Singapore Faces Mounting Economic Losses from Heat Stress

A recent study conducted by the National University of Singapore (NUS) has sounded alarms over the economic ramifications of heat stress in the city-state. According to the study, Singapore could witness a near-doubling of economic losses to $1.64 billion by 2035, compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2018, primarily due to a decline in labor productivity.

In 2018, heat strain resulted in an 11.3% reduction in average productivity across key economic sectors, including services, construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. Alarmingly, this trend is projected to exacerbate, with productivity expected to plummet by 14% by 2035, translating into an economic loss of S$2.22 billion ($1.64 billion) after adjusting for inflation, as highlighted in the NUS Project HeatSafe report.

The adverse impact will be disproportionately felt by workers exposed to harsh environmental conditions, such as those toiling under the sun or facing heat from machinery. The report estimates that for each hot day, the diminished productivity during working hours (presenteeism) results in a median income loss of S$21 per worker.

Project HeatSafe represents a pioneering effort in Singapore and the broader region to evaluate the repercussions of escalating heat levels on productivity and health at both individual and macroeconomic levels. Natalia Borzino from the Singapore-ETH Centre, a key collaborator on the project, noted that 2018 was chosen as the baseline for the study due to its pre-pandemic status and the availability of comprehensive data.

Singapore’s unique vulnerability to rising temperatures is underscored by its rapid warming rate, which outpaces the global average. Recent data reveals a surge in the UV index to “extreme” levels, emphasising the acute nature of solar UV radiation in the country. This concerning trend adds urgency to Singapore’s efforts to mitigate heat-related risks.

However, Singapore is not alone in grappling with intensifying heat. Earlier this year, scientists issued warnings about surpassing critical warming thresholds, marking a significant milestone in climate change. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has previously cautioned against the transition from global warming to what he termed an “era of global boiling.”

Beyond impairing cognitive function and physical performance, the NUS study highlights the threat posed by extreme heat exposure to Singapore’s fertility rate, which is already at historic lows. This multifaceted impact underscores the imperative for proactive measures to address heat stress and its far-reaching consequences on Singapore’s economy and society.

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