Rising heat to cost India 34mn full-time jobs by 2030

India is among the countries that stand to lose the most in terms of productivity from so-called heat stress arising from climate change, according to a new study by the International Labour Organisation.

Heat stress, which refers to the increase in body heat from working and environmental conditions (apart from the kind of clothing worn) will lead to a productivity loss of 2.2 percent of total working hours around the world, equivalent to 80-million full-time jobs, by 2030, the report, released Monday said.

India, owing to its large population and dependence on the agriculture and construction sectors, is expected to witness a productivity loss equivalent to 34 million full-time jobs or 5.8 percent of total working hours by 2030, according to the report.

In comparison, China will lose 0.78 percent of its total work hours and would suffer productivity loss equivalent to 5.47 million jobs, while the United States will lose 0.21 percent of total work hours and 3.89 lakh jobs. Several Asian and African countries are projected to lose a higher percentage of work hours, with Chad losing 7.11 percent; Sudan, 5.9 percent; Cambodia 7.83 percent and Thailand 6.39 percent of working hours respectively.

ILO’s report “Working on a Warmer Planet” said that the agriculture and construction sectors will be worst affected owing to the physical nature of work accounting for 60 percent and 19 percent of working hours lost due to heat stress respectively.

South and West Asia are the most vulnerable. Assuming global warming of 1.5 degree C by the end of the century, heat stress in these two sub-regions will lead to the loss of 5.3 percent and 4.8 percent of working hours by 2030, corresponding to around 43 million and 9 million full-time jobs, respectively. The European region is expected to experience a smaller impact, with their productivity losses projected to be less than 0.1 percent. Economic losses due to heat stress globally were estimated to be $280 billion in 1995 but this is projected to increase to $2,400 billion in 2030, with the highest impact in lower-middle and low-income countries.

Heat stress could prompt increased rural migration and inequalities in work conditions, with agricultural workers leaving rural areas in search of better prospects in the cities or in other countries. “Significantly, during the 2005-15 period, higher levels of heat stress were associated with larger out-migration flows – a trend not observed for the preceding 10-year period,” the report said.

Urban heat island (UHI) phenomenon from concretisation will accentuate heat stress episodes, according to ILO. The phenomenon refers to an urban area being much warmer than its rural surroundings. ILO refers to a study from 2017 which analysed 1,692 cities and found that the total economic costs of climate change for cities in this century could be up to 2.6 times higher if UHI effects are taken into account. On average, cities could lose 5.6 percent of their GDP by the end of the century.

The ILO report cites Ahmedabad’s Heat Action Plan that provides access to affordable cool roofs to the city’s slum residents and urban poor as a positive initiative. “We need a similar plan for rural areas too. Some interventions are known, like drinking more water intake, afternoon naps, working in shifts, immediate medical attention in emergencies and cool roofs, but I don’t think labour ministry has started work on such plans. There should be inter-ministerial coordination and coordination with industry,” said Dileep Malvankar, director, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, and of the people instrumental in developing the Ahmedabad heat action plan.”The impact of climate change-induced effects on agriculture are well documented. Rising temperatures and declining precipitation are projected to cut yields by 4.5 to 9 percent, depending on the extent and distribution of warming and heat stress. Since agriculture makes up roughly 15 percent of India’s GDP, a 4.5- 9.0 percent negative impact on production implies roughly a 0.6- 1.5 percent impact on GDP per year,” said R Mani an agricultural economist with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

Several studies have studied how UHI affects heat stress in India. An IIT Delhi study found several parts of Delhi sizzling in summer, with a temperature that was, in some cases, as much as 8.3 degree Celsius higher than surrounding areas.

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