Insights
18 July 2022

How heatwaves impact infrastructures and ecosystems

Dr. Chloé Prodhomme

By Dr. Chloé Prodhomme

How heatwaves impact infrastructures and ecosystems

Summer officially began in the Northern Hemisphere last month (21st June 2022) and temperatures are already breaking records in France, Spain, and the UK – reaching over 40 degrees. Globally, India and Pakistan are currently suffering extreme temperatures and the science is clear: heatwaves are going to become hotter, longer, and more frequent.

Climate change and increased heatwaves

Heat can be fatal. The 2022 Indian heatwaves have reached temperatures that are outside the liveability range for humans, and have already caused 90 deaths, with the final toll expected to be much higher. These deadly heatwaves will increase significantly in the future as our climate warms, leading to large regions across the world being uninhabitable for several weeks or months, annually. Keeping cool will become critical – literally a matter of life or death.

The heat also has an impact on businesses. There can be supply chain disruptions and critical infrastructure disturbances – alongside these serious health implications. Businesses need to understand which of their assets are likely to be affected by extreme temperatures so they can plan, adapt, avoid revenue loss, and protect their workers from harm.

The impacts of heatwaves

There were 10 individual extreme weather events in 2021, each costing at least USD $1.5 billion in damages. Further to this, the IPCC’s Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability report highlights that temperatures will continue to increase above pre-industrial levels without substantial decarbonization. The cost of extreme weather is evident, and the worst is yet to come.

Climate change is pushing cities into climate zones that their infrastructure simply isn’t designed for. Extreme heat will not only put pressure on a building’s cooling system, but it can also affect the materials it’s made from. Rising temperatures break down polymers (thermal aging) affecting plastic, and when combined with increased rainfall, extreme temperatures can speed up metal corrosion, and weathering of brick and stone which can weaken the steel structure within a building's concrete exterior.

Those employed to build, maintain and manage these infrastructures can also be affected by extreme heat. Heatwaves can drastically impact workers productivity, and outside work especially can become highly dangerous for workers' health. A scientific paper published this year quantified that humid heat may currently be associated with over 650 billion hours of annual lost labor worldwide. This number has been increasing over the last decades and will continue to rise with higher global temperatures.

When coupled with drought, extreme heat is associated with a devastating amount of crop failures and cattle losses. To mitigate this, it is essential for businesses to have a diversified supply chain where every link understands their climate risks, and has adaptation measures in place. Where this is not the case, businesses must seek alternative partners.

Building resilience to heatwaves into infrastructures and ecosystems

For organizations to be resilient in the face of current climate change – it is crucial to assess infrastructure and building vulnerability. It pays to be proactive. According to McKinsey, “climate-proofing existing infrastructure and building new infrastructure that is more climate resilient makes sound economic sense – on average, the benefits outweigh costs by 4:1”. In Europe alone this will create around 500,000 additional jobs by 2050.

Climate must be considered at every stage of a business from designing and planning through to maintaining infrastructure and ecosystems. Complex, fragmented, and often siloed climate data made it almost impossible for organizations to understand their climate risk and plan for climates accordingly. Cervest’s climate intelligence (CI) – asset-level intelligence on climate risk to inform decision-making – gives infrastructure owners and operators visibility of every asset they manage or rely on and offers actionable insights across multiple possible futures.

Taking effective climate action begins with seeing and sharing the climate risk we face with multiple stakeholders internally or externally. The growing onset of heatwaves is just one climate hazard organizations may need to prepare for. With climate intelligence, entire business ecosystems can act on its decision-ready insights, make informed decisions, and so start building resilience to multiple climate hazards presented by our changing climate.

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