Adaptation to climate change


Tackling climate change effectively requires two approaches: mitigation and adaptation.

Mitigation measures aim to reduce our overall greenhouse gas emissions. For example, substituting fossil fuels with renewable energies or in insulating buildings.

Adaptation measures consist in anticipating the effects that climate change has or will have on our society, and therefore aims at reducing our vulnerability to these consequences. For example, building dikes to avoid flooding, changing the types of seeds to better resist periods of drought, increasing the number of firefighters to better cope with forest fires, etc.

So far, Trade Unions have mainly focused their activities on the mitigation measures, trying to cope with the important changes that a transition to a carbon-neutral economy brings for the different sectors and their workers. Adaptation to climate change, however, has not been very much discussed, while the consequences of climate change, which we are beginning to perceive, will have real impact on the employment and working conditions of workers in the years to come.

Indeed, over the past 50 years, we have seen an increase in the number and intensity of climatic events (increase of temperature, increase of precipitations, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms and other extreme weather events). These changes, if not properly anticipated, will have dramatic effects on many workers in the different sectors (e.g. loss of productivity in agriculture, increased pressure on health and emergency services, supplies problem in the industry, infrastructure damages in the energy and transport sectors, change in attractivity and behaviour in tourism, increased costs and risks in insurances, etc). In addition to that, the various extreme weather events will have a severe impact on workers’ health and safety (e.g. higher risks for workers during heat waves and other extreme events).

While mitigation remains the priority of the Trade Union movement – there is no job on a dead planet – we now need to also be active in adapting to the coming changes.

In this context, ETUC launched a project, with the financial support of the European Commission, to reflect on how trade unions can get involved in adaptation to climate change.

The objectives of this project were: (1) to inform and raise awareness among trade unions, (2) to identify how climate change consequences impact and will impact workers in the years to come, (3) to formulate concrete demands and recommendations, (4) to develop strategies to put the world of work at the core of future adaptation policies. 


To do so, the project followed a two-steps methodology approach.

STEP 1: A questionnaire was sent to ETUC members with the following objectives:

  • To have a clear idea of the maturity of the debate about adaptation to climate change among trade unions
  • To assess the involvement of trade unions in adaptation policy design and implementation at the national level 
  • To know what has been done so far at national and sectoral levels to cope with the consequences of climate change (law, collective agreement, strikes)

STEP 2:  Five workshops were organized with the support of our affiliates on the following themes:

For each of these workshops, a discussion paper was produced by Syndex, our consultant on this project, to provide participants with some background information. These discussion papers are available through the links above.

Based on these discussions and the questionnaire, ETUC will produce a final Guide that:

  • Provides a clear definition of the concept of adaptation to climate change.
  • Gives a clear idea of how climate change consequences will affect the different European regions and sectors.
  • Explains what effects climate change will have on health and safety of workers.
  • Details a set of recommendations and looks at existing practices to allow trade unions to take action on adaptation at the various levels.

The Guide will be available online and offline in multiple languages.