Labour & the environment

Background paper • Briefing note


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Though there has been a good deal of discussion about the economic impacts of climate change, there is much less discussion or understanding of the implications for labour.

Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

Executive summary
Summary of conclusions
Chapter 5: Costs Of Climate Change In Developed Countries

In 2007, the UK government released a major report on the economics of climate change by Nicholas Stern. The summary of conclusions highlights the clear the impact that climate change will have on developing countries. However, it also highlights the business opportunities that can arise out of responses to climate change:

"All countries will be affected. The most vulnerable – the poorest countries and populations – will suffer earliest and most ...

"Adaptation to climate change – that is, taking steps to build resilience and minimise costs – is essential. ... Adaptation efforts, particularly in developing countries, should be accelerated." (page 2)

"Action on climate change will also create significant business opportunities, as new markets are created in low-carbon energy technologies and other low-carbon goods and services. These markets could grow to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars each year, and employment in these sectors will expand accordingly.

"The world does not need to choose between averting climate change and promoting growth and development. Changes in energy technologies and in the structure of economies have created opportunities to decouple growth from greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, ignoring climate change will eventually damage economic growth.

"Tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy for the longer term, and it can be done in a way that does not cap the aspirations for growth of rich or poor countries." (page 3)

Nevertheless, the report does not assess the impact on employment and SMEs except for an occasional reference such as the following from Chapter 5:

"The poorest in developed countries will be the most vulnerable to climate change. ... The most deprived proportion of the population are more likely to be employed in outdoor labour and therefore have little relief from the heat at work." (page 1)

"Lack of insurance could be particularly damaging for small and medium enterprises that will find it harder to access capital to protect against extreme events." (page 15)

Regarding the agriculture sector the FAO is aware of the importance of climate change, but again has not assessed what it means for farm labour.

From the FAO regarding the agriculture sector:

Original image:

Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country
(William R. Cline, 2007)

Webpage as a pdf
Press release
Press release - New York Times

Chapter 1: Introduction and overview
Chapter 2: Brief survey of existing literature
Chapter 5: Country-level agricultural impact estimates
Chapter 7: Conclusion

This new study contributes to the increasing evidence that global warming will have a negative impact on agriculture in developing countries:

"This study reaches two fundamental conclusions. The first is that by late in this century unabated global warming would have at least a modest negative impact on global agriculture in the aggregate ... The second broad conclusion is that the composition of agricultural effects is likely to be seriously unfavourable to developing countries, with the most severe losses occurring in Africa, Latin America, and India. Although past studies have tended to recognize that losses will tend to be concentrated in developing countries, this study provides more comprehensive and detailed estimates on such losses than previously available." (page 2)

"Confirming previous studies, the results here indicate that the losses would be most severe in Africa (estimated here at 17 percent average loss and 18 percent median loss in agricultural capacity) and Latin America (13 percent average and 16 percent median loss)." (page 96)

Clearly the implications of this study are that there will be impacts on rural employment, especially in Africa, and that there is likely to be a need to retrain farmers and other rural workers to adapt to new conditions brought about by climate change.

African Green Revolution Conference


Full conference report
Section on "Catalyst for action"

"The second African Green Revolution Conference was held in Oslo, Norway from August 30 - September 1. It gathered leading experts on sustainable agricultural development, including government representatives from across Africa ...

"The Oslo Conference has become the prime venue for Public-Private Partnership (PPP) aimed at increasing agricultural productivity in Africa. ...

"Under the theme of Partnership for Productivity, the 2007 Conference community reviewed the progress of recent initiatives, identified important innovations, and discussed potential public-private partnerships that could extend agricultural opportunities to more of Africa’s people. A common thread throughout the conference was an emphasis on improving the productive environment for smallholder farmers."
(from the website:

In the section of the conference report entitled "Catalyst for action" the challenge of climate change is highlight. Based on the findings of the Stern Report, this section makes clear that climate change needs to be taken into account in efforts to develop agricultural opportunities in Africa.

Climate change and employment: Impact on employment in the European Union-25 of climate change and CO2 emission reduction measures by 2030

Full report
Press release

This report was produced by a consortium led by the European Trade
Union Confederation (ETUC) and released early in 2007. Though focused on Europe and written from a trade union perspective, it offers one of the few in-depth analyses of the possible impacts of climate change on employment. As the report points out:

"little is known about the connection between climate change and employment" and "decisions on climate policies are rarely assessed from the standpoint of employment." (page 182)

The report looks at employment from sectoral, regional and temporal perspectives and outlines where the impacts are likely to occur and how severe they are likely to be. The findings include the following observations:

"The analysis of the relation between the likely effects of climate change in Europe, on the one hand, and economic activity and jobs in different sectors (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism, finance/insurance, health, infrastructure and energy), on the other, show that ... there will be important redistribution effects between sectors and between countries. The impact will be more negative in southern Europe than in northern Europe. Primary sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries will be affected more severely than others. The attraction of tourist destinations will change. ....

"In recent years, a number of signs have shown that the climate may well not evolve slowly and progressively as has often been supposed. In that case, without rapid attenuation and adaptation measures, climate change will have a significant impact on economic activity and employment, with critical consequences in the latter half of the century." (pages 182-3)

Of relevance to developing countries is the observation in this report that natural resourced based employment is likely to be affected to a greater degree by climate change. For rapidly growing industrialising countries, like China and India, the industrialisation itself may provide the adaptations needed in the labour markets. However, for the rural economies of Africa, in particular, new adaptive strategies will be needed.

Climate change: Why is Africa the most vulnerable region? (2006)

This newsletter of SustainLabour highlights the impact that climate change will have on Africa. It also reports on a workshop organised by SustainLabour:

"to provide Kenyan trade unionists an introduction to the climate change agenda, to facilitate their intervention in discussions and negotiations and to provide a space for dialogue between developed and developing countries’ trade unionists on climate change."

The impact of climate change policies on employment in the coalmining industry (ILO, 2000)

Paper on line:


This paper published in 2000 by Cain Polidano of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics is an early example of an ILO report focusing on the employment impacts of climate change. The paper's summary states:

"An agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for developed countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions is in the pipeline. The impact on sectoral production from such an agreement is projected to be significant. In particular, lower fossil fuel use in Annex I countries, so that they can meet their emission abatement targets, is projected to result in a 30 per cent fall in global coal production at 2010 under the less stringent emission reduction scenario ... Global coal production is projected to fall by 42 per cent at 2010 under the more stringent [scenario] ...

"Falls in coal production lead inevitably to significant falls in coalmining employment. It is estimated that there will be between 1.5 million and 2.1 million fewer coalmining workers at 2010 under the less stringent and more stringent scenarios respectively, relative to the reference case."

Clearly more such analysis is needed to better understand the sectoral employment impacts of climate change.