Climate change demands a rethink for our economic models

Swift and effective action is needed to create new, sustainable economic models to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change on the world’s working population, claims a report published by the International Bar Association Global Employment Institute (IBA GEI). The Climate Change and Human Resources Policies Report focuses on the relationship between climate change and employment, and aims to contribute to nascent discussions anticipating structural changes to business and the training needs of workforces transitioning to low-carbon economies. The report also highlights potential issues in relation to employment policies, labour law, ‘weak’ jobs, ‘expanding’ jobs and new jobs. Further, it draws attention to what some countries are doing to help their nations’ employees adjust to industrial change, and how trade unions, employers and educators are working together to deliver green skills training.

Pascale Lagesse, Co-Chair of the IBA GEI, commented: ‘Among industry leaders there is increased recognition that the consequences of climate change will affect their business models at a fundamental level as a result of needing to comply with laws passed at a national level, following the ratification of the Paris Agreement . Each country will need to decipher how to implement the Agreement – principally, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius – into domestic law. Subsequently, many multinationals and large companies, while generally maintaining their culture, will need to adjust their organisations in a number of ways to conform to new legislation.’

Illustrating the point, Ms Lagesse commented: ‘For example, if during its manufacturing process, a tyre plant produces an amount of pollution above newly legislatively-permitted levels, it will have to address its operations to make it compliant with the law. This may take the form of: greater investment in the area of research and development; altering the process of waste disposal; re-training existing staff; hiring people who are more skilled; or purchasing more, or different, machines, etc. Whichever aspects are addressed, the business model will need modifying, thus making climate change a significant issue for employers.’

The report notes that the complexity and magnitude of the topic makes difficult the drawing of general conclusions. Rather, the report provides examples from countries in Western Europe and Canada, and of companies taking proactive measures to mitigate climate change issues.

Country examples include:

  • France, in 2000, made the fight against global warming a ‘National Priority’, and enacted this political will in the French Environmental Code in 2001;
  • Germany integrated the ‘national state objective (Staatsziel) of protection of the environment’ into the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany;
  • the United Kingdom has adopted the Climate Change Act of 2008, which provides the broad framework in the UK for tackling global warming;
  • Italy has adopted a Climate-Energy package, which provides for the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 18 per cent by 2020;
  • Finland passed a Climate Change Act, which establishes the planning of the country’s climate change policy and monitors its implementation; and
  • the Canadian provinces of Québec, Ontario and Manitoba have implemented similar carbon market systems that set a price on carbon, allowing emitters to purchase and sell emissions allowances according to their needs.

In the business arena, the report notes that multinational companies Accenture and Volvo have adopted various measures to adapt to new global environmental challenges, including the implementation of ‘green guidelines’ and the integration of environmental skills in training policies.

Graeme Kirk, Co-Chair of the IBA GEI, commented: ‘ Importantly, debates around the changing climate are expanding to include the link between the topic, employers and employees. A more holistic approach to climate change is underway, with thought being given to increasing cooperation between governments, companies, trade unions and society in general, and to defining the green skills needed in a low-carbon economic model. It is clear that much work is required to transition existing employees to, and prepare a new generation of employees for, green jobs that reduce the environmental impact of economic activity. At the same time, there are also opportunities to create new jobs. In the broadest of terms, a multifaceted approach by businesses of securing, creating, substituting and eliminating jobs will be required.’

He concluded: ‘For CEOs of multinationals in particular, it is evident that climate action is adding another layer of complexity to the management process. The paradigm for tackling climate change through legislation, specifically in relation to employment, is of an inverted pyramid: from the global to national level, then to the company and individual level. The “think globally, but act locally” mantra has never been more apposite.’

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