Ukpono Ukpong, Abuja
No fewer than 80 million full-time jobs, equivalent to global economic losses of $2,400 billion is projected to be lost by the year 2030 as a result of increased heat stress resulting from global warming with Africa having several areas that are at high risk of heat exposure.
According to report, the losses induced by heat stress by 2030 would translate into 2.3 per cent of the total number of working hours in Africa, the equivalent of more than 14 million full-time jobs with at least 3.6 million of those full-time jobs being lost in Nigeria alone.
The countries particularly at risk in the African continent include Benin, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, Chad and Sudan.
The projections contained in a recently released report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), notes that the global temperature rise of 1.5°C by the end of this century suggest that in 2030, 2.2 per cent of total working hours worldwide will be lost because of higher temperatures.
While explaining that the working hours lost to heat stress could result in a reduction in aggregate production, the report also noted that African countries have already lost on average 0.9 per cent of their combined GDP as a result of heat stress with projections suggesting that this loss will increase to 1.8 per cent in 2030.
This productivity loss will put additional pressure on an increasing number of workers who are already threatened by other negative effects of climate change, such as changing rain patterns, natural disasters, water scarcity and biodiversity loss.
The report titled: “Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work,”’ also disclosed that work in two sectors of agriculture and construction will be most affected by the heat stress,
explaining that millions of women who make up the majority of workers in subsistence agriculture as well as men who dominate the construction industry will suffer more given the physical nature of their work, which is mostly undertaken outdoors and entails direct exposure to heat caused by climate change.
“The sector expected to be worst affected globally is agriculture. 940 million people around the world work in the agricultural sector. It is projected to account for 60 per cent of global working hours lost due to heat stress by the year 2030.
“The construction sector will also be severely impacted with an estimated 19 per cent of global working hours lost by the same date. Other sectors especially at risk are environmental goods and services, refuse collection, emergency, repair work, transport, tourism, sports and some forms of industrial work.
“The impact will be unequally distributed around the world. The regions losing the most working hours are expected to be southern Asia and western Africa, where approximately five per cent of working hours are expected to be lost in 2030, corresponding to around 43 million and 9 million jobs respectively.
“Moreover, it will be people in the poorest regions who will suffer the most significant economic losses. Lower-middle and low-income countries are expected to suffer the worst, particularly as they have fewer resources to adapt effectively to increased heat.
“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,” the report stated.
While noting that the consequences are far-reaching for the UN’s 2030 agenda, the Chief of Unit in the ILO’s research department and one of the main authors of the report, Catherine Saget, warned that economic, social and health effects of heat stress would make it difficult to tackle poverty and promote human development, and consequently, also attain most of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“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.
“In addition to the massive economic costs of heat stress, we can expect to see more inequality between low and high income countries and worsening working conditions for the most vulnerable, as well as displacement of people.
To adapt to this new reality appropriate measures by governments, employers and workers, focusing on protecting the most vulnerable, are urgently needed,” she said.
The report called for greater efforts to design, finance and implement national policies to address heat stress risks and protect workers.
Heat stress refers to heat in excess of what the body can tolerate without suffering physiological impairment. It generally occurs at temperatures above 35°C in high humidity.
Excess heat during work is an occupational health risk as it restricts workers’ physical functions and capabilities, work capacity and thus, productivity. In extreme cases it can lead to heatstroke which can be fatal.