Too hot to work? What Climate Change Means for Jobs

Global warming will cost the world more than $2 trillion a year in lost productivity by 2030 as it becomes too hot to work in many sectors, according to new research. The report says that India and China together stand to lose $450 billion in output by 2030. The economies of richer nations, such as Japan and the UK, are unaffected by heat stress and the U.S. saw only a modest dip of 0.2% of GDP.

The researchers, led by Tord Kjellstrom of the Health and Environment International Trust in New Zealand, projected the GDP losses due to heat stress for 43 countries using environmental data and computer models. Their results appear in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health.

Asia and Africa will suffer the most, according to Dr. Kjellstrom. In South-East Asia, 15-20% of annual work hours are already lost in heat-exposed jobs. That may double by 2050 as global warming continues. In Malaysia, for example, work normally slows or stops during the hottest times of the day or year to avoid dangerous heat stress.

We know that the world is getting hotter. What we don’t know is how much hotter it will get. That will depend on what action is taken to tackle climate change in the coming years. “A lot of countries have focused in the last few years on adaptation, with the impression that we can find methods to adjust to the future changes in climate … and protect people and protect our societies,” Dr. Kjellstrom said. “I think personally that the need for mitigation, which means to reduce climate change, has not been given enough focus. It’s quite urgent because the action needs to be taken now, not 40 years from now.”

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