40% Drop in India’s Labour Productivity by 2100 Due to Climate Change

Climate change is not only a threat to the environment, but also to the economy and the livelihoods of millions of people. A new study published in the journal Global Change Biology predicts that climate change could cause labour productivity to drop significantly in countries like India and Pakistan by the end of the century.

The study, led by Professor Gerald Nelson from the University of Illinois, US, used computational models based on data from over 700 heat stress trials to estimate the physical work capacity (PWC) of agricultural workers under different climate scenarios. PWC is defined as “an individual’s work capacity relative to an environment without any heat stress”.

The study found that agricultural workers are already feeling the heat, with half of the world’s cropland farmers estimated to be working below 86% capacity in “recent past” (1991-2010) climate conditions. By 2100, this could worsen dramatically, with labour productivity falling as low as 40% in countries like India and Pakistan, and 70% in other regions in Southeast and South Asia, West and Central Africa, and northern South America.

Implications for food production and security

The decline in labour productivity could have serious implications for global food production and security, as agriculture is one of the most labour-intensive sectors in the world. According to the study, “Assessments consistently conclude that climate change will reduce crop yields making food security challenges worse. But it’s not only crops and livestock that are affected. The agricultural workers who plant, till, and harvest much of the food we need will also suffer due to heat exposure, reducing their ability to undertake work in the field.”

The study also noted that climate change could exacerbate existing inequalities and vulnerabilities among agricultural workers, especially in developing countries where they lack access to adequate health care, social protection, and adaptation technologies.

Potential adaptations and mitigation strategies

The study suggested some possible adaptations and mitigation strategies to reduce the impact of climate change on agricultural workers. One option is to switch to nighttime or shade work to reduce direct solar radiation, which was shown to lead to a 5-10% improvement in worker productivity. Another option is to increase the use of mechanical machinery and equipment in agriculture, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where labour-intensive practices are prevalent. This could help reduce the physical strain on workers and enhance overall productivity.

However, the study also acknowledged that these adaptations have limitations and trade-offs, such as increased energy consumption, environmental impacts, and costs. Therefore, the study emphasized the need for more research and policy interventions to address the complex challenges posed by climate change on labour productivity and food security.

Data sources and statistics

The study used data from various sources to support its findings and projections. Some of the data sources and statistics are:

  • The computational models were based on data from more than 700 heat stress trials conducted by Loughborough University, UK.
  • The study used four Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to project future climate conditions.
  • The study estimated that India is projected to lose 5.8 per cent of working hours in 2030 due to global warming, a productivity loss equivalent to 34 million full-time jobs, according to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
  • The study cited an analysis that India’s GDP could decline by as much as 90 percent by 2100 due to climate change.

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