The blistering heat wave across the country poses a threat to millions of workers engaged in farming, construction, and industrial operations. For many economies, this poses a significant threat to productivity. Therefore there is an urgent need for a climate-responsive action plan.

According to a study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), in 1995, the working hours lost in India due to heat stress were 5.87 per cent in agriculture and construction, 2.95 per cent in industry, and 0.63 per cent in services. These numbers are anticipated to increase to 9.04 per cent in agriculture and construction, 5.29 per cent in industry, and 1.48 per cent in services by 2030.

Specifically, agricultural and construction work, as well as work in steel plants and brick kilns, are expected to be the worst affected.

Heat stress reduces the ability of businesses to operate during the hottest hours. Temperature increases are expected to further diminish labour productivity, potentially rendering some agricultural areas unproductive and displacing a large number of farm workers.

Economic losses

The global economic losses due to heat stress at work were estimated at $280 billion in 1995, and this figure is projected to increase to $2,400 billion in 2030.

A World Bank study, ‘Climate Investment Opportunities in India’s Cooling Sector’, clearly indicates that utilising alternative and innovative energy-efficient technologies to meet the expected exponential rise in cooling demand is the key to combating the heat wave crisis.

In 2019, the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) was launched. It envisages looking at indoor cooling in buildings, cold chain solar refrigeration in the agriculture and pharmaceuticals sector, and air-conditioning in passenger transport.

The plan aims to reduce the demand for electricity-driven cooling by up to 25 per cent by 2037-38, potentially creating 2 million jobs for trained technicians and reducing the demand for refrigerants by around 31 per cent over the next two decades.

The report strongly advocates for the widespread adoption of such changes in India’s affordable housing programme, which could benefit over 11 million urban homes and over 29 million rural houses that the government aims to construct.

Cooling technologies

Public-private investments at district level cooling technologies are crucial. These cutting-edge technologies produce chilled water in a central plant, which is then distributed to multiple buildings through underground insulated pipes.

This drastically reduces the cost of providing cooling to individual buildings and can slash electricity bills by 20-30 per cent compared to the most efficient conventional cooling solution.

The Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA) office in Chandigarh stands as a prime example of a climate-responsive building, delivering a cooling effect in the hottest months and warmth in winter. This example can be replicated at large in future green buildings construction.

To combat rising food and pharmaceutical wastage during transportation due to higher temperatures, the World Bank report unequivocally recommends addressing gaps in cold chain distribution networks. Investing in pre-cooling and refrigerated transport can substantially decrease food loss by about 76 per cent and reduce carbon emissions by 16 per cent.

India is resolute in its aim to phase out the production and use of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons, used as coolants in air conditioners and refrigerators. The report emphasises the urgency of improving servicing, maintenance, and disposal of equipment that uses hydrochlorofluorocarbons.

It is crucial to comprehend the implications of climate change for the workplace, particularly for those most affected and vulnerable.

The writer is Vice-Chairman, Punjab Economic Policy and Planning Board. Views expressed are personal