Climate change threatens the global economy

Climate change affects not only the environment – it also threatens to destabilise globally networked production and supply processes. These are the findings of a recent study conducted by German and American researchers.

In today’s globalised economic system, local climate events can have an impact on production and supply processes around the world. A new study from the Institute of Climate Impact Research in Potsdam and Columbia University demonstrated this by looking at local heat-stress-related productivity reductions.

“Our study shows that since the beginning of the 21st century the structure of our economic system has changed in a way that production losses in one place can more easily cause further losses elsewhere,” explained lead author Leonie Wenz.

The study looked at the effects of small daily perturbations caused by extreme temperatures leading to heat-stress among workers. As previous research has shown, heat waves can decrease productivity by causing workers to get exhausted more quickly.

“With unabated climate change, the effects of increasing weather extremes, like most recently seen in Paris, will have severe impacts on natural and society systems,” said co-author Anders Levermann. “To estimate the costs of future climate change we need to assess global economic impacts of more frequent heat extremes and meteorological impacts, such as floods and tropical storms, and understand their relation to the economic network’s structure.”

The study covered 186 countries and examined economic flows between 26 industry sectors from mining and quarrying to textiles and clothing and to post and telecommunications through to final demand. Using temperature, population and economic data from data from 1991-2011, the researchers ran computer simulations of heat-stress consequences.

“This is the basis for implementing appropriate adaptation measures – in a warming world with more intense weather extremes it is likely that society needs to become more resilient and more flexible,” added Levermann.


Image credit: Jay Hariani, flickr/Creative Commons


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