coastal cities around the world.
The following gauges show up-to-date data regarding key indicators in the Arctic. These indicators clearly point to the crisis at hand.