Climate change worsens impact of humid heat on outdoor workers: study

“The negative effects of sweltering temperatures on people doing heavy work in agriculture and construction had been underestimated.”

By Kelly Macnamara

A harrowing mix of heat and humidity that makes working outdoors difficult and dangerous is causing an estimated 677 billion lost work hours a year worldwide, according to a new study Thursday that warns climate change is making it worse .

Researchers in the United States, who estimated the current cost at $2.1 trillion each year, said the negative effects of sweltering temperatures on people doing heavy work in agriculture and construction had been underestimated. estimated.

The new figures come amid growing focus on the severe impact of climate change on health, not only as projections of future damage from heatwaves and other extreme events, but also as as consequences that are already happening in a warming world.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, looked at data on damp heat – particularly dangerous because the body is less able to cool itself by sweating.

The researchers estimated the number of workers exposed to hazardous levels over the 20 years to 2020, as well as the impact on work compared to the period from 1981 to 2000.

The researchers incorporated findings from laboratory research published last year that suggests productivity declines 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 around 677 billion lost working hours per year in intensive outdoor work.

He suggested that nearly three-quarters of the world’s working-age population already live in places where background climatic conditions are associated with around 100 lost working hours per person per year due to heat.

“If outdoor workers lose productivity at these lower temperature and humidity levels, labor losses in the tropics could reach 500 to 600 hours per person per year, which is more than twice higher than previous estimates,” lead researcher Luke said. Parsons of Duke University.

The research found that India currently loses around 259 billion hours a year due to the impacts of damp heat on work, while China loses 72 billion hours and Bangladesh 32 billion hours.

Global warming “amplifies the impact”

Over the past four decades, as global temperatures have risen, the study found that heat-related labor losses have increased by at least 9%.

The authors estimate that climate change is responsible for 25 billion extra working hours lost each year in India over the past 20 years compared to the previous 20 years, and 4 billion extra working hours per year in China over the same period.

Parsons said other hot and humid regions such as the southeastern United States could also experience “significant” labor losses.

“These results imply that we don’t have to wait for 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming to feel the impacts of climate change on labor and the economy,” he said.

“The warming we have already experienced may be associated with large-scale background labor losses. Further future warming amplifies these impacts.

Last year, the Lancet’s annual Countdown on Health and Humanity report warned that, overall, some 295 billion potential working hours were lost due to extreme heat exposure in 2020, average potential income lost in the poorest countries equivalent to between four and eight percent of gross national income. domestic product (GDP).

Research published last year in the journal Nature Climate Change suggested that 100,000 heat-related deaths a year were caused by climate change.

Last year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that global warming is virtually certain to exceed the Paris Agreement threshold of a 1.5 degree cap. Celsius, probably within a decade.

The past seven years since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 have been the hottest on record.

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