The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has predicted that an increase in heat stress resulting from global warming is projected to lead to global productivity losses equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs in the year 2030.
According to a new report from ILO, global warming is expected to result in an increase in work-related heat stress, damaging productivity and causing job and economic losses. The poorest countries will be worst affected.
Projections based on a global temperature rise of 1.5°C by the end of this century suggest that in 2030, 2.2 per cent of total working hours worldwide will be lost because of higher temperatures, a loss equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs. This is equivalent to global economic losses of US$2,400 billion.
Moreover, the report cautions this is a conservative estimate because it assumes that the global mean temperature rise will not exceed 1.5°C.
It also assumes that work in agriculture and construction – two of the sectors worst affected by heat stress – are carried out in the shade.
The new ILO report, Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work, draws on climate, physiological and employment data and presents estimates of the current and projected productivity losses at national, regional and global levels
Heat stress refers to heat in excess of what the body can tolerate without suffering physiological impairment. It generally occurs at temperatures above 35°C, in high humidity. Excess heat during work is an occupational health risk; it restricts workers’ physical functions and capabilities, work capacity and thus, productivity. In extreme cases it can lead to heatstroke, which can be fatal.
The sector expected to be worst affected, globally, is agriculture. 940 million people around the world work in the agricultural sector. It is projected to account for 60 per cent of global working hours lost due to heat stress by the year 2030.
The construction sector will also be severely impacted with an estimated 19 percent of global working hours lost by the same date.
Other sectors especially at risk are environmental goods and services, refuse collection, emergency, repair work, transport, tourism, sports and some forms of industrial work.
The ILO said the impact will be unequally distributed around the world.
The regions losing the most working hours are expected to be southern Asia and western Africa, where approximately 5 percent of working hours are expected to be lost in 2030, corresponding to around 43 million and 9 million jobs, respectively.
Moreover, it will be people in the poorest regions who will suffer the most significant economic losses. Lower-middle- and low-income countries are expected to suffer the worst, particularly as they have fewer resources to adapt effectively to increased heat.
The economic losses of heat stress will therefore reinforce already existing economic disadvantage, in particular the higher rates of working poverty, informal and vulnerable employment, subsistence agriculture, and a lack of social protection.
“The impact of heat stress on labour productivity is a serious consequence of climate change… We can expect to see more inequality between low and high income countries and worsening working conditions for the most vulnerable.”
Catherine Saget, Chief of Unit in the ILO’s Research department
She noted that heat stress will affect millions of women who make up the majority of workers in subsistence agriculture, as well as men who dominate the construction industry.
The social consequences of heat stress may include increasing migration, as workers leave rural areas to look for better prospects.
The challenges posed by climate change are a key focus of the ILO’s new Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work and will shape its operations and research agenda.
The report demonstrates that the consequences are far-reaching for the UN’s 2030 Agenda .