New ILO report estimates productivity effects of working at over 35 degrees C.

ILO warmer planet coverReleased on July 1 by the International Labour Organiztion (ILO),  Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work  presents estimates of the current and projected productivity losses at national, regional and global levels, and recommends policy and workplace actions.  The report  defines heat stress as “heat in excess of what the body can tolerate without suffering physiological impairment.” Roughly, it occurs at temperatures above 35°C, in high humidity. A growing body of research  show that it restricts workers’ physical capabilities and work capacity and thus, productivity, and can lead to  potentially fatal heatstroke.

The report projects that the equivalent of more than 2 per cent of total working hours worldwide will be lost every year by 2030. Agriculture and construction are the two sectors which will be worst affected , especially in south Asia, where job losses due to heat are projected to be 43 million jobs by 2030, and western Africa, where 9 million jobs are predicted to be lost. Other sectors especially at risk are environmental goods and services, refuse collection, emergency, repair work, transport, tourism, sports and some forms of industrial work. And as with so other climate change impacts, low-income countries are expected to suffer the worst, and people in the poorest regions will suffer the most.

Solutions:  From the report introduction: “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.”

The report chapters include a global overview, as well as chapters for Africa, The Americas (composed of 4 sub-regions: North America, Central America, South America, and  The Caribbean) , Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia. The Americas discussion reiterates our favoured situation, with  low levels of heat stress and relatively high labour standards, although the patterns remain consistent:   “Whereas the impact of heat stress on labour productivity in Canada is practically zero, the United States lost 0.11 per cent of total working hours as a result of heat stress in 1995 and is projected to lose 0.21 per cent in 2030. The expected productivity loss in 2030 is equivalent to 389,000 full-time jobs. This effect is concentrated in the southern states of the country and concerns mostly outdoor workers, such as construction workers and farm workers in California.”

Outdoor workers and cancer:   Working on a warmer planet includes a highlight section regarding North American farm workers which cites the “Sun Safety at Work Canada” programme , which began in 2016 and is funded  by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.  In 2014, as many as 7,000 skin cancers in Canada were attributed to work-related sun exposure, and outdoor workers have a 2.5-3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer than indoor workers.  The Sun Safety at Work program focuses on skin cancer but also includes information about  heat stress and eye damage in its Resource Library  Downloadable publications for employers and individuals include fact sheets, videos and presentations .

Other recent, relevant reading: 

“Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada” : Chapter 4  in the federal government’s Canada’s Changing Climate Report, released in 2019. It assesses observed and projected changes for Canada.

The Urban Heat Island Effect at the Climate Atlas of Canada website discusses the issue and provides links to some of the adaptive municipal programs.

Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health, by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes, released by The Conservation Council of New Brunswick on June 25. It predicts that  average temperatures in the 16 communities studied could rise 1.9 to 2.1 degrees Celsius between 2021 and 2050, and the number of days over 30 degrees are modelled to increase in the range of 122 to 300 per cent .

Life and Death under the Dome” (May 23) in the Toronto Star  , documents the summer of 2018 when at least  66  deaths in Montreal were attributed to heat.

Climate Change and Health: It’s Time for Nurses to Act   published by the the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions includes heat stress in its overview of health-related dangers of climate change in Canada, and highlights the heat waves in Ontario and Quebec in 2018.

Internationally: 

The Imperative of Climate Action to protect human health in Europe” released on June 3  by the European Academies Science Advisory Council  is mostly focused on the general population, but does include discussion of heat stress and of its effects on productivity.

Can the Paris Climate Goals Save Lives? Yes, a Lot of Them, Researchers Say” in the New York Times (June 5) summarizes an article from the journal Sciences Advances (June 5) .  “Increasing mitigation ambition to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal avoids substantial heat-related mortality in U.S. cities”  reviews the literature about heat-related mortality and concludes that achieving the 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement  could avoid between 110 and 2720 annual heat-related deaths in 15 U.S. cities.

 

Increasing frequency and intensity of heat stress bring dangers to outside workers and will trigger migration

The 40-plus temperatures and melting asphalt of Australia’s latest heat wave  seem hard to understand for North Americans shivering under a polar vortex, but both temperature extremes relate to climate change, and both can be deadly for vulnerable groups, including outdoor workers.  On December 22, a new scientific paper was published in Environmental Research Letters and summarized in layman’s terms by Climate News Network as  “Humidity is the  real heat wave threat”  (December 24).   In “Temperature and humidity based projections of a rapid rise in global heat stress exposure during the 21st century”  in Environmental Research Letters,   scientists at Columbia University’s  Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory used numerous models to project  frequency of high wet-bulb readings, (a scale which combines heat and humidity). The authors project that in the south-east U.S., where current wet-bulb temperatures now reach 29 or 30°C only occasionally, such highs could occur 25 to 40 days per year by the 2070’s or 2080’s,  and wet-bulb temperatures of 35°C  could occur on one or two days a year.  (35°C on a wet-bulb scale is considered the limit of human survivability.)

The situation would be worse in parts of South America,  China, and especially in Northeast India and coastal West Africa, where there is little cooling infrastructure, relatively low adaptive capacity, and rapidly growing populations. The authors conclude that “ heat stress may prove to be one of the most widely experienced and directly dangerous aspects of climate change, posing a severe threat to human health, energy infrastructure, and outdoor activities ranging from agricultural production to military training.” One might add, to any outdoor worker, including those in agriculture, construction , delivery, and emergency responders.

Similar warnings were published for farmers in Asia in “Deadly heat waves projected in the densely populated agricultural regions of South Asia” in Science Advances (August 2, 2017),  summarized by Inside Climate News.    Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles concluded  “The most intense hazard from extreme future heat waves is concentrated around densely populated agricultural regions of the Ganges and Indus river basins.”

But a recent article from Climate News Network  shows that we’re all in this together.  ” Warming drives climate refugees to Europe”  (Dec. 22) summarizes a study which combined EU asylum-application data with projections of future warming, and concludes that even under optimistic scenarios, asylum applications to the EU would increase by 28% by 2100 . The article concludes “Though poorer countries in hotter regions are most vulnerable to climate change, our findings highlight the extent to which countries are interlinked, and Europe will see increasing numbers of desperate people fleeing their home countries.”

 

 

Food Products Industry and their Supply Chains

In the latest report of the Oxfam Behind the Brands campaign about the international food products industry, the Big 10 food and beverage companies are said to have made significant new commitments over the past three years to improve social and environmental standards in their supply chains, with progress most evident in the areas of protecting land rights, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling gender inequality. However, The Journey to Sustainable Food   states that companies “must go much further and fundamentally re-write the business models in their supply chains to ensure that much more power and much more of the value their products generate reaches the farmers and workers who produce their ingredients.” Companies monitored are: Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.

A March 2016 study by Greenpeace International assesses 14 companies that committed to “no deforestation” to understand the impact of palm oil production on the plantations of Indonesia. The companies reviewed in Cutting deforestation out of the palm oil supply chain – Company Scorecard    are:  Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, Ferrero, General Mills, Ikea, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Orkla, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever.

Climate change, Natural Disasters, and Mental Health

The WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate presents a depressing catalogue of statistics, including that 2015 was the  hottest year on record, with CO2 concentrations breaching the symbolic benchmark of 400 ppm. The Global Footprint Network released the 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts  , reveals that the global Carbon Footprint is 16 percent higher than previously calculated.    The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Catholic University of Louvain Brussels, and the U.S.  Agency for International Development released analysis of the human cost of disasters , showing that  98.6 million people worldwide were affected in 2015, and that climate was a factor in 92% of those events.  Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office estimates  that over the next five years, the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program can expect claims of $229 million per year because of hurricanes, convective storms and winter storms and $673 million for floods, for a total of $902 million in Canada. To this litany of bad  news, add another cost: the mental health cost of climate change.

The issue is addressed in a recent three-part series of articles in the Toronto Star and raises the profile of the effects of climate change on the mental health of those most exposed and affected by it.  “Climate change is Wreaking Havoc on our Mental Health, Experts say”  (Feb. 28), discusses the mental health toll on environmental scientists and activists, provides links to studies, and applauds the American Psychological Association (APA) for taking the issue seriously (unlike the Canadian association). “For Normally Stoic Farmers, The Stress of Climate Change can be too much to bear”   (Feb. 28) highlights the plight of farmers, already recognized as having one of  the highest rates of occupation-related depression and suicide, and expected to worsen with increased frequency of  weather disasters of flooding and drought.    “Aboriginal Leaders are Warning of the Mental Health Cost of Climate Change in the North”   (Feb 29) portrays Northerners as front line victims of climate change .  The author of the series, Tyler Hamilton, calls on the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Psychological Association to acknowledge the issue and develop a position on the grounds that climate change stress is  both a public health concern and a factor in economic productivity.

The Carbon Footprint of Food Production – and How to Reduce it – with an Example from the U.S.

A report released by U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on September 10 estimated that the carbon footprint of wasted food was equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, with a direct economic cost estimated at $750 billion U.S. In this global survey, the world is divided into 7 regions, and 8 major commodity groups. The survey considers the entire life cycle – land use, water use, transportation, storage, loss and wastage. The Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources Summary Report is at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3347e/i3347e.pdf; An accompanying document, Toolkit: Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint, is at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3342e/i3342e.pdf and urges improvement in food harvest, storage, processing, transport and retailing processes, some of which can be accomplished by better training for farmers, farmer co-operatives, infrastructure investment, and technological improvements.

In related news, the U.S. Energy Department proposed in August two major energy efficiency rules for new commercial refrigeration equipment, walk-in coolers and freezers, estimated to cut emissions by over 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 30 years. See the official Department of Energy website for the rule change at: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/appliance_standards/rulemaking.aspx/ruleid/27, or the NRDC commentary about it at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/mwaltner/more_cooling_with_less_global.html.