Adapting to the impacts of extreme heat on Bangladesh’s labour force

The impact of global warming on the labour force is already evident and is unequally distributed across the world. Global economic inequality is rising due to global warming, with hotter, poorer countries experiencing a decline in growth due to warmer conditions.

Bangladesh is an example of a country for whom the health and productivity of its workforce – and thus its economic output – are under increasing threat in a warming world. Yet to date, the non-fatal effects of direct heat exposure have received insufficient attention from researchers and policymakers.

This policy brief considers how policymakers can better ensure workers in Bangladesh are protected from extreme heat while pursuing sustainable development pathways and a just transition to a low-carbon economy. Other countries with similar vulnerabilities to Bangladesh can also draw lessons from our findings.

Key messages

  • Working conditions in Bangladesh are worsening due to extreme heat associated with climate change. This increased heat stress is already having a negative impact on workers’ health and labour productivity.
  • On a combined measure of labour supply and labour productivity in sectors that are relatively highly exposed to heat in Bangladesh, a decrease of 46.2 percentage-points by 2080 is projected under a 3°C warming scenario.
  • The loss in productivity could compromise efforts to reduce poverty and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), making it more challenging for Bangladesh to achieve its medium- and long-term goals of promoting prosperity and inclusive growth.
  • Possible adaptation options include changing working conditions (e.g. providing cooling and hydration breaks, changing working hours, and providing access to cooling indoors), adjusting building design, climate-smart urban planning, and increasing mechanisation of some tasks.
  • While there are several policies and frameworks for labour protection in place, their enforcement is currently weak. Better data on how heat is harming worker health and reducing labour supply and labour productivity can support stronger enforcement, along with regulations that protect the health of workers.
  • Action on climate change, including making reforms towards a low-carbon economy, is also likely to affect the labour market by causing significant reallocation of workers. This will require just transition policies to be put in place, to avoid rising unemployment, poverty and inequality.
  • Measures to ensure that the transition to a low-carbon economy is just may include creating new job opportunities, retraining workers, and ensuring the protection of the labour force, including migrant workers and informal workers.