Climate Change Will Affect Nation's Workplaces

October 09, 1997

ITHACA, N.Y. -- If workers aren't prepared for the impact of climate change on work, there's stormy economic weather ahead, a report from the Cornell University Work and Environment Initiative predicts.

"Climate change will present both dangers and opportunities," said Edward Cohen-Rosenthal, director of the Cornell institute and a co-author of the report, Labor, Climate Change and the Environment. "There is room for serious concern about the impact -- with up to 1.6 million jobs lost, according to some estimates -- if we don't address the economic issues head-on. The same precautionary principle that guides climate change is required for dealing with new job opportunities and transition in industries and communities that will be hardest hit."

The Work and Environment Initiative (WEI), a program of the Cornell Center for the Environment and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, examines new ways to improve environmental performance at work and to increase "green" employment opportunities. The climate change study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Center for Excellence for Sustainable Development.

WEI Director Cohen-Rosenthal was the U.S. delegate for workers and their unions at the United Nations' "Earth Summit + 5" meeting last June. He said President Clinton's request at the UN meeting -- for labor to be a full partner in the decision-making process for climate change policies -- should be taken as an opportunity to affect positively the future for all American workers and employers.

"Workers and unions are already paying attention and engaging in activities that can help improve the environment. That makes sense because workers and their unions will be significantly impacted by climate-change policies, both in the U.S. and on the international level. Beyond their interests for self-preservation, unions can make real contributions toward ensuring economic and environmental sustainability."

"The next century will see a transition to a new economy with greater globalization of markets and more attention to resource efficiency and environmental impacts," Cohen-Rosenthal said. "Regardless of the international negotiations over global warming, the strategies that prepare America for success in the next century must anticipate these changes, and the labor movement can be a leader in this process."

The report, "Labor, Climate Change and the Environment," identifies numerous examples in the U.S. and internationally where unions have developed positive partnerships to improve the environment. Among the 36 recommendations in the report are these: -30-

Cornell University

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