An increase in heat stress at work linked to climate change is set to have a massive impact on global productivity and economic losses, notably in agriculture and construction, UN labour experts warned.
The International Labour Organization (ILO), warned that the lost output will be equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs – or 2.2% of total working hours worldwide - during 2030.
According to the an ILO report, ‘Working on a Warmer Planet’, the total cost of these losses will be $2,400 billion every year, based on a global temperature rise of only 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
The construction sector will be the most impacted sector after agriculture, with construction to accounting for 19% of global working hours lost due to heat stress by the end of the next decade. Agriculture will account for 60% of the losses by 2030.
“The impact of heat stress on labour productivity is a serious consequence of climate change," said Catherine Saget, Chief of Unit in the ILO’s Research department, and one of the main authors of the report.
“We can expect to see more inequality between low and high-income countries and worsening working conditions for the most vulnerable. In the ILO report, heat stress is defined as generally occurring at above 35 degrees Celsius, in places where there is high humidity.
Excess heat at work is an occupational health risk and in extreme cases can lead to heatstroke, which can be fatal, the UN agency explains.
Other at-risk sectors include refuse collection, emergency services, transport, tourism and sports, with southern Asian and western African States suffering the biggest productivity losses, equivalent to approximately five per cent of working hours by 2030.
Underlining how communities in the world’s poorest regions will suffer the most significant economic losses because they often lack the resources to adapt to increased heat, the ILO official insisted that this would lead to "more inequality between low and high-income countries and worsening working conditions for the most vulnerable, as well as displacement of people".
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, Saget added.
To adapt to this new reality, ILO is calling for urgent measures by governments, employers and workers, focusing on protecting the most vulnerable.
These include adequate infrastructure and improved early warning systems for extreme weather events, and improved implementation of international labour standards in occupational safety and health to help tackle heat-related hazards.