Global warming is expected to result in an increase in work-related heat stress, which in turn will damage productivity and cause job losses, finds a new ILO report. The poorest countries will be worst affected.
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 2030, according to a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The projections are based on a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, but the ILO warns that this is a conservative estimate as global mean temperature rise could exceed 1.5C.
According to the ILO, heat stress refers to heat in excess of what the body can tolerate without suffering physiological impairment. This generally occurs at temperatures above 33C in high humidity. Heat stress restricts workers’ physical functions and capabilities, which in turn impairs work capacity and productivity; in extreme cases, it can lead to heatstroke, which is fatal.
The report found that the two sectors most affected by heat stress will be agriculture – which will affect millions of women who make up the majority of workers in subsistence agriculture – and construction. What’s more, the impact of heat stress will be distributed unequally around the world, with southern Asia and western Africa expected to lose the most working hours. In addition, people in the poorest regions will suffer the greatest economic losses, particularly as they have fewer resources to adapt effectively to rising temperatures.
“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,” said Catherine Saget of the ILO.
“In addition to the massive economic costs of heat stress, we can expect to see more inequality between low and high income countries and worsening working conditions for the most vulnerable, as well as displacement of people.”
The report calls for greater efforts to design, finance and implement national policies to address heat stress risks and protect workers, including adequate infrastructure and improving early warning systems for heat events. It also recommends appropriate putting in place appropriate measures at the workplace, such as providing drinking water to employees, adapting working hours, and ensuring shade and rest breaks.
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