Earlier this month, the United Nations released warnings of the imminent need to tightly control global temperature increase over the next 12 years in order to limit the impacts of global warming. By now the wide-reaching impacts of global warming are widely known.

However, as well as the increased risks of drought, floods and extreme heat, and the environmental catastrophes they entail, a new study has warned of a link between global temperature increase and decreasing workplace productivity.

YU Shuang, XIA Jiangjiang and YAN Zhongwei from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, together with colleagues from China and UK, studied 4,363 responses to a 2016 global online survey into the effect of heat stress on the work productivity losses (WPL). From this, they were able to quantify the effects of heat stress on work productivity in different countries for the year.

As with many impacts of global warming, the effects will be felt most in the developing world. The survey results revealed that the heat-related WPL for the year was 6.6 days for developing countries and 3.5 days for developed countries.

Previous surveys on the impact of rising temperatures on WPL have been conducted, but they mainly focused developed countries, and only included a small sample size. However, in this study, researchers identified regions most vulnerable to heat waves that might have been overlooked in the past, especially the regions such as Central Asia and northern Europe due to relatively low adaptability to heat.

Workplace productivity worst hit in developing world.

The research looked at the loss of productivity when the increase in global temperature reached 1.5, 2, 3 and 4°C, and found that the estimated heat-related WPL was negatively correlated with the gross domestic product per capita. If the UN target of a global temperature increase of no more than 1.5°C is achieved, WPL will still increase by 9 days in the developed world, and 19 days in the developing world.

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If the UN’s previous target of 2°C is reached, this would increase to 12 days in the developed world and 31 in the developing world. In Southeast Asia, the most affected region, the heat-related WPL would be more than two months.

With a clear link between workplace heat conditions and economic performance, reduced work capacity could result in lower economic output for both individual organisations, and in turn countries as a whole.

The financial impacts of high temperatures have already been quantified, with a 2015 Australian study finding that the country loses at least US$6.2bn per year due to reduced productivity caused by heatwaves.

YU Shuang believes that there is an urgent need for improved infrastructure to better deal with the impacts of temperature rise, especially in the developing world:

“Heat waves surely impact more seriously the developing countries in general, but our study quantitatively estimated how much heatwaves would reduce the productivity and identified the most vulnerable regions over the world. Our results call for attention to the need of adaptation to increasing heatwaves by improving protective infrastructure especially for the developing regions in the Belt and Road.”