Heat Stress on Agricultural Workers Exacerbates Crop Impacts of Climate Change
The direct impacts of climate change on crop yields and human health are individually well-studied, but the interaction between the two have received little attention. Here we analyze the consequences of global warming for agricultural workers and the crops they cultivate using a global economic model (GTAP) with explicit treatment of the physiological impacts of heat stress on humans’ ability to work. Based on two metrics of heat stress and two labor functions, combined with a meta-analysis of crop yields, we provide an analysis of climate, impacts both on agricultural labor force, as well as on staple crop yields, thereby accounting for the interacting effect of climate change on both land and labor. Here we analyze the two sets of impacts on staple crops, while also expanding the labor impacts to highlight the potential importance on non-staple crops. We find, worldwide, labor and yield impacts within staple grains are equally important at +3°C warming, relative to the 1986-2005 baseline. Furthermore, the widely overlooked labor impacts are dominant in two of the most vulnerable regions: Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In those regions, heat stress with 3°C global warming could reduce labor capacity in agriculture by 30-50%, increasing food prices and requiring much higher levels of employment in the farm sector. The global welfare loss at this level of warming could reach $136 billion, with crop prices rising by 5%, relative to baseline.