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Scientists have missed a crucial factor when estimating the economic impact of climate change – rainy days – according to research published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
“More rainy days: that’s bad for the economy,” said Leonie Wiens, deputy head of the Department of Complexity Sciences at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and one of the paper’s authors. “Drought, extreme precipitation, number of rainy days…all change due to climate change.”
The survey of 1,554 regions in 77 countries found that communities are ill-equipped to deal with unusual weather.
The effect of the minor changes was substantial. An increase in the number of rainy days that is typically expected over a six-year period can reduce more than one percentage point of annual economic growth. Severe storms and droughts were also affected.
In already humid places like northern Europe, the impact of more canopy days was less than in typically sunny countries as companies were less adapted to working in wet areas.
In places like Spain, unusually heavy rainfall can lead to serious disruptions affecting the economy. After a record-breaking summer heat wave, in August Madrid was hit by the second worst summer storm in the past 100 years. The flood has paralyzed the city, inundated tunnels, disrupted metro and regional train services, and closed highways with traffic jams caused by weather-related accidents.
The impact of additional rain is not always as great, but the cumulative effect of frequent and intense heavy rains can delay workers, cut supply chains and cause minor damage from small-scale flooding or downed tree branches, which can have a significant economic impact.
“In general, everything that is a deviation from what we are used to can be bad,” Wiens said.
“These costs have not yet been factored into climate change cost estimates,” said Manuel Linsenmayer, a researcher at the London School of Economics who was not involved in the study.
Scientists have found that rich countries have been hardest hit, with the largest service and manufacturing sector more vulnerable to increased rains compared to developing countries, where agriculture typically accounts for a larger share of the economy.
This is “bad news,” Linsenmayer said, because “the extent to which economic development can be used to cushion rainfall shocks under future climate change appears to be limited.”
The problem is expected to worsen as climate change disrupts rainfall patterns.
“If we don’t stabilize the climate, it’s going to be much more expensive,” Wiens said.
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