Emerging economies face as much as 10 per cent losses in working hours because of deteriorating thermal conditions in the workplace due to climate change, according to a new report released today.

The estimated losses imply adverse consequences of a similar scale to economic output, or GDP, for a wide range of developing countries, including India, Indonesia and Nigeria, as highlighted by the report.

Strengthening current plans for greenhouse gas emission cuts under the Paris Agreement on climate change would, according to the study, significantly reduce the economic and public health impact of escalating workplace heat.

The findings were presented at International Labour Organization (ILO) headquarters in Geneva, together with the 43-member Climate Vulnerable Forum, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ILO, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Organization of Employers (IOE), UNI Global Union, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), ACT Alliance, and with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The release marked International Workers’ Memorial Day, with the report calling excessive workplace heat a well-known occupational health and productivity danger behind growing risks of heat exhaustion, heat stroke and, “in extreme cases”, death.

The joint study, “Climate Change and Labour: Impacts of Heat in the Workplace” is based on updated research into labour-related effects for different economies exposed to increasingly extreme thermal conditions because of climate change.

More than one billion employees and their employers and communities in vulnerable countries already grapple with such severe heat in the workplace, the report finds, and the impact of climate change on labour is not being adequately accounted for by international and national climate or employment policies. For one country, the report found that reductions to total available working hours due to climate change had already reached an estimated 4 per cent by the 1990s, highlighting the current nature of the challenge.

Highly exposed zones include the Southern United States, Central America and the Caribbean, Northern South America, North and West Africa, South and South East Asia, according to the report. Especially vulnerable are Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and emerging economies with high concentrations of outdoor labour and industrial and service sector workers operating in ineffectively climate-controlled conditions.

Even with the stronger 1.5-degree Celsius limit settled on under the Paris Agreement, key regions would face almost an entire month of extreme heat each year by 2030 (2010-2030), the report finds.[DL1]  Such heat reduces work productivity, increases the need for work breaks and elevates risks to health and occupational injuries-effects that also entail lower productive output on a “macro-scale” according to the study.

Speaking at the report’s launch, Cecelia Rebong, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the UN, said the impact of heat in the workplace adds “another layer of vulnerability to developing countries already reeling from the adverse impacts of climate change.” The need to limit global warming was “urgent and critical”, she added.

According to the report, “when it is too hot, people work less effectively out-of-doors, in factories, the office or on the move due to diminished ability for physical exertion and for completing mental tasks.”

“Governments and international organizations have long put in place standards on thermal conditions in the workplace. But climate change has already altered thermal conditions,” and “additional warming is a serious challenge for any worker or employer reliant on outdoor or non-air conditioned work.” Levels of heat are already “very high” even for acclimatized populations, it noted.

Technical development of the joint report was based on research of the High Occupational Temperature Health and Productivity Suppression (Hothaps) program of the Ruby Coast Research Centre, Mapua, New Zealand, led by Tord Kjellstrom.