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According to a new study, climate change will have a significant effect on work-life if we do not meet the goals of the UN Paris Agreement.

The study, conducted by an international team that included Nottingham University, is the first to assess the impact of future climate change on effective labour (the combination of the hours of work people can do in a day and their productivity in those hours), at a global scale. 

The findings published in The Lancet Planetary Health found that labour could be reduced by between 18-25 percentage points. Professor Simon Gosling, who was involved in the study, explained: “The recent US-Canada heatwave is typical of the extreme temperature events we will see with climate change. As we know, heatwaves can have devastating effects on human health, wildfires, and infrastructure. Labour is one of the other areas that will be affected most directly by climate change as rising temperatures affect people’s ability to work.”

The team analysed data from over 300 censuses conducted around the world that provided data on the number of hours worked per week. This data was combined with data on historical temperatures to assess the relationship between historical climate and labour. These relationships were then used to estimate how the number of hours worked and productivity might change under different global warming scenarios in the future. 

Professor Gosling continued: “For any world region, there is on average an optimal temperature at which it is most comfortable to be working. We estimated these across the globe. For example, in Europe, the optimal temperature is 14°C for working outside in the shade or indoors, whereas, in Africa, it is 25°C. If temperatures increase beyond the optimal temperature, the number of hours a person can work declines, as does their productivity.”

Parts of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia are at the highest risk under future warming scenarios. This study underscores the importance of securing ambitious global greenhouse gas emissions cuts at the UN Climate Conference in Glaaffectater and highlights the need for work environments to adapt to deal with the higher temperatures. If the more ambitious of the two goals of the Paris Agreement are met, which limits global warming to 1.5°C, the decline in global labour will be smaller in the future. 

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