A recent report by the International Labour Organisation has projected that heat stress caused by global warming will result in lost output that is equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs in 2030, or 2.2 per cent of total annual working hours worldwide. The two sectors projected to be worse hit are agriculture and construction, with agriculture worst affected. The projections of the report are based on labour force trends, but ILO stated that these are conservative estimates riding on the global temperature rise being limited to 1.5°C by the end of the century.
Heat stress is defined in the report as “heat in excess of what the body can tolerate without suffering physiological impairment”. Generally occurring in temperatures above 35°C, excess heat stress is an occupational health risk that brings work capacity down. This is deemed to have a significant impact on global productivity along with economic losses. Catherine Saget, Chief of Unit in the ILO’s research department and one of the main authors of the report, said, "the impact of heat stress on labour productivity is a serious consequence of climate change, which adds to other adverse impacts such as changing rain patterns, rising sea levels and loss of biodiversity".
With the World Meteorological Organization declaring that 2019 is set to become the hottest year ever, 2015-2019 will become the hottest five year period. Heatwaves are on the rise all over the world, especially across Europe, and several countries have witnessed record temperatures and their consequences in the form of wildfires, deaths caused by heat strokes, etc. this summer. As temperatures continue to rise, the amount of workers victimised by heat stress will also grow proportionately. This predicted pattern will lead to a total loss $2.4 trillion every year from 2030 according to ILO.
Since the loss of output will be felt in low income countries the strongest, inequalities between developed and developing countries will worsen. Catherine Saget wrote, “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 ILO suggests that “to adapt to this new reality appropriate measures by governments, employers and workers, focusing on protecting the most vulnerable, are urgently needed.”
The gravity of the situation is now clear, but will steps be taken in line with it?