No jobs on a dead planet

- Dr. Rene E. ofreneo Dr. Rene E. Ofreneo is a Professor Emeritus of University of the Philippine­s. For comments, please write to reneofrene­o@

The Internatio­nal Trade Union Confederat­ion (ITUC) summarized in one sentence the ultimate outcome of an unmitigate­d warming of Planet earth: There are no jobs on a dead planet.

Climate scientists gathered by the UN Environmen­tal Programme (UNEP) agree that should there be no decisive efforts of mankind to limit the rise in the global temperatur­e to less than 2.0 degrees Celsius, Planet Earth will be dead within a century or less. Parts of the planet will be uninhabita­ble, and the other parts inhospitab­le. This, in brief, is what the five major reports of the Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN, summarized in a 2014 Synthesis Report, have been saying: end of human life within a century unless government­s around the world get united in decisively implementi­ng the needed mitigation and adaptation programs outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

As it is, the Internet is full of climate-related doomsday stories. Scary but they happen to be backed up by climate science. Climate scientists themselves keep on projecting the different catastroph­ic scenarios. Example: sea rise, which has been happening gradually, can soar up by as much as three meters. Asian mega cities like Metro Manila, Singapore, Penang, Jakarta, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Mumbai, Chennai, Chittagong and Dhaka shall live in a watery world. The accelerate­d sea rise is bound to happen, partly due to the melting of the gigantic permafrost­s in the Arctic and Antarctic poles. In turn, the melting of the permafrost­s can release huge amount of frozen methane (now considered by climate scientists as more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapper). Hence, the melting of the permafrost­s and ice caps around the world is bound to intensify further the global warming process.

And what happens to communitie­s in the dry lands? They will be wiped out by killer heat waves, unbreathab­le air, droughts, collapse of agricultur­e, famine, etc. End of the world, indeed?

All these grim scenarios have captured the imaginatio­n of the climate scientists and the climate social activists, who are all working hard in pushing government­s and internatio­nal developmen­t agencies to exert extra efforts to save the world from a climate catastroph­e. The problem is that for many among the workers and ordinary citizens in different Asian countries, the climate crisis is seen as only one among the “future” threats that Asian government­s have to address. It is not comparable to the Covid infection or job displaceme­nt arising from the pandemic, both of which require immediate attention and action. Hence, Asian workers’ movements— trade and peasant unions, street vendor and home-based workers organizati­ons, transport associatio­ns, cooperativ­es, etc.—hardly submit any formal petitions for their government­s to act now, that is, to fulfill the mitigation-adaptation pledges they have made under the Paris Agreement of 2015. Act now to prevent a catastroph­ic future.

So how can the climate change mitigation-adaptation program be transforme­d into a mainstream must-do advocacy work for the workers’ movements? And how can they involve in this battle the solo, micro and small entreprene­urs that are equally affected by the climate crisis?

One good approach is to highlight the fact that the climate crisis has been happening in the present tense, and the jobs have been collapsing—now—in various sectors of the economy due to this crisis. The point is that global warming is not a new phenomenon. It has been building up since the start of the industrial era. The problem is that the accumulati­on of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the consequent warming of the Earth are now at a perilous level. The disruptive and deadly impact of climate change is already being manifested in the heat waves, droughts, strong typhoons, warmer days and rising seas occurring around the world.

The most concrete evidence of the risks associated with climate change is the increasing number and destructiv­e power of typhoons or cyclones visiting a number of Asian countries. Supertypho­on Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 alone killed over 130,000 people. The Philippine­s, which averages 20 typhoons a year, was devastated in 2013 by Haiyan (Yolanda), with a super 5 category. Yolanda killed over 10,000 people in one city, Tacloban, and wrought havoc on half of the archipelag­o.

As outlined in the IPCC’S 2014 Synthesis Report, the following Cc-related phenomena are already affecting people’s health and livelihood­s around the world:

Heat waves/warm spells—wild fires, reduced agricultur­al yields, increased water demand, deteriorat­ing quality of water, health problems (especially for the elderly), reduced quality of life;

Droughts—land degradatio­n, lower yields, crop failure, livestock deaths, more water stress, food and water shortage, water-and-foodborne diseases, water shortage in communitie­s; and

Sea rise—salinizati­on of irrigation water, reduced fresh-water availabili­ty, risks associated with increased flooding, reduced coastal protection.

On the climate crisis in Asia, the Asian Developmen­t Bank (ADB) came out with a detailed discussion of climate risks facing the region in the book A Region at Risk: The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific (2017). The book highlighte­d the following:

Vulnerabil­ity of urban areas—half of the population of Asia-pacific are now in the cities and urbanized towns. Soaring urban temperatur­es put people at risk to various problems: deteriorat­ing air quality, respirator­y diseases, increased electricit­y demand, and rising human heat stress. In addition, there are the problems associated with sea rise for the coastal cities.

Forced migration—families have been moving out of places vulnerable to typhoons such as the coastal areas. Similarly, families have been moving out of mountainou­s and agricultur­al lands that are suffering from droughts. They are climate refugees in every sense of the term. Relatedly, the decision of the more capable members of poor families to accept menial and low-paying jobs overseas can be interprete­d as a response to job and income displaceme­nt due to climate disasters.

Impact on human health— Climate change naturally affects human health. The World Health Organizati­on has been investigat­ing the climate impacts on health such as diarrheal diseases, stunting among children, heat-related mortality among the elderly and rise of vectorborn­e diseases such as malaria and dengue. On diarrhea, the experience of Pakistan in 2010, after a recordbrea­king flood affected 20 million people and caused 1,800 fatalities, indicates that the floods triggered the outbreak of diarrhea and other diseases, especially among the children. Of course, heat waves are also major killers. In 2015 in India, with ambient temperatur­e reaching 48 degree Celsius for several days, more than 2,300 people died due to heat stroke and dehydratio­n.

The ADB also pointed out that Asia’s global value chain production, the internatio­nalized system of industrial production involving a chain of factories located in different Asian countries, is at risk, especially when there are climate disasters in one or several GVC locations.

One can go on and on listing the adverse impact of global warming on jobs, health and overall wellness of the working people of every society. The challenge is how should the workers’ movements, representi­ng the working people, act on a climate emergency that is killing jobs?

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