The Changing Climate of Livelihoods: Case Studies From Bangladesh, India and Indonesia

27 November 2015

Managing the negative effects of climate change on employment, potential of mitigation, and adaptation on the other, requires action of multiple stakeholders including governments, the private sector and trade unions.

International leaders will gather in Paris next month to chart a path toward curbing the environmental crisis that is gripping the globe. Emissions targets, cap-and-trade and execution of the Green Climate Fund will dominate the agenda at this Conference of Parties, or COP21.  But how to minimize the detrimental impact of climate change on jobs and incomes – the issue that matters most to everyday people – will likely receive little attention.

It is imperative that this issue be elevated in the global debate – especially since economic development and climate change action are often pitted against one another in global debates. Some predictions suggest that there could be as many as 200 million climate migrants by 2050. If the current Syrian refugee crisis is any indication, the world is ill-equipped to deal with this much greater challenge.

(‘The Changing Climate of Livelihoods’ is a JJN documentary that was shot during primary research for this report. Click here to watch the full documentary.)

The nexus of climate change and employment

Climate change and employment interact in five ways. First, whether through a natural disaster or gradually over time, climate change has a direct bearing on jobs and incomes in affected geographies, and especially in regions that depend on agriculture. For instance, in Tanzania, changes in the mean temperature and rainfall patterns will extend dry seasons and make periodic droughts more severe, directly altering the livelihood of thousands of farmers and their families.

Second, these types of changes also set off a chain reaction that disturbs a whole host of ancillary services and sectors – the indirect impact of climate change on jobs and incomes.  Staying with the example of Tanzania, as crop yields fall because of changes in precipitation, this affects those responsible for transporting the products to market, and the associated processing and export industries. Retailers, meanwhile, may see their inventories diminish or consumer demand dwindle as market prices rise or fluctuate unpredictably in response to disruptions in the supply chain.

Third, as a coping strategy, those in the rural economy look to diversify their livelihoods away from their primary occupation. Declining crop yields may push farmers to explore new avenues of income such as livestock rearing or local non-farm wage labor. Rural workers seeking non-farm wage employment may increasingly be required to migrate – since the adverse impacts of climate change will likely affect entire localities, both agriculture and other parts of the economy.

Fourth, climate-induced migration, whether temporary or permanent, affects the labor markets in host geographies. Migration pressures fuel rapid urbanization.  When cities grow due to “push” factors rather than “pull” factors – in other words, when people migrate because of a dearth of opportunities at home rather than an expansion of opportunity in cities – urban labor markets grow saturated, which puts downward pressure on wages and working conditions. Moreover, cities frequently lack the infrastructure, governance and services – clean water, sewage systems, housing – to accommodate migrants.  This can lead to urban slums where residents face poor health and economic outcomes.

Finally, on the flip side of the adverse effects of climate change on livelihoods is the potential for job generation that arises from climate adaptation and mitigation. Disasters, for instance, generate jobs in relief, clean up and construction. Swedish farmers are leading in the field of conservation agriculture that sequesters carbon into the soil, reducing carbon emissions.  This is also a prevalent practice in Latin America and has the potential to generate jobs in other regions. Expanding the production of renewable energy as a strategy to combat climate change has the potential to spur new employment in grid construction and upgrading to smart grids, production of small-scale renewables, distribution, installation and maintenance. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederation stipulate that policies facilitating climate transition could generate up to 60 million net jobs. It is important to note that while the expansion of the renewable energy sector and other mitigation efforts will create jobs, they will be far less significant in scale and scope as compared to the livelihoods that will be lost due to the impact of climate change.

Both managing the negative effects of climate change on employment and incomes on one hand, and leveraging the positive job generation potential of mitigation and adaptation on the other, require action on behalf of multiple stakeholders including governments, the private sector and trade unions.