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Abstract

Heat stress is increasingly becoming an obstacle to economic activity. It reduces the ability of businesses
to operate during the hottest hours. Adapting to these new and threatening conditions is costly.
Even if it does prove possible to limit global warming by the end of the century to 1.5°C above pre-industrial
levels, the accumulated financial loss due to heat stress is expected to reach US$2,400 billion by 2030. If nothing is done now to mitigate climate change, these costs will be much higher as global temperatures increase even further towards the end of the century.

Solutions do exist. In particular, the structural transformation of rural economies should be speeded up so that fewer agricultural workers are exposed to high temperatures and so that less physical effort has to be expended in such conditions.

Other important policy measures that can help are skills development, the promotion of an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises, public investment in infrastructure, and improved integration of developing countries into global trade. At the workplace level, enhanced information about on-site weather conditions, the adaptation of workwear and equipment, and technological improvements can make it easier for workers and their employers to cope with higher temperatures.

Employers and workers should discuss together how to adjust working hours, in addition to adopting other occupational safety and health measures. Accordingly, social dialogue is a relevant tool for improving working conditions on a warming planet. A study of international migration in general has found that the effect of temperature on out-migration is linked to the country of origin’s dependence on agriculture.

There are currently more than 850 million people working in the agricultural sector worldwide, the majority
of whom are self-employed and subsistence farmers. Together, they represent 26.5 per cent of the world’s
total labour force (ILO, 2018c). Low- and lower-middle-income countries are highly dependent on the agricultural sector, which accounts for, respectively, 68.9 per cent and 38.8 per cent of their total employment
(ibid.).

Heat stress increasingly becoming an obstacle to economic activity. 80 million jobs will be lost by 2030, as it will be too hot to work, reports ILO, leading to expected financial loss up to US$2,400 billion

Agricultural workers are the group of workers most vulnerable to heat stress, as can be seen from
figure 2.6 in Chapter 2, which shows that the agricultural sector accounted for 83 per cent of global working
hours lost to heat stress in 1995 and that it is still expected to account for 60 per cent of the loss in 2030.