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What are the risks of concurrent climate events?

Extreme climate events are occurring more and more frequently, and they are bound to overlap. Events happening simultaneously are causing disruptions in human systems such as health, security, and overall well-being. 

Concurrent climate events can significantly affect world economics. An example of a concurrent event is a heatwave, which is a combination of heat and drought. This combination caused the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires, which led to a GDP loss of more than five percent. 

Unfortunately, concurrent climate events are not usually addressed in planning. However, a team of scientists led by Laura Niggli at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, decided to study the impacts of recent heatwaves on socioeconomic systems. 

The experts reviewed eight concurrent heat and drought events in Africa, Europe, and Australia over the past 20 years and investigated their impacts on human health, agriculture, food production, and transportation. 

For example, rail transport can become disrupted when the tracks buckle due to intense heat. Not only can this affect human transportation, but it can also affect access to food and other goods. 

“This study presents unprecedented quantitative information and qualitative understanding on the impacts of combined heat and drought events in major world regions over the past 20 years,” said Niggli.

“It contributes new insights how these impacts cascade through critical systems (health, energy, food production, etc.) and emphasizes the importance to appropriately consider such impact cascades in adaptation efforts.”

The researchers found that agriculture, health, and energy suffer the greatest impacts of concurrent climate events. They believe future research should focus on building resilient systems and finding ways to mitigate these impacts. 

“We identified an interconnected web of sectors that interact and cause additional losses and damages in several other sectors. This multilevel interconnectedness makes the risks of compound extreme events so complex and critical,” said the study authors. 

“More efforts should be concentrated on the analysis of such cascading risks and on strategies to interrupt such chains of impacts, rather than compartmentalizing risk assessment into single extreme events, impacts and sectors”.

The study is published in the journal PLOS Climate.

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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