Global warming not only hurts the planet, but also work. According to the latest report "Working on a warmer planet: the impact of heat stress on productivity and decent work", by the International Labour Organisation of the UN (ILO), climate change will result in thermal stress that will result in an economic loss of USD 2.400 billion and 80 million jobs worldwide by 2030.
These projections are based on a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees and suggest that by 2030 2,2% of the total hours worked worldwide would be lost due to high temperatures. The fallout, however, will be spread unequally between countries. The regions that will see a loss of the most hours of work will be South Asia and West Africa with some 43.9 million jobs lost by 2030. Economic losses associated with heat stress will therefore be combined with the economic disadvantages already in place in these countries, in particular the high rates of poor workers, subsistence farming and the absence of social protection.
However, the intensity of temperature increases can also vary within countries and the impact will be particularly high in cities. The phenomenon of urban heat islands refers to urban areas that are significantly warmer than the surrounding rural areas due to the absorption of solar heat by buildings and roads.
These projections are based on a global temperature increase of 1,5 degrees and suggest that by 2030 2,2% of the total hours worked worldwide would be lost due to high temperatures
Moreover, countries that are expected to suffer significant losses in labour productivity due to heat stress also tend to have high levels of informality and inadequate social security coverage. In some African countries with heat stress-related productivity losses of more than 3%, the informal economy accounts for up to 90% of total employment and less than a quarter of the population is not protected by any form of social security. Overall, projections suggest that 2,3 percent of the total number of working hours in Africa will be lost due to heat stress – the equivalent of more than 14 million full-time jobs.
This loss of productivity will put further pressure on a growing number of workers who are already threatened by other negative effects of climate change, such as changing rain seasons, natural disasters, drought and loss of biodiversity. And this is on top of issues of global social justice, seen as Africa has contributed less than 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for current climate change.
2,3 percent of the total number of working hours in Africa will be lost due to heat stress, although the continent has contributed less than 1 percent of the emissions responsible for global warming
In terms of which sectors will be most affected, agriculture, which employs 940 million people worldwide, tops the list: thermal stress could cause the loss of 60% of the working hours between farmers and workers in the agricultural supply chain. The construction sector will also be impacted by global warming with the loss of 19% of working hours.
However, heat stress can also become a problem for industrial workers indoors if temperature levels inside factories are not adjusted properly. Some service sector professions are also affected by rising heat levels, such as jobs in waste collection, emergency repair work, transport, travel and sport. And tourism, of course.
Based on these estimates, the UN therefore calls on countries to develop, finance and implement national policies to combat heat stress risks and protect workers. Excessive heat at work is a risk to workers' health and can cause heat strokes that can be fatal. They therefore need, according to ILO, adequate infrastructure and better early warning systems during heat waves, as well as better enforcement of international safety and health standards at work.