Svati Shah and Sean Sweeney

July 2016

A global health emergency is rapidly unfolding. The volume of health-related research dealing with fossil fuel use and climate change has grown exponentially in recent years, as evidenced by the work compiled and assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and numerous research centers and universities. A 2016 report released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in partnership with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Union Network International (UNI), focused on how a warming world could seriously impact occupational health, particularly for those working outdoors in agriculture or construction or in factories without air conditioning.

This paper has been written to help unions representing workers in all sectors get a clear sense of what is presently happening in terms of the health impact of fossil fuel use and what could also happen if present patterns in energy use continue into the future. The data are presented in a way that unions can use to more effectively advocate both for their members and the broader public.

Unions in health care can play — indeed are playing — an important role in addressing both the climate-related and the pollution-related dimensions of the unfolding health crisis, as can health and safety personnel working with or for unions in different sectors. But the health-related impacts of rising pollution levels and climate change are expected to affect the lives of workers across a range of occupations. Unions representing workers in emergency services, workers in transport systems, or workers who must work outdoors in agriculture or construction also have a particularly important role to play. The situation requires as unified a response as possible.

Download the full paper here.