Informal economies have been considerably neglected in the deliberations about climate change. This holds true as the primary policy-making of the country is focused on the formal sectors. On the other hand, informal economic systems like construction and local vendors are highly marginalised and impoverished in the existing developing world. Climate change has further added to their burden. It has already led to adverse impacts on jobs and work productivity, and these consequences are expected to become more notable in the coming decades.
Heat stress is a severe threat to human health and, hence, to productivity and well-being. By 2030 the equivalent of higher than 2% of total working hours globally is predicted to be lost every year, either because it is too warm to work or because workers have to work at slower speeds. In Southern Asia and Western Africa, the productivity decline may even reach 5%. Extreme heat levels exacerbate inequality between wealthy and developing countries, and between communities within the same nation.
Even if there is a probability of curbing global warming by the turn of the centenary to 1.5 degree Celcius over pre-industrial levels, the acquired financial damage due to heat stress is anticipated to touch $2,400 billion by 2030. If nothing is done now to alleviate climate change, these losses will be much higher as global temperatures are set to rise even further towards the end of the century.
The influence of high temperatures on informal-sector workers who are among the underprivileged in developing countries, and are more exposed to high heat than any other group, is mostly unknown, which adds to the problem. This comprises people who work with no formal contracts, including construction workers and manual farm labourers. Simply put, when it gets hot, it’s difficult, indeed dangerous, to perform heavy labour outdoors, leading many people to stop working when temperatures soar. This, in turn, affects their livelihoods and income because of their lower productivity.
“I have a vegetable stall to earn my livelihood. However, the heat affects the vegetation, and sporadic rainfall affects the yield. I have to work harder now but am unable to earn the same income because of grocery markets selling vegetables in ventilated stores where the vegetables do not rot. Thus, increasing the competition for us,” said Shanker, a vendor, blocking the sun from his face with the back of his hand.
Similarly, Raju a local food stall owner finds it difficult to get customers in the heat. “I have had to install some table fans and shade to be able to endure the extreme heat in Delhi.” His famous bun tikki in front of I.P College for women has taken a hit because of the growing health concerns of students regarding the ingredients used. However, the owner has been able to cope by adding new dishes that are easy to make. Moreover, his bunta (a drink) is a breath of fresh air for students.
Mithi, a florist, expressed similar concerns regarding the extreme weather conditions. She has to continuously spray water and pesticides to get rid of mosquitoes and keep the flowers fresh in the heat. “I had planned to open a shop after saving some money. However, I am unable to do so as my product gets spoiled often, which makes me encounter losses,” she said, fanning her flowers. Earlier, Damodar had a chole bhature stall, and now as a side business, he opened a lemonade stall that works well in summers. “When I developed this idea, I thought it would cause more expenditure, but the surplus income I generate helps me to sustain my family.”
In all, local vendors have had to upgrade according to the conditions, thus utilising and adapting to their environments. However, in the long run, a climate change action strategy needs to be developed in cognisance with the informal sectors. According to a study, IndiaSpend reported that India, where one in every seventh person on the planet lives, has no national research on the impact of climate change, although about 600 million people are at risk from its effects. The country’s aim to create a national data to survey climate change effects and have the government act on the mandate has been developed.
Other resolutions do exist, like the fundamental alteration of rural economies which should be particularly advanced so that fewer agricultural workers are imperiled to soaring temperatures, and so that a more limited bodily effort has to be spent in such situations. Other necessary policy actions that can assist are skills development, the improvement of an enabling ecosystem for sustainable projects, public investment in infrastructure, and enhanced integration of developing countries into global commerce.
At the workplace level, improved information about on-site climate conditions, the arrangement of work-wear and equipment, and technological advancements can make it easier for workers and their managers to cope with higher temperatures. Employers and workers should review together how to adjust working hours, in addition to utilising other occupational safety and health measures. Accordingly, a cultural dialogue is an appropriate tool for promoting working conditions on a warming planet.