Tropical deforestation already outpacing climate change heat impacts, limiting human ability to safely work outside

Authors: Luke A. Parsons, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, U.S.A, Jihoon Jung*, Departments of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Yuta J. Masuda, Global Science, The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA, Lucas V. Zeppetello, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Nicholas H. Wolff, Global Science, The Nature Conservancy, Brunswick, ME, Timm Kroeger, Global Science, The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA, David S. Battisti, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, June T. Spector, Departments of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Topics: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Climatology and Meteorology, Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: Deforestation, climate change, safe work hour, worker productivity
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Almost one-fifth of tropical forest cover has been lost in the last two decades, leading to local temperature increases that can surpass warming from 21st century climate change projections. Although it is known that working outdoors in high temperatures reduces worker productivity and increases heat strain, the extent to which deforestation-driven temperature change affects people across the tropics is unknown. Using satellite data combined with worker health guidelines, we show that warming associated with deforestation is already impacting human health and well-being in low latitude countries. We estimate that more than 2.5 million people in recently deforested tropical biome now face heat exposure that reduces safe work hours by at least two hours per day. This warming has particularly large impacts on populations in Brazil, Belize, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Cameroon. We highlight these effects by examining the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Pará, which have experienced particularly large-scale deforestation, and showing that temperatures and human heat exposure are increasing disproportionately quickly in these locations. Future global climate change magnifies heat exposure in deforested areas across the tropics; an additional 2°C of global warming will increase exposure to multiple hours of unsafe working conditions for over 1.6 million people in recently deforested areas. Tropical deforestation is hastening the arrival of climate change impacts in the tropics, highlighting the need to shift local land use practices and to slow global greenhouse gas emissions so the most vulnerable populations are not forced to bear the brunt of warming impacts.

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