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Extreme heatwaves have cost the global economy trillions

A new study published in the journal Science Advances has found that extreme heatwaves caused by anthropogenic global warming have already caused the world economy trillions of dollars since the 1990s. The experts report that the globe’s poorest – and lowest carbon-emitting nations – have suffered the most.

A team of scientists from Dartmouth College combined recently available, in-depth economic data for various regions worldwide with the average temperature for the hottest five-day period (a widely used measurement of heat intensity) for each region in each year. The analysis revealed that, from 1992 to 2013, heatwaves statistically coincided with variations in economic growth, and that approximately $16 trillion was lost due to the effects of high temperatures on human health, productivity, and agricultural output.

These findings stress the urgent need for policies and technologies to protect people during the hottest days of the year, especially in the world’s warmest and most economically vulnerable nations. 

“Accelerating adaptation measures within the hottest period of each year would deliver economic benefits now,” said study lead author Christopher Callahan, a doctoral student in Geography at Dartmouth. “The amount of money spent on adaptation measures should not be assessed just on the price tag of those measures, but relative to the cost of doing nothing. Our research identifies a substantial price tag to not doing anything.”

“Our work shows that no place is well adapted to our current climate,” added study senior author Justin Mankin, an assistant professor of Geography at the same university. “The regions with the lowest incomes globally are the ones that suffer most from these extreme heat events. As climate change increases the magnitude of extreme heat, it’s a fair expectation that those costs will continue to accumulate.”

Thus, the economic costs of extreme heat, along with the expenses of adaption to such temperatures, have been and will be disproportionately borne by the world’s poorest nations in the tropics and the global South. Ironically, most of these countries have contributed the least to global warming. For instance, the scientists found that, while economic losses due to extreme heatwaves averaged 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita for the world’s wealthiest nations, low-income regions suffered a loss of 6.7 percent of GDP per capita.

“We have a situation where the people causing 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. It’s a massive international wealth transfer from the poorest countries in the world to the richest countries in the world through climate change – and that transfer needs to be reversed,” Mankin concluded. 

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By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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