Will the Climate Crisis Change the Way We Work?

Will the Climate Crisis Change the Way We Work?

From wildfires to flooding, the effects of the global climate crisis are accelerating fast — as are attempts to kickstart the growth of the green economy
Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
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In 2020, Canada’s last intact ice shelf broke off, the world missed biodiversity targets, and the Atlantic Ocean saw its hottest decade in 3,000 years. Evidence of our climate in crisis increases every day, as do opportunities in the green economy. The world has seen a wave of activism—from Greta Thunberg’s year-long climate strike to young American voters prioritizing climate change in the 2020 election. Even during COVID-19, climate change remains a main concern of Canadians. However, some environmental protections and reporting have been suspended during COVID-19 emergency orders, which has some Canadians concerned.

In our new report, Yesterday’s Gone: Exploring possible futures of Canada’s labour market in a post-COVID world, produced in partnership with the Future Skills Centre, we’ve identified 34 meso-trends that could impact the future work in Canada. This report uses futures research and expert workshops to explore a broad range of trends—many of which have been accelerated, disrupted, or created by COVID-19—that have the potential to impact Canada’s labour market over the coming decade. This report is not meant to be a comprehensive overview, a prediction of the future, or a deep analysis of any one trend. It’s meant to explore and consider the potential for different trends to interact in ways that are not always obvious, as well as how these trends may impact populations and demographic groups differently. Here, we explore meso-trends related to the climate crisis that could shape Canada’s labour market in the decade ahead.

1. Fires, Floods, + Other Disasters

With 537 fires, 2020 has been the worst year in a decade for forest fires in Quebec. From wildfires in Australia, California, and Oregon, severe flooding in South Sudan, massive hail storms in Calgary, and potential glacial lake floods, climate shocks are intensifying globally. These shocks are costly, resulting in millions of dollars of damage to infrastructure, and potentially billions in insurance claims. It is also resulting in major disruptions, as utility companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric cut power to customers in an effort to prevent sparking fires. It is also estimated that up to 1.2 billion people could be displaced from their homes by 2050, demonstrating the breadth of impact climate shocks may have in the future.

However… recently, some Canadian regions have seen fewer forest fires, suggesting severity may be variable and have uneven impact globally.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There may be an increase in climate-related migration and displacement of communities based on climate shocks and stressors. 
  • Regions and communities that address climate impacts and invest in proactive disaster management may be more attractive to both businesses and workers.
  • Climate disasters may have a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable populations, requiring governments to respond with emergency-based support programs and disaster-related pay premiums.
  • Insurance and financial services may adjust insurance policies so that consumers are responsible for risks associated with proximity to potential climate disasters.

Potential labour market implications:

  • Potential growth in disaster management–related industries and products, and a career in disaster management may become a mainstream occupation.
  • With an increase in climate-related disasters over time, there may be growth of green economy industries and occupations. 
  • Employers that require workers to be based in high-risk areas may have to adjust compensation and employee protection.

Signal Maturity: Mature 

2. Green Energy Revolution

Producing carbon-free energy has never been cheaper. In fact, the IEA claims that solar is now the cheapest electricity in history. Additionally, the urgency of the climate crisis and shifting consumer preferences are creating an enormous economic opportunity in green energy and carbon-free transportation. In Canada, investment in the green energy sector is expected to increase 46% by 2030, while recent private and public sector support in electric cars and trucks from across the political spectrum, such as automaker Ford’s $1.8 billion investment that was backed by both the Ontario Conservatives and Federal Liberals, suggests significant development in carbon-free transportation over the coming decade. This may lead to an employment boom in green energy–related occupations and new demand for relevant skills.

However… car sales surged in San Francisco during the pandemic, and Alberta lifted its oil product curtailment program in December 2020.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There could be wide-scale implementation of policies like carbon tariffs and tax cuts for green energy companies.
  • We may see increases in individual and corporate energy usage monitoring, time-of-use pricing, use of rolling blackouts, or social pressure to conserve energy.
  • Despite being regarded as a relatively cleaner energy source, natural gas might no longer be socially acceptable to use in commercial and residential development.

Potential labour market implications:

  • Population distributions may shift towards regions particularly suited to wind and solar energy generation, which could lead to new economic opportunities in rural and coastal areas.
  • Demand for batteries could soar, both for green energy storage and in electric vehicles (EVs).
  • Prospective employees may choose where to work based on a company’s carbon footprint and adoption of green energy corporate policies (e.g., EV charging stations)
  • The availability of low-cost energy could stimulate significant development in tech, leading to growth in areas like quantum computing.
  • Climate science (and associated knowledge and skills) may become incorporated into fields such as underwriting and risk analysis.

Signal Maturity: Emerging

3. Air + Water Contaminated

In 2010, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution recognizing that access to clean water is a basic human right. However, many Indigenous communities in Canada still don’t have access to clean drinking water, including a First Nation in Northern Ontario that was evacuated in October 2020. In Japan, Fukushima’s radioactive water may be pumped back into the ocean. In addition, air quality is being impacted due to frequent forest fires. New innovations are emerging to ensure access to clear air, such as MicroClimate’s new Air helmet and BioVYZR’s Venture Out & Breathe Easy product. And MIT researchers have built a machine to extract drinkable water from air. Even with recent innovations, California water futures started trading in December 2020, indicating worry about future scarcity. Contamination of basic resources, such as air and water, is creating uncertainty and risks for population health, attracting private interests and catalyzing innovation out of necessity. 

However… some governments are signalling a commitment to policy changes that could counteract this trend. For example, as part of the Federal government’s goal to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030, a ban on harmful single-use plastic items will be implemented.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • Geopolitical landscape might be reimagined, and there may be increased risk of international conflict based on availability of clean air and water.
  • Eco-friendly organizations may attract the best talent.
  • There may be significant regional variation in how this may be experienced; for instance, Yukon may be in greater demand to access clean air and water and BC may continue to experience poor air quality from surrounding forest fires.
  • Increased investment in fresh water resources by large corporations may emerge if government policy is not adapted.

Potential labour market implications:

  • The cleantech sector and innovation may grow out of necessity and due to a general increase in environmental conscience.
  • Canada might invest in sustainable agriculture, creating new opportunities for the agriculture sector and related jobs.  

Signal Maturity: Emerging

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For media enquiries, please contact Lianne George, Director of Strategic Communications at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
Print Page

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