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The total cost of losses due to temperature rise will be $2.4 trillion a year, said the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work report.

This prediction has been made based on a global temperature rise of only 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

Highlighting that the world’s poorest countries will be worst affected, particularly in West Africa and South-East Asia, the ILO warned that the lost output will be equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs – or 2.2 per cent of total working hours worldwide – during 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.

Ms. Saget said: “We can expect to see more inequality between low and high-income countries and worsening working conditions for the most vulnerable.”

Agriculture and construction will be worst affected

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.

With some 940 million people active in agriculture around the world, farmers are set to be worst hit by rising temperatures, according to the ILO data, which indicates that the sector will be responsible for 60 per cent of global working hours lost from heat stress, by 2030.

Construction will also be “severely impacted”, with an estimated 19 per cent of global working hours lost at the end of the next decade, said ILO.

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.

“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, raising sea levels and loss of biodiversity,” Ms. Saget explained.

More inequality

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, Ms. Saget added.

To adapt to this new reality, ILO has called 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.


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