14 November 2022

ESG: how heat stress impacts health


By Cervest

ESG: how heat stress impacts health

Did you know that it is estimated that 1.9 billion people will be exposed to heat stress by 2030? This is not only an issue in terms of infrastructure and supply chain disruption and damage: there are huge ramifications for public health. According to the World Economic Forum, the healthcare industry that treats patients impacted by climate change, is also responsible for 4% of global emissions.

Engagement in health and climate change reached its highest level in 2021, with 38% of corporations referring to the association between health and climate change in their COP (Communication of Progress) report. With climate change and health being firmly on the agenda at COP27, the 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: health at the mercy of fossil fuels highlights the extent to how the climate crisis is impacting public health globally.

“The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown is published as the world confronts profound and concurrent systemic shocks. Countries and health systems continue to contend with the health, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Russia's invasion of Ukraine and a persistent fossil fuel overdependence has pushed the world into global energy and cost-of-living crises. As these crises unfold, climate change escalates unabated. Its worsening impacts are increasingly affecting the foundations of human health and wellbeing, exacerbating the vulnerability of the world's populations to concurrent health threats.”

The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: health at the mercy of fossil fuels

As the climate crisis deepens it is seriously impacting the general population’s health as the World Health Organization powerfully presented in a statement, Climate change is already killing us, but strong action now can prevent more deaths, by WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge at COP27:

“Climate change and the crises it has triggered have long been clear health emergencies. WHO and partners have long sounded the alarm, but action has been dangerously inconsistent and far too slow. In the WHO European Region, just this past summer, we witnessed an escalation of heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, all of which have impacted the health of our people.”

The Lancet report looks at the statistics and data behind climate change – providing us all with a fuller picture of heat stress during climate change.

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How do increasing temperatures impact human health?

While many of us know our planet is warming, we are less aware of how climate change is affecting humidity. Humidity is a measure of how much water vapor is present in the air, and warmer air holds more water. Climate change is shifting humidity patterns, making some areas more humid, and some areas less humid. This is important because extreme heat and humidity can be a lethal combination. The key term to know is “wet-bulb temperature” - a combined measure of temperature and humidity.

Sweat cools us down when it evaporates, regulating body temperature. This can also make us dehydrated, putting pressure on our internal organs. Chronic heat stress can lead to kidney failure and heart problems.

“Exposure to extreme heat is associated with acute kidney injury, heatstroke, adverse pregnancy outcomes, worsened sleep patterns, impacts on mental health, worsening of underlying cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and increases in non-accidental and injury-related deaths. Exposure to extreme heat also affects health indirectly by restricting people's capacity to work and exercise.”

The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: health at the mercy of fossil fuels

At 100% relative humidity, the air is fully saturated with water so that sweat won’t evaporate. We can’t regulate body temperature and cool down. Even people used to working in the heat can’t do normal outdoor activities past a wet-bulb temperature of 32°C. At a wet-bulb temperature of 35°C, people won’t survive even with shade or water.

What do extreme temperatures mean for businesses?

Heat waves affecting the health and well-being of employees also mean they have deep financial ramifications for businesses. In 2021, heat exposure led to the loss of 470 billion potential labor hours, a 37% increase from the period 1990–99. It’s estimated the global potential loss of income from a reduction in labor capacity due to extreme heat was USD669 billion in 2021.

“Your whole economic model changes at a certain temperature,” Cervest’s Founder and CEO, Iggy Bassi, told The Financial Times. Iggy witnessed severely hot conditions first-hand while managing a farm in Ghana, “On extreme heat days, we knew ahead of time we had to change all of our labor rotas,” he says. “Beyond a certain temperature, the human body cannot work because the outside humidity is so high.”

Extreme heat impacts more than health. Building materials expand, causing damage to buildings, roads and infrastructure. If it’s hot enough, tarmac starts to melt. Metal rusts faster, with big implications for concrete structures internally reinforced with steel. The foundations of buildings are vulnerable to subsidence and soil shrinkage, particularly in clay areas.

Why do companies need to screen their assets with EarthScan?

“Climate change is leading to an increase in average global temperatures and in the frequency, intensity, and duration of heatwaves,” cites the Lancet report. There are many repercussions from heat stress for health, society, and the economy – transcending all three boundaries of environmental, social and governance.

There are ways that ESG leaders can build climate resilience into operations. That’s where EarthScan™ comes in. Organizations can use Cervest’s science-backed climate intelligence (CI) product to analyze their entire portfolio of assets and their supply chains for potential heat stress and other climate hazards – making informed decisions on adaptation. Each asset is graded through Cervest Ratings™, which helps to identify the most vulnerable assets quickly and clearly. Investing in an EarthScan can help ESG managers take the targeted interventions needed to build organizational climate resilience and protect its workers, now and in the future.

Building a more climate resilient climate future for British healthcare

Health and life sciences consultancy, Lexica are using EarthScan, to help British healthcare providers understand the climate-related risk affecting their assets and operations. Lexica will leverage Cervest's climate intelligence to screen and analyze the climate exposure of critical infrastructure assets such as hospitals, medical clinics, and other healthcare facilities across the UK. With the UK Health Security Agency projecting that the number of heat-related deaths will triple by 2050 – and hotter summers are becoming the norm – it has never been more critical to have access to trusted climate intelligence for your climate-risk strategy.

Download our free ebook to discover how climate intelligence can transform your ESG strategy and help your organization build climate resilience.

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