Adaptation to climate change
Today over 200 trade unionists and green campaigners are gathering at Congress House for the TUC’s annual climate change conference. They’ll be the first to get their hands on the new TUC publication Changing Work in a Changing Climate, which is the result of a major new piece of research into what adapting to climate change means for jobs and working lives in the UK.
Adaptation used to be something of a dirty word in the climate change community, since it treats a certain amount of climate change as inevitable. But there is now widespread acceptance that – at the same time as working ever harder to reduce carbon emissions and prevent future climate change – we need to adapt to the climate change that is already happening as a result of past and present emissions.
In the UK that change means milder, wetter winters; hotter, drier summers (yes, really. Remember 2003?); and more extreme weather like floods and storms. The UK Climate Impacts Programme has a great set of online resources for those who’d like to find out more. Of course, all of this has an effect on industry, the economy and day to day life. So the new report sets out to cover new ground in looking at what adaptation actually means for people’s working lives.
The researchers spoke to organisations in the public and private sector about what, if anything, they are doing to adapt to climate change. Many are beginning to think about what we’re calling ‘outward facing’ adaptation: that is, what does climate change mean for corporate strategy, markets, products and services. But there is a real gap on the other side of the coin: the ‘inward-facing’ adaptation needed to make sure workers are equipped with the knowledge, skills and equipment to work safely and effectively in a changing climate.
The report sets out a series of recommendations for government, employers and unions. Union reps have taken a lead on green issues in many workplaces, negotiating with managers to reduce the impact their organisations have on the environment. We want to build adaptation into this work and are already taking steps to do that. Defra has set up an adaptation programme which is doing valuable work in trying to raise the profile of the issue across government and more widely. But the research shows we need to continue the dialogue with government on issues including maximum workplace temperatures, insurance for people on low incomes at risk from flooding, and proper resourcing for the emergency services who are on the front line in responding to extreme weather. And employers will need to be prepared to work with their workforce to develop real, sustainable adaptation policies for the future.