Home Emergency Management News UNDP Report Says Climate Change Heat Could Result in Labor Losses of $2 Trillion by 2030

UNDP Report Says Climate Change Heat Could Result in Labor Losses of $2 Trillion by 2030

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Study: Climate change impacting labor workers around the globe

The United Nations Development Programme released a report, produced in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), that indicated workplace heat from rising temperatures due to climate change is already impacting labor workers around the globe, but especially those in sub-tropical and tropical climates.  

A key finding from the report was that the low-skill, low-income, heavy labor, agricultural and manufacturing jobs are the positions most likely to be impacted by higher temperatures and extended heatwaves.

According to the report, West Africa has seen "the number of very hot days per year doubled since the 1960s."  In Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Burkina Faso, an estimated 1- to 3-pecent loss of daylight hours of labor has already occurred since the mid-1990s. Under current climate change conditions, the report indicated that macro-scale effects will be experienced in Central America, the Caribbean, Northern South America, the Southern United States, North and West Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.

Extended heat waves, economic losses

Higher temperatures and extended heat waves have caused economic losses for the worker, the family, the employer, and the community. A significantly reduced output from nations that are major producers but highly susceptible to higher heat extremes, could negatively impact the global economy. According to the report, impacts are likely to worsen exponentially if projected temperature increases hit the 2 to 2.7 degree mark, with losses doubling or tripling in the most vulnerable economies, reaching an estimate $2 trillion USD.

Current conditions in many low- to middle-income countries already place workers at high risk due to the lack of air conditioning and poor ventilation systems that could otherwise help the body maintain its core temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. Some adjustment by the body to higher temperatures can occur, but it is more difficult for the body to metabolize heat under heavy exertion.

Extended periods of heat push the limits

Extended heatwaves will push most individuals past these limits, requiring adaptation efforts to avoid the dangers of high temperatures: heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death. The only way to prevent these dangers is to rest, drink water, and avoid working in the hottest hours of the day. The report noted that this often extends the work day for many, but wages remain the same, decreasing the quality of life.

Higher temperatures and extended heatwaves and their impacts resulting from climate change also affect regional habitability, often driving migration on a national and international level. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement recognized climate change as a root cause of migration from "climate change-related environmental degradation."

Findings from the report also suggest that ILO Codes of Practice for hot workplaces are already being violated, and economic, social, and health effects from excessive heat become challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for developing nations. The report strongly advocated immediate policy changes that incorporate climate change adaptation measures to help nations protect vulnerable worker populations.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.