Nothing has influenced the course of environmental research and policymaking in recent times more than climate change. Climatic perturbations have even begun dictating the global job market. And some believe it is for the better for now. This school of thought fancies that climate change has given rise to a parallel employment sector by way of devising varied mitigation and adaptation strategies. Even a superficial glimpse reveals that the number of job advertisements listed in the electronic media in the past decade or so under water/air/agriculture/forestry/food/biodiversity/conservation-related R&D positions have been overwhelming. Climate change has also led to the creation of specialized titles: sustainability-officer/consultant/analyst/manager/modeler and what not.
A study by the University of California, Berkeley, estimated opportunities for about four million new workers to open worldwide in the renewable energy sector in the coming years. The American solar industry is presently creating jobs 20 times faster than the overall economy. Climate change has turned out to be rewarding for students too. Opportunities to conduct higher studies on funded projects and internships have doubled in the past few years, opening up a whole new sector of employment.
But experts agree that the long-term effects of climate change will lead to massive job losses in a variety of sectors, especially in the developing economies of Africa, Asia and the Middle East that are located in the hotspots of hydrologic stresses. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that for unit rise in global warming, nearly 7 per cent of the global population will suffer from at least 20 per cent reduction in renewable water resources.
A sector particularly vulnerable to climate change is agriculture, the second largest source of employment after services. Asia holds the sway with over 70 per cent of the global agricultural labour population of which China and India account for about 60 per cent. People involved in agro-business are going to be the prime sufferers, of course. But is there anything else?
A large segment of the global economy centred on informal markets - haats, bazaars and farmers' markets - is getting exposed to the cascading effects of climate change. This could partly be attributed to desertification of once-fertile pastures, forcing mass environmental migration. The latter is generating transboundary disputes between nations/continents owing to conflicts between migrants and native populations over jobs and resources. In Sub-Saharan Africa, human casualties and property losses ensuing from environmental migration are reaching their tipping point.
However, near the arctic, retreating glaciers have opened up unexpected riches for the pelagic fish market (cod, herring and mackerel). Melting is also exposing previously unexplored mineral deposits (zinc, iron, rare earths) in places like Greenland, benefitting the mining industry. Concurrently, it is fuelling the tourism industry as landforms that were under ice are now 'open territories' for hikers/bikers/campers/hunters. Melting-fed rivers have become lucrative for hydropower generation.
There is a flipside though. In its World Water Development Report (2016), the United Nations estimated that about 76 per cent of the global active workforce is dependent on the water sector. About 95 per cent of agro jobs, 30 per cent of industry employment and 10 per cent of service sector jobs hinge on water. Worldwide flood damages are on the rise. Freshwater resources are projected to suffer irreversible damage, debilitating the global job market.
A newly emerging school of thought argues for 'adaptation' in the face of choicelessness - if climate change cannot be stopped, why not salvage something out of it for now? But this idea of 'for now' has actually dragged us to this abysmal brink.