Climate adaptation and the world of work

Every worker should consider how climate change can affect their sector. We must ensure that we protect ourselves against the dangers. The best way to do that is to have all the information needed at hand

The month of May is always kicked off by Labour Day: a day that commemorates the historic struggles and gains made by workers. A day dedicated to the importance of working people and to celebrate all workers.

In time, working people will also be affected by climate change consequences in many various ways, ranging from weather impacts to increased risk on health and safety. Climate change is tackled by two systems: climate mitigation and climate adaptation. For years, the focus has primarily been on mitigation and on finding ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Malta, as a small island highly exposed to climate impacts, has always also advocated for adaptation.

In the EU sphere, the importance of adaptation has not been as pronounced as that for mitigation. Maybe because deep down there was that glimmer hope that the impacts of climate change would never be felt. As we experience the effects of climate change more and more, the essence of climate adaptation has never been so pertinent. Essentially, adaptation means taking action to prevent or minimize the damage that climate change can cause. We must now continue to address the importance of balancing between mitigation and adaptation.

Earlier this year, the European Commission adopted a Climate Adaptation Strategy. Basing the strategy on four principle objectives - smarter, swifter and more systemic, whilst stepping up international action - and a path of how Europe can adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change with the long-term commitment of reaching climate resilience by 2050.

A recent European wide study has demonstrated that without climate adaptation, there could be 410,000 jobs lost in the EU by 2050. That’s nearly the size of our country’s population. Therefore, I do not exaggerate when I say, climate change for workers is very relevant. World crises also tend to have a gender bias. The COVID-19 has demonstrated that the impact on women and girls were disproportionate to those on men and boys. The climate crisis is no different.

Impacts of climate change, amongst others, include the planet getting warmer and more extreme circumstances such as stronger winds. This means that workers are exposed to more heat in the workplace. Conditions which are even more challenging and dangerous for people working. Just like a viral pandemic, climate change knows no borders. So, whoever we are, wherever we are, we will all face the impacts of climate change. It will affect all sectors, some harder than others.

Some sectors are particularly vulnerable to climate change, both on land and at sea. Agriculture and farmers are facing drought, higher UV radiation and heat stress, whereas fishers in fisheries are experiencing even more fish stock decline and the loss of their livelihoods. Furthermore, we have all seen the news coverage close to home from our Southern neighbours whose forests have also been facing adverse consequences with pest invasions, forest fires and storm damages.

Other repercussions have been experienced in infrastructure and transport. The recent Suez Canal blockage was primarily caused due to high winds and a sandstorm which in turn created a significant disruption in the supply chain – not just for Malta but across the world. Events of these kind can have disastrous effects also on the economic aspect of the equation.

The country’s tourism industry has struggled because of the COVID-pandemic. This sector is also not “climate-proof”. Countries traditionally well-known for their snow and their skiing resorts have already started experiencing decline in snowfall, which restricts them from offering these kinds of touristic packages. In Malta, issues such as water scarcity, sea level rise and coastal erosion are all impacts which can greatly affect our tourism industry and in turns, its workers and their employment.

Workers in the finance and banking sector will also face an increased workload. These workers are crucial in increasing risk awareness and providing incentives to increase resilience through several adaptation-related measures. For example, constructing buildings able to deal with future extreme weather events. Adverse conditions and the rise in incidents put increased pressure and a greater workload on our fire and rescue services. Protecting workers from the adverse effects of heat waves is key. The higher the health and safety risks, the greater the pressure on our health systems and healthcare workers.

Every worker should consider how climate change can affect their sector. We must ensure that we protect ourselves against the dangers. The best way to do that is to have all the information needed at hand. The widespread dissemination to all workers on the effects of climate change on their specific sector is pivotal. Another crucial aspect of adaptation in the world of work will evidently need to be the reskilling and training programmes for workers to increase their resilience in the workplace.

It may sound as a cliché when I say, “prevention is better than cure”, however every euro spent on protection could save on damage costs. Putting a precise figure of the potential damage costs of a climate impact is at times not even possible, but we have all seen the devastating effects of some of the extreme events other places in the world have experienced. [We are long past the business as usual pathway.] The cost of inaction is so much more than the cost of action.