India in danger of life-threatening temperatures study warns

The impact from climate change in India may create a situation where it will be too hot for construction within a decade.

Analysis from management consultancy McKinsey warned whole COVID has hit the country hard. Climate change is set to have a potentially devastating impact as heatwaves and extreme temperature increase to a point where lives are threatened.

India faces a rapidly changing and degrading physical environment,” said the report. “The challenges of water scarcity and air pollution are well known. Less well appreciated is the impact extreme heat and humidity will likely have on the economy and the toll it could take on human life.”

The study concludes that that India could become one of the first places in the world to experience heat waves that “cross the survivability limit for a healthy human being resting in the shade”, and this could occur as early as next decade.

Moreover, rising heat and humidity levels will impact labour productivity and economic growth in an economy that relies substantially on outdoor work.

While the hottest air temperatures ever recorded have been in places like Saudi Arabia, the Sahara Desert, and Death Valley, California, in the United States, the north of India has historically exhibited some of the world’s hottest wet-bulb temperatures. Wet-bulb temperature is an indicator that combines air temperature and relative humidity and provides a more accurate measure of heat stress on the human body than air temperature.

“According to the scientific literature, 35 degrees wet-bulb temperature is commonly regarded as the heat-stress limit for human survival,” warned McKinsey. “At 35°C wet-bulb a healthy human being can survive, resting in the shade, for approximately five hours.”

While India has not hit such heights even in extreme temperatures the report warns that temperatures during the most severe heat waves in the hottest parts of India could begin to breach 34 degrees wet-bulb by 2030.

“Exposure to 34-degree wet-bulb temperatures will increase mortality risk for the sick and elderly, but more importantly, due to the amplifying urban heat-island effect which can raise temperatures in urban areas, for example, due to the presence of concrete buildings and limited green spaces, urban or peri-urban centres exposed to these temperatures may cross the 35-degree survivability threshold for healthy adults,” warned the study. “By 2050, portions of northern India could begin to experience heat waves that cross the 35-degree wet-bulb survivability with a probability of occurrence at least once in the decade centred on 2050 approaching 80 percent. As heat and humidity increase, this could also affect labour productivity in outdoor work. This phenomenon occurs not only due to the need to take breaks to avoid dangerous core temperature rise, but also because the body will fatigue to reduce the amount of work (and therefore heat) that it is able to produce.”