IEA (2023), Data tool gives fine-grained view of climate vulnerabilities in the energy system and beyond, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/commentaries/data-tool-gives-fine-grained-view-of-climate-vulnerabilities-in-the-energy-system-and-beyond, Licence: CC BY 4.0
Climate-related natural hazards have shaped societies throughout history but their intensity and frequency are increasing significantly due to the global climate crisis.
Energy systems are highly affected by the impacts of climate change. Extreme temperatures, droughts, floods, wind threats and wildfires affect energy production and infrastructure; rising temperatures drive cooling needs which can cause spikes in energy consumption; wildfires and intense weather events can disrupt power grids operations. To mitigate these impacts and adapt energy systems to climate hazards, decision makers need reliable granular information about long-term climate and weather trends.
The IEA and the OECD have launched the Climate Hazard Exposure Tracker to help analyse the impacts of various climate hazards on the energy sector, and more broadly on agriculture and other economic activities, as well as people’s quality of life. This unique user-friendly tool provides, for the first time, long-time-series national and sub-national indicators on climate hazards for the whole world, merging information from several high-resolution global gridded climate datasets.
The indicators facilitate analysis of how populations, cropland, forests and built-up areas in each country are exposed to extreme temperature, precipitation, drought, wildfires, wind threats, river flooding and coastal flooding. The long duration of the series (1979-2022) allows potential effects of climate change to be assessed, highlighting trends in the occurrence of extreme weather events and their impacts on populations and resources across the globe. Below, we describe how data related to heat waves and droughts have guided policy and decision makers.
IEA and OECD indicator set of climate-related hazards
IEA and OECD set of exposure variables
5.7 billion people are exposed to extreme heat
Rising temperatures are fuelling extreme heat events, putting people’s lives at risk. Over the past four decades, temperatures have been rising around the world, impacting more and more people.
According to the Climate Hazard Exposure Tracker an estimated 5.7 billion people were exposed to hot days in the period 2018-2022, with the maximum temperature above 35°C. This translates into 71% of the world’s population currently being exposed to hot days, in comparison to an average 57% in the period 1979-1983.
As more people face withering heat, energy demand soars. In G20 countries, average cooling degree days, an indicator for space cooling needs, have increased by 23% from periods 1979-1983 to 2018-2022, according to the IEA and CMCC’s Weather for Energy Tracker, a reference global database on weather-related indicators by country. Global space cooling energy demand has increased in the last two decades and could more than double between now and 2040, as more and more regions are being equipped with air conditioners, and consumption increases in already equipped regions. The United Kingdom and Germany, for example, experienced a 10-fold increase in number of cooling degree days between 1979 and 2022; while countries already experiencing significant exposure, such as Japan, the United States and China, almost doubled their cooling degree days over the same period, and Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Brazil increased by around 35%.
Worsening droughts will drive major effects on energy system operations and local food supplies
Droughts, too, have wide-ranging effects on the economy and on energy systems in particular. Global hydropower generation decreased for the first time in two decades in 2021 because of droughts, despite relatively high capacity growth. By analysing the climate impacts on the existing hydropower plants in South and Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa, all the assessments show an overall decline in hydropower generation while showing significant geographical variabilities within the same region. Indeed, country-specific data in the Climate Hazard Exposure Tracker shows that change may vary from one area to the other, with precipitation decreasing in recent years in countries like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo but increasing for Liberia.
Beyond the energy system, agricultural droughts are increasing in certain regions of the world with potentially disruptive effects on global food supply. Average soil moisture content in cropland topsoil decreased by 2.2% across OECD countries over the past five years. Certain countries such as Argentina and Brazil experienced soil moisture declines of 6% or more over the past five years.
As data from the Climate Hazard Exposure Tracker shows, national averages can hide even more severe declines of soil moisture at the sub-national level with parts of some countries at greater risk than others. The Portuguese regions of Algarve and Madeira, for example, experienced cropland soil moisture declines of more than 9%.
Similarly, US states such as Colorado and New Mexico also experienced cropland soil moisture declines of more than 12% and the Colorado river basin is currently experiencing its driest 23-year period ever recorded. Considering that the Colorado river basin is a key natural resource that is estimated to irrigate approx. 15% of United States agriculture (including crops for animal and human consumption), urgent action is needed to reduce global warming emissions, change consumption patterns (e.g. reduce meat intake) and secure key natural resources essential for food production.
Average cropland moisture anomaly in North America, 2018-2022
Tracking evolution of climate-related natural hazards can inform decisions
Even as more and more countries around the world step up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, climate-related hazards and disasters will continue to wreak havoc over the coming decades. Further unabated greenhouse gas emissions could trigger even more adverse impacts. To adapt we must build more resilient and sustainable energy systems – including updating power plant and grid requirements and making more informed energy supply and demand forecasts that account for more extreme weather events. Beyond the energy system, we must invest in infrastructure that withstands climate extremes; protect, manage and increase natural resources that provide key ecosystem services for human nutrition; and support communities in dealing with changing social and cultural habits due to climate change.
Given the increase in the frequency and intensity of climate-related natural hazards, policy action to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate will be essential over the coming decades in order to build and strengthen the climate resilience of energy systems. The Climate Hazard Exposure Tracker and the Weather for Energy Tracker will provide accurate analysis on these hazards and their impacts, helping to inform sound policy action towards climate change.
Climate Hazard Tracker
The IEA and OECD Climate Hazard Exposure Tracker and associated databases are a new free platform showcasing the impacts of climate-related hazards on people and other infrastructures, including agriculture, the energy sector, forests and built-up areas. Data is available at country and sub-national levels, from 1979 to 2022 depending on availability.