Climate change is exacerbating the heat and humidity that makes outdoor labour difficult and dangerous, with severe impact on China, India and other Asia-Pacific countries, according to a new study.
The authors estimate that climate change is to blame for 677 billion lost working hours a year around the world.
It is blamed for an additional 25 billion working hours lost annually in India over the past 20 years, compared with the previous two decades, and an extra 4 billion hours a year lost in China over the same period.
The research found that India loses around 259 billion hours annually due to the impact of humid heat on labour, while China loses 72 billion hours and Bangladesh 32 billion hours.
Parsons said other hot and humid regions such as the southeastern US could also be experiencing “significant” labour losses as well. “These results imply that we don’t have to wait for 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming to experience impacts of climate change on labour and the economy,” he said.
Researchers in the US, who estimated the current cost at $2.1 trillion every year, said that the negative effects of stifling temperatures on people doing heavy work in agriculture and construction had been underestimated.
Severe Health Impacts
The new figures come amid a growing focus on the severe health impacts of climate change, not just as projections of future harm from heatwaves and other extreme events, but also as consequences already playing out across a warming world.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, looked at data on humid heat, which is particularly dangerous because the body is less able to cool down by sweating.
Researchers estimated the number of workers exposed to unsafe levels over the 20 years to 2020, as well as the impact on labour compared with the period 1981 to 2000.
Researchers incorporated the findings from laboratory-based research published last year that suggest productivity drops off at lower temperature and humidity levels than previously thought.
They found that between 2001 and 2020, exposure to high humidity and heat was linked to approximately 677 billion lost working hours a year in heavy outdoor labour.
- AFP with additional editing by George Russell