Hotter days to cost world $2.7 trillion in lost productivity: Study

Tourists play soccer near a fountain on a hot summer day in Brussels, Belgium on July 19.
Tourists play soccer near a fountain on a hot summer day in Brussels, Belgium on July 19.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA • Rising temperatures caused by climate change may cost the world economy over US$2 trillion (S$2.7 trillion) in lost productivity by 2030 as hot weather makes it unbearable to work in some parts of the world, according to UN research.

The study showed that in Southeast Asia alone, up to 20 per cent of annual work hours may already be lost in jobs with exposure to extreme heat, with the figures set to double by 2050 as the effects of climate change deepen. Across the globe, 43 countries will see a fall in their gross domestic product (GDP) because of reduced productivity, the majority of them in Asia, researcher Tord Kjellstrom said.

His findings come as scientists from Nasa announced on Tuesday that global temperatures so far this year were much higher than in the first half of 2015. The findings show the world is on pace to set another high temperature benchmark, with 2016 becoming the third year in a row of record heat.

With the rising heat, Indonesia and Thailand could see their GDP reduced by 6 per cent in 2030, while in China, GDP could be reduced by 0.8 per cent and in India by 3.2 per cent.

"Current climate conditions in tropical and subtropical parts of the world are already so hot during the hot seasons that occupational health effects occur and work capacity for many people is affected," said Dr Kjellstrom, a director at Health and Environment International Trust.

He said the increasing need for rest "is likely to become a significant problem" as climate change makes the hottest days hotter and leads to longer periods of excessively hot days.

Dr Kjellstrom authored one of six papers on the impact of climate change on health that were put together by the United Nations University's International Institute for Global Health in Kuala Lumpur and published on Tuesday in the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health.The other papers showed 2.1 million people worldwide died between 1980 and 2012 due to nearly 21,000 natural catastrophes such as floods, mudslides, extreme heat, drought, high winds or fires.

Dr Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that while the first six months of 2015 made it the hottest half-year ever recorded, "2016 really has blown that out of the water". He attributed part of the rise in temperatures this year to El Nino, in which warming waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean pump a lot of heat into the atmosphere.

El Nino is now ending and water temperatures in the Pacific are dropping, which should lead in 2017 to lower but still historically high temperatures.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline 'Hotter days to cost world $2.7 trillion in lost productivity: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe