Human Productivity in a Warmer World: The Impact of Climate Change on the Global Workforce

EPA Grant Number: FP917804
Title: Human Productivity in a Warmer World: The Impact of Climate Change on the Global Workforce
Investigators: Carleton, Tamma Anne
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through August 31, 2018
Project Amount: $132,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships


Climate change policy must weigh the economic costs of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions against the benefits that less severe climate change will bring to current and future generations. Existing attempts to quantify this tradeoff omit many important damages of climate. Labor productivity is a fundamental building block of economic development and human wellbeing that is highly vulnerable to a warming climate -- heat stress can weaken cognitive ability, impose biophysical constraints on work intensity, and induce shorter work hours -- yet is vastly understudied. This research will employ a diverse set of datasets across the globe to identify the economic value of lost labor productivity under climate change, and assess how adaptable the labor force is to these effects.


I will use time use surveys for 26 countries, each of which provides detailed information for a random sample of the population on how and where individuals spend their time. Matching individuals’ locations to multiple sources of high resolution daily temperature and precipitation data, I will use innovations from the recent wave of econometric climate impacts research to causally identify a dose-response surface between climate variation and the total time individuals spend working, focusing attention on the temperature-inducted decline in hours worked in heavily exposed sectors of the economy, such as construction, agriculture and forestry. I will also use heterogeneous responses across time and space to assess the extent to which workers are able to adapt to high temperatures. Finally, I will estimate country-specific projections of labor productivity losses by end-of-century, under three emissions scenarios (RCP 2.6, 4.5 and 8.5), accounting for both the uncertainty in regression estimates (statistical uncertainty), as well as the uncertainty in predicted warming over the coming decades (model uncertainty). My final result will be, for each country, a set of projected labor productivity losses attributable to climate change over the coming century, estimated both with and without empirically-derived scenarios of adaptation.

Expected Results:

Existing research in the U.S. demonstrates that workers employed in high-risk sectors where labor is primarily performed outdoors lower their total hours worked when temperatures exceed approximately 30°C, generating important negative economic consequences. These impacts are only minimally adapted away, suggesting rigidities in labor markets preclude optimal responses to temperature through, for example, shifting when during the day individuals work. I expect to identify similar responses throughout my 26 countries of study, with important heterogeneity driven by distinct average climates, cultural norms, legal systems, and the structures of economic activity. Importantly, it is likely that hot countries with economies dominated by vulnerable sectors such as agriculture will display more severe damages to labor supply under high temperatures, and that more stringent labor laws and regulations in some locations will inhibit any scope for worker adaptation through shifting work hours within or across days. Because a comprehensive assessment of acclimatization has not been conducted in this or almost any other area of social climate impacts research, the degree to which I will be able to uncover evidence of adaptation across countries and across distinct time periods is an entirely open question.

Supplemental Keywords:

climate change, economic productivity, adaptation, policy, social cost of carbon

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2016
  • 2017