Rising temperatures to threaten productivity

Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled | Published: July 25, 2018 21:45:45

Rising temperatures increase incidence of heat stress and health risks leading to reduced productivity. In its new report titled 'World Employment and Social Outlook 2018', the International Labour Organisation (ILO) came up with the observation that in some countries of the world rising global temperature will have a significant impact on productivity and occupational safety and health. The productivity losses are expected to occur in some advanced economies like Australia and the United States (US) as well as developing and emerging economies like Bangladesh and Thailand. Rising temperature increases the proportion of working hours, during which a worker needs to rest and allow the body to cool down and maintain core body temperature below 38 degrees Celsius in order to avoid heat stroke. As a result of human-induced climate change, during the course of the century, many of the more than four billion people who live in hot areas across the globe will experience negative effects of health and safety and reduced work capacity to loss of productivity. 

As indicated in manuals produced by Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) agencies around the world, heat stress is an OSH hazard. So it should be considered a hazard by workers, employers and governments alike. Likewise, as prescribed under the Employment Injury Benefits Convention (EIBC), workers affected in the countries by heat stress are entitled to remedy benefits. The growing prevalence of heat stress will partly reduce worker performance because slowing down is a natural adaptation to heat exposure. Heat stress will lead to negative occupational health effects and continue to reduce productivity. Heat stress will also lead to workplace injuries, particularly in countries most exposed to extreme heat, in sectors that rely on outside and daytime work - e.g. agriculture, construction and in areas with weaker adaptation such as factories without effective cooling systems.

In developing countries, the majority of workers suffering from heat stress are not covered by employment injury insurance. Only 34 per cent of persons of working age, worldwide, are covered in case of an injury at work. The productive jobs heavily rely on a healthy environment and the services that it provides. The green economy can enable millions of more people to overcome poverty, and deliver improved livelihoods for this and future generations. This is a very positive message of opportunity in a world of complex choices. The transition to a greener economy, with gains in fields of renewable energies, construction, manufacturing, and sustainable agriculture, can create a net of 14 million jobs in Asia and the Pacific. In Asia and the Pacific, economic growth remains coupled with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Environmental degradation is further exacerbated by the high volume of materials extraction. The Asia and the Pacific region were responsible for 55 per cent of the 84 gigatons of materials extracted globally in 2013. These include freshwater and raw materials. Estimates show that the region lost, due to human-induced or climate change related disasters, an annual average of 536 working-life years per 100,000 working age people between the year 2008 and 2015. As rising temperatures impact the health of workers and reduce worker performance, heat stress is another concern. As a result of rising temperatures, South Asia could face productivity losses equivalent to 4.8 per cent, corresponding to around 40 million full-time jobs. Agriculture workers will be the most affected ones.

Actions to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius will result in sufficient global job creation to more than offset the expected job losses of six million in traditional energy sectors. Of the 163 economic sectors analysed, most sectors of the economy will benefit from net job creation. Globally only 14 sectors will suffer employment losses of more than 10,000 jobs. Offsetting some 400,000 jobs lost in fossil fuel-based electricity generation, some 2.5 million jobs will be created in renewable-based electricity. New jobs will be created with the adoption of sustainable practices in the energy sector. These include changes in the energy mix, promoting the use of electric vehicles and improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

Policy changes in these regions can offset the anticipated job losses or their negative impacts. Low- and some middle-income countries still need support to develop data collection, and adopt and finance strategies towards a just transition to an environmentally sustainable economy and society that includes everyone from all groups of society. To anticipate the skills needed for the transition to greener economies, the countries need to take urgent actions and provide new training programmes for the relevant personnel. The transition to more sustainable agricultural systems will create jobs in medium and large organic farms. This will also allow smallholders to diversify their sources of income, notably if farmers have the right skills.

The environmental laws, regulations and policies that include labour issues offer a powerful means to advance the ILO's Decent Work Agenda and environmental objectives. Social and political dialogues, that allow workers and employers to participate in the socio-political decision-making process together with governments, play key roles in reconciling socio-political and economic objectives with environmental concerns. There are cases where such dialogues not only helped at reducing the environmental impact of policies, but also avoided a negative impact on working or employment conditions. 

Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre. 


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