Study: ‘Much shorter working weeks needed to tackle climate crisis’
People across Europe will need to work drastically fewer hours to avoid disastrous climate heating unless there is a radical decarbonising of the economy, according to a study.
The research, from thinktank Autonomy, shows workers in the UK would need to move to nine-hour weeks to keep the country on track to avoid more than 2C of heating at current carbon intensity levels. Similar reductions were found to be necessary in Sweden and Germany.
The findings are based on OECD and UN data on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in the three countries. It found that at current carbon levels, all three would require a drastic reduction in working hours as well as urgent measures to decarbonise the economy to prevent climate breakdown.
Will Stronge, the director of Autonomy, said the research highlighted the need to include reductions in working hours as part of the efforts to address the climate emergency.
“Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them,” he said. “This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like.”
The paper focuses on the emissions produced per industry in each economy but does not take into account other environmental advantages of reducing working hours, from less commuting to fewer goods produced and resources used.
There is growing support in the US and Europe for a so-called Green New Deal, which aims for a rapid decarbonisation of the economy, creating secure, well-paid sustainable jobs. Accelerating automation has also led to increasing calls for a reduction in the working week.
Emma Williams, a spokeswoman for the 4 Day Week campaign, said Wednesday’s report highlighted the link between automation, reduced working hours and the climate emergency.
“We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet,” she said.
“In addition to improved wellbeing, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less.”
Stronge said technological advances and the climate emergency meant a shorter working week was now not only viable but essential.
“The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly,” he said. “However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary.”