Climate Action

3 ways the climate crisis is impacting jobs and workers

Air quality will deteriorate as the climate crisis escalates: more wildfires and dust from droughts will increase the amount of air pollutants.

Air quality will deteriorate as the climate crisis escalates: more wildfires and dust from droughts will increase the amount of air pollutants. Image: Unsplash/Patrick Perkins

Madeleine North
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Education, Gender and Work

  • By 2030, up to 3.8% of total working hours could be lost because of climate-induced high temperatures.
  • Poor air quality, disease-carrying pests, flooding and wildfires will also impact workers and lead to job losses.
  • But the global transition to sustainable energy, as well as climate change adaptation, are expected to be “net job creators”, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2023 report.

If you are reading this in a temperature-controlled office building, heat stress is probably not top of your list of worries right now.

And yet, in just seven years, up to 3.8% of total working hours worldwide could be lost to climate-induced high temperatures, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). That’s the equivalent of 136 million full-time jobs – and economic losses of $2,400 billion.

Of course, it’s not office workers that would be mainly impacted, but outdoor workers, emergency responders and people working in hot indoor environments.

And it’s not just extreme heat that workers will have to contend with. Poor air quality, disease-carrying insects, flooding and wildfires – all exacerbated by the climate crisis – will also have a significant impact on workers’ ability to carry out their jobs, says the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Deloitte anticipates that over 13 million jobs in the US are vulnerable to “climate extremes and economic transition impacts”.

Here are three ways the climate crisis is impacting – or going to impact – the workplace.

Productivity losses could reach $2,400 billion by 2030 due to the climate crisis.
Productivity losses could reach $2,400 billion by 2030 due to the climate crisis. Image: Reuters

How the climate crisis affects the health of workers

The EPA has identified five key health impacts of these “climate-related hazards”:

  • Heat-related ill-health – Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are obvious dangers for workers exposed to extreme heat, but fatigue as a result of working in hot temperatures is also a risk, as it increases the chances of error, which in some jobs can lead to injury or death.
  • Respiratory illnesses – Air quality will deteriorate as the climate crisis escalates: more wildfires and dust from droughts will increase the amount of air pollutants. At the same time, rising temperatures will alter the length of the spring and summer seasons, which in turn will exacerbate issues like hay fever and asthma for some outdoor workers.
  • Physical and mental health impacts – For people on the frontline, such as firefighters and healthcare workers, the physical and psychological toll of dealing with the fallout from extreme weather events is likely to be a heavy one.
  • Diseases – With warmer temperatures comes an increase in insects, which means more dangerous infections from mosquitoes, ticks and other disease-carrying insects.
  • Pesticide-related impacts – And as a result of the insect increase, more pesticides are likely to be used, which will impact agricultural workers exposed to the toxic chemicals.
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How the climate crisis causes a loss in productivity

Studies show that work productivity slows down once temperatures go above 24-26°C. And at 33-34°C, productivity levels can be halved in jobs that require manual labour, says the ILO.

And if it’s not heat impacting productivity, other climate-related effects will be felt by workers, such as air pollution exacerbating existing health conditions, deteriorating mental health caused by the stress of extreme weather events and illnesses due to an increase in pest-related diseases.

Inevitably, this will impact the Global South and low-income countries the most. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia are at the highest risk of decreased labour productivity due to the climate crisis, according to a study published in The Lancet.

How the climate crisis impacts jobs

Extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, wildfires and hurricanes will damage business assets, transport routes and industrial and agricultural infrastructure, says the ILO, leading to job losses.

Climate change-related events cost the global economy $313 billion in 2022, according to commercial risk consulting firm AON, which says that figure is 4% above the 21st-century average.

There is some positive news, however. The global transition to sustainable energy, as well as climate change adaptation, are expected to be “net job creators”, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2023 report.

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Related topics:
Climate ActionNature and BiodiversityJobs and the Future of Work
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