The globalisation of the world’s economy this century has made it far more vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather, including heat stress on workers, scientists say.
A study published on Friday by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Columbia University showed production losses caused by high temperatures, predicted to rise further with climate change, now spread more easily from one place to another as they ripple through global supply chains.
In just a decade, the susceptibility of the world’s economic network to heat stress – which causes workers to tire quickly among other physical effects – has doubled, researchers found.
This is because production has become more interlinked since the turn of the century, said co-author Anders Levermann, a top climate change expert at the Potsdam Institute.
The first decade studied, from 1991 to 2001, did not suffer increased production losses, in contrast to the decade from 2001 to 2011, he noted.
“Weather extremes are not really factored into the thinking of a lot of industries, and in particular not weather extremes far away,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But our study shows it’s really one world with respect to climate impacts.”
The researchers looked at the effects of small daily disruptions to production from extreme temperatures leading to heat stress among workers in construction, agriculture and other economic sectors.
They covered economic flows between 26 industry sectors and final demand in 186 countries, running computer simulations of heat-stress consequences to find out more about how production losses are propagated along supply chains.
“It is really a global phenomenon – whichever sector… is hit by weather extremes is going to have the same response, the same problem,” said Levermann.
The researchers said the findings, published in the journal Science Advances, pointed to the need for societies and businesses to adapt to more intense weather extremes.