Dr M Mashhood Alam
With the ongoing global warming trends, the negative impact of these changes on the global work force and their productivity levels falling may increase.
In recent years, the world has witnessed an alarming increase in heat waves, leading to adverse effects on various aspects of human life. Climate change induced heatwaves have not only been detrimental to our health but have also begun to disrupt the global workforce. The Organisation (ILO) reports that workers will be more in danger from heatwaves as a result of the spread of “urban heat islands”, which are areas of intense heat inside cities brought on by urbanization and population growth. Some of the world’s most populous regions and poorly equipped nations largely from the global south will experience the worst effects of heatwaves in the future.
Climate projections indicate that extreme weather events will become more frequent and intense, subsequently leading to a decline in productivity and jobs. The problem of heat weaves will also become more widespread as a result of the rise in global temperatures brought on by climate change.
Impact of Heatwaves on Working Hours
Rising temperatures during heatwaves pose significant challenges to productivity and well-being of the workers, reducing working hours. Although workers across all industries are impacted, certain occupations are more vulnerable, due to their higher physical demands and outdoor work environments.
Usually, workers engaged in informal sectors like construction, agriculture, emergency repair work, transportation, sports, tourism, and environmental goods and services, are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and decreased work capacity. The ILO report suggests that heat stress resulted in a 5% reduction in working hours globally in 2019, equivalent to 152 million full-time jobs. As far as India is concerned, it will lose more than 101 billion hours of labour per year due to global warming, more than any other nation, according to a study.
Health Risks Associated with Heatwaves
Referring to the heatwave as an “invisible emergency”, Panu Saaristo, Emergency Health Unit Team leader of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), mentioned that it was crucial to look out for people who were vulnerable because of poor health, but also factor in socio-economic conditions and living arrangements, “which can also induce risks”.
In a warning, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) emphasised that heatwaves are one of the greatest natural threats. WMO Senior Heat Advisor while interacting with reporters reiterated that, extreme temperatures are poised to grow in frequency, duration, and intensity. He further pointed out, “repeated high night time temperatures are particularly dangerous for human health because the body is unable to recover from sustained heat which leads to increased cases of heart attacks and death.”
A recent study also suggests that 60,000 people died due to extreme heat in Europe alone, last year. This significant number of heat-induced deaths occurred despite European nations’ strong early warning systems and robust health action plans. The situation would further be exacerbated due to the expected rise in the occurrence and intensity of El Niño led heat events.
Regions across the globe have already been experiencing the adverse effects of heatwaves on working hours. The European heatwave of 2019, which saw record-breaking temperatures, caused disruptions in industries like agriculture, construction, and energy sectors. In India, heatwaves have led to a decrease in agricultural labour productivity and forced workers to reduce their working hours.
This year, intense heat waves caused damage and devastated Asia. According to a United States Institute of Peace article, temperatures have reached 45°C in Myanmar, 44.5°C in India, and 41.9°C in China. Thailand 45°C and Laos 43.5°C have also broken all-time high records, which had stood for 122 years.
The negative consequences of heat on workers result in a reduction in output and production across the economy. Numerous studies have found that GDP is lower in hotter years and that these effects persist over time. While estimates of the impacts of heat vary, there is some convergence towards estimates that indicate a 1ºC hotter year results in a 2% decline in overall economic activity. Reductions in worker productivity can be a substantial component of this loss in output.
Reduced working hours due to heatwaves have substantial economic implications. A study published in the magazine Nature Climate Change estimated that global labour capacity could decline by 4.9% by 2030, resulting in a $2 trillion loss in annual wages. According to an article published in The Wire, Global economic losses associated with this ‘missing’ productivity could amount to $1.6 trillion every year if Earth’s surface warms to 2º C more than it is today. Furthermore, reduced productivity affects overall economic growth and impedes the achievement of sustainable development goals.
Measures to address this urgent issue
Heatwaves have emerged as a regional security and health crisis, stressing the pressing need to confront this challenge effectively. In fact, a swift action at this juncture can avert catastrophic outcomes in the future and pave the way for a sustainable future. Given the urgency, proactive measures must be adopted by governments worldwide to minimize the impact of heatwaves on working hours, alongside implementing region-specific heatwave-action plans. Furthermore, investing in climate-resilient infrastructure is the need of the hour to brace up for climate-driven exigencies. As we stand on the brink of mounting threats, the ongoing COP28 presents an incredible opportunity to rally global support, channel resources, and steer forth a course of action to tackle this challenge head-on.
Dr. Md Mashhood Alam, is an independent researcher and climate hange advocate