Drishtikon: Impact of Climate Change on Employment and Livelihood of People with Disabilities

The Sangyan
10 min readOct 20, 2022

This article is based upon the presentation by Abhishek Kumar, NCPEDP-Javed Abidi Fellow on Disability at the Roundtable on Vocational Training, Employment for Persons with Disabilities on the subject “Impact of Climate Change on People with Disabilities: Employment and Livelihood” which was organised by the Muskaan PAEPIDon 28th September 2022 in New Delhi, India.

Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: “Impact of Climate Change on People with Disabilities: Employment and Livelihood, ABHISHEK KUMAR, RANCHI, INDIA, NCPEDP-JAVED ABIDI FELLOW ON DISABILITY, THE SANGYAN — DHARMA. NYAYA. NITI.”
Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: “Impact of Climate Change on People with Disabilities: Employment and Livelihood, ABHISHEK KUMAR, RANCHI, INDIA, NCPEDP-JAVED ABIDI FELLOW ON DISABILITY, THE SANGYAN — DHARMA. NYAYA. NITI.”

Introduction

In the era of consequences, climate change acts as a ‘Threat Multiplier’[1] and thus is a social, economic, political, cultural, and environmental issue[2] concerning everyone but the historically disadvantaged groups are at higher risk including children, women, people with disabilities, and old adults among others because of their lack of capabilities to adapt and mitigate. Climate change can be termed as a great in-equalizer that furthers the inequality between people as the climate change impacts (and biodiversity loss) are based upon the factors like exposure, sensitivity, and the ability to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate change.

Climate vulnerable community including women, children, people with disability, and old adults among others, suffers disproportionate impacts because of their capability to mitigate and adapt, consequently resulting in their capability deprivation which further unfolds the vicious cycle of income deprivation and increased cost of living (the loss of livelihood and capability to carry on decent work),[3] hunger and poverty.[4]

Climate change puts physical and mental health[5] at greater risk leading to productivity (loss of working hours) and economic loss.[6] Climate change leads to both traditional and non-traditional security challenges including that of food and energy, consequently, further marginalizing historically disadvantaged communities.

Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: “Introduction: Era of Consequences — The Great in-equalizer, Capability Approach — Capability Deprivation — Income Deprivation, Hunger and Poverty — Global Food Policy Report 2022, Physical and Mental Health, Productivity Loss — Economic Loss, and Non-traditional Security Challenge.”
Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: “Introduction: Era of Consequences — The Great in-equalizer, Capability Approach — Capability Deprivation — Income Deprivation, Hunger and Poverty — Global Food Policy Report 2022, Physical and Mental Health, Productivity Loss — Economic Loss, and Non-traditional Security Challenge.”

Climate Change As Threat Multiplier

Moving ahead with exploring the manner and ways in which climate change impacts that we often wouldn’t probably think or imagine.[7] Climate change plays the role of ‘Threat Multiplier’, triggering interconnected factors in ecotoxicity, biodiversity loss, poverty, eutrophication, water crisis, health, education, carbon emissions, resource scarcity, inequality, overconsumption, air pollutants, and affordable goods and services to the scale where climate change have this cascading and compounding impacts, especially on the historically disadvantaged groups. And then to mitigate and adapt the impacts of climate change, we often miss the inclusion part resulting in ‘eco-ableism’[8] meaning further marginalization of people with disability (for instance, ban on plastics).

Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: “Climate Change As the Threat Multiplier” and “Eco-ableism” along with a graphic of Carbon Tunnel Vision and Sustainability Transition with interconnected factors in Ecotoxicity, Biodiversity Loss, Poverty, Eutrophication, Water Crisis, Health, Education, Carbon Emissions, Resource Scarcity, Inequality, Overconsumption, Air Pollutants, and Affordable Goods and Services.
Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: “Climate Change As the Threat Multiplier” and “Eco-ableism” along with a graphic of Carbon Tunnel Vision and Sustainability Transition with interconnected factors in Ecotoxicity, Biodiversity Loss, Poverty, Eutrophication, Water Crisis, Health, Education, Carbon Emissions, Resource Scarcity, Inequality, Overconsumption, Air Pollutants, and Affordable Goods and Services.

Climate change works as a threat multiplier, with respect to decent work as well. Inadequate access to quality education, discriminatory attitudes (and abuse) and practices, and socioeconomic factors are very likely to result in high levels of unemployment for persons with disabilities. Climate change impacts also exacerbate the barriers they face in the job market.[9]

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on climate change and the rights of people with disabilities[10] wherein with respect to employment (decent work), taking into account “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”[11] and emphasizes that: “sudden-onset natural disasters and slow-onset events seriously affect the access of persons with disabilities to food and nutrition, safe drinking water and sanitation, health-care services and medicines, education and training, adequate housing and access to decent work.”[12]

Further, it calls upon the member states, regarding decent work (employment) and livelihood among other things, to “continue and enhance international cooperation and assistance, in particular in financing, the transfer of technology and capacity-building, for mitigation and adaptation measures to assist developing countries, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, to better promote human rights in general and the access of persons with disabilities in particular to livelihoods, food and nutrition, safe drinking water and sanitation, health-care services and medicines, education and training, adequate housing and decent work, clean energy, science and technology.”[13]

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in its report stated that people with disabilities are at increased risk of the adverse impacts of climate change — including threats to their health, food security, water, sanitation, and livelihoods. In the report named ‘Analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change,’ the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights discusses the issue of ‘livelihoods and decent work’ with respect to the impacts of climate change on persons with disabilities.[14]

“19. Inadequate or lack of access to education, discriminatory attitudes and practices and socioeconomic factors result in high levels of under- and unemployment among persons with disabilities.[15] Globally, the ratio of employment to population for persons with disabilities is 36 per cent on average. That ratio is 60 per cent for persons without disabilities.[16] Climate change impacts exacerbate the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in the world of work, for example when job opportunities are lost because of the economic impacts of climate disasters or when heat stress causes manual labour to be hazardous.[17] Environmental degradation often affects marginalized workers the most, which among others includes persons with disabilities.[18]

20. Slow-onset events will impact agricultural livelihoods. Indigenous persons with disabilities who are small-scale agricultural producers risk losing the possibility of independent living owing to climate change impacts that undermine agricultural production and thereby their livelihoods. Fisheries and the livelihoods of fisherfolk may be impacted by changes in temperature and ocean acidity, leading to the migration or even collapse of fish stocks. Impacts are amplified for persons with disabilities, who are already marginalized in the field of work and who may experience adverse health impacts because of climate change that have implications for their ability to work.[19]

Heatwave and SDGs

Further, climate change (heatwave in specific) is intrinsically related to health and well being of people with disabilities. Heatwave directly possesses challenges in implementing Sustainable Development Goals (The Global goals) which are as follows –

  1. No Poverty, Zero
  2. Hunger, Good Health, and Well
  3. Being, Quality Education,
  4. Gender Equality,
  5. Decent Work and Economic Growth,
  6. Reduced Inequalities,
  7. Sustainable Cities and Communities, and
  8. Climate Action
Image Description: A collage of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and colorful graphics represent them.
Image Description: A collage of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and colorful graphics represent them.

The International Labour Organization’s report on ‘Working on a Warmer Planet: The impact of Heat Stress on Labour Productivity and Decent Work’,[20] states that heat stress is a health (including mental health) hazard that not just endangers the safety of workers but also reduces their productivity and thus results in capability and income deprivation. Heat stress, exacerbated by climate change, obstructs progress towards decent work and livelihood work and consequently, jeopardizes the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

In that respect, it is important to “implement a just transition to a low-carbon economy that aims to leave no one behind will require a context-specific and locally determined mix of legal standards, social protection, skills development, and attitudinal transformation that create an enabling environment for green jobs to perpetuate and decent work opportunities for persons with disabilities to proliferate”[21] for a truly inclusive society.

Field Report: The overbridge at the main road in Ranchi is the lifeline of the city in the literal sense as it connects the North and South Ranchi and is almost located in the center of the city from the geographical as well as other perspectives with the main market, Ranchi railway station, bus station, Nepal House (major government office building), High Court of Jharkhand, and other public places are in nearby.

The Overbridge that crosses over Harmu River and the main railway line (just beside Ranchi Railway Station) have staircases that help in moving from one side to another has a bunch of beggars there and among them, some are a person with disabilities. In my informal conversations with them, they shared how during the months of April, May, and June, the number of commuters substantially decreased during the daytime owing to the record-breaking heatwave, consequently resulting in less income for them. Further, as the beggars sit there without any shade, the heatwave also impacted their health condition drastically with a frequent need to look for a water source.

Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: “Heatwave — SDG Goals — No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Reduced Inequalities, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Climate Action” and ILO report, Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work” along with an image of an old disabled woman beggar sitting at the stairs of the overbridge with her crutch by
Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: “Heatwave — SDG Goals — No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Reduced Inequalities, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Climate Action” and ILO report, Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work” along with an image of an old disabled woman beggar sitting at the stairs of the overbridge with her crutch by side.

The Heat Effect

The heat effect impacts everyone in some or another way.[22] It results in decreased working hours, decreased productivity, loss of sleep[23], energy crisis, food security challenges (and arising need for climate resilient crops), and forest fires (resulting in loss of forest products and triggering livelihood challenges for people based on the economy), among many others.

There is also a Venn diagram with climate change, employment and livelihood, and people with disabilities shown in three interacting circles to show their relationship.

Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: The Heat Effect: Decreased working hours, Decreased Productivity, Heat cutting down the sleep, Energy Crisis, Food Security — climate resilient crops, Forest Fires, and Forest Products. There is also a Venn diagram with climate change, employment and livelihood, and people with disabilities shown in their interacting circles to show their relationship.
Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: The Heat Effect: Decreased working hours, Decreased Productivity, Heat cutting down the sleep, Energy Crisis, Food Security — climate resilient crops, Forest Fires, and Forest Products. There is also a Venn diagram with climate change, employment and livelihood, and people with disabilities shown in their interacting circles to show their relationship.

Case Study

In the next part, the lived experiences of persons with disabilities regarding the impact of climate change on them and how it hampers their day-to-day life are shared in order to give the personal instances of climate change acting as a threat multiplier.

1. A person with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) [Heatwave][24],

2. A person with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) [Rainfall][25],

3. A person with Spinal Cord Injury [Extreme Heat And Cold][26], And

4. A person with Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) [Altitude and Pressure][27]

Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: Case Study: Person with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) [Heatwave], Person with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) [Rainfall], Person with Spinal Cord Injury [Extreme Heat And Cold], and Person with Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) [Altitude and Pressure]
Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: Case Study: Person with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) [Heatwave], Person with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) [Rainfall], Person with Spinal Cord Injury [Extreme Heat And Cold], and Person with Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) [Altitude and Pressure]

Conclusion

To conclude, “assessing vulnerability the first step towards assessing climate risk”[28] and thus, it is important to acknowledge the fact based on scientific evidences tand not just conjectures that climate change dispropoationately impacts the people with disability, including their capability to decent work and livelihood resulting in deteriorating health, increased cost of living, hunger, poverty, and beyond.

Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: Thank You!
Image Description: Sky blue background with the texts: Thank You!

References

[1] Climate change recognized as ‘threat multiplier’, UN Security Council debates its impact on peace, United Nations, Available at <https://www.un.org/peacebuilding/fr/news/climate-change-recognized-%E2%80%98threat-multiplier%E2%80%99-un-security-council-debates-its-impact-peace#:~:text=As%20climate%20change%20is%20increasingly,ways%20to%20diminish%20the%20effects> Accessed on 19th October 2022.

[2] Abhishek Kumar, Beyond Environmental Issues: Climate Change as Social, Economic, and Political Concern, The Sangyan, Available at <https://sangyan.medium.com/beyond-environmental-issues-climate-change-as-social-economic-and-political-concern-436cfa4d1f25> Accessed on 19th October 2022.

[3] Abhishek Kumar, Climate Change, Disability, and the Capability Approach, The Sangyan, Available at <https://sangyan.medium.com/climate-change-disability-and-the-capability-approach-916a2fdfae41> Accessed on 11th October 2022.

[4] 2022 Global food policy report: Climate change and food systems, INTERNATIONAL FOOD POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE (IFPRI), Available at <https://www.ifpri.org/publication/2022-global-food-policy-report-climate-change-and-food-systems> Accessed on 18th October 2022.

[5] IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Available at <https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-ii/#:~:text=The%20IPCC%20has%20finalized%20the,55th%20Session%20of%20the%20IPCC.> Accessed on 14th October 2022.

[6] Abhishek Kumar, Heatwave and Disability, The Sangyan, Available at <https://sangyan.medium.com/heatwaves-and-disability-89d708739b6> Accessed on 19th October 2022.

[7] Shweta Sengar, ‘Water Wives’: How Lack Of Water In This Maharashtra Village Led To Polygamy, India Times, Available at <https://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/water-wives-how-lack-of-water-in-this-maharashtra-village-led-to-polygamy-568090.html?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web_tw> Accessed on 18th October 2022.

[8] #KnowYourConcept, Eco-Ableism, The Sangyan, Available at <https://twitter.com/thesangyan/status/1542900567529627648?s=20&t=sVISmVSD601T4IddD4kmyQ> Accessed on 20th October 2022.

[9] Climate Change: Protecting the Rights of People with Disabilities, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Comissioner, Available at <https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Issues/ClimateChange/materials/2PDisabilitiesLight.pdf> Accessed on 04th October 2022.

[10] United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/41/L.24, 9th July 2019, Available at <https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/hrc41_climate_change_and_disability.pdf> Accessed on 05th October 2022.

[11] United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/41/L.24, 9th July 2019, Available at <https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/hrc41_climate_change_and_disability.pdf> Accessed on 05th October 2022.

[12] United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/41/L.24, 9th July 2019, Available at <https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/hrc41_climate_change_and_disability.pdf> Accessed on 05th October 2022.

[13] United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/41/L.24, 9th July 2019, Available at <https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/hrc41_climate_change_and_disability.pdf> Accessed on 05th October 2022.

[14] Analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/44/30, 22 April 2020, Available at <https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G20/097/56/PDF/G2009756.pdf?OpenElement> Accessed on 07th October 2022.

[15] International Labour Organization (ILO) policy brief, “Persons with disabilities in a just transition to a low-carbon economy” (October 2019).

[16] Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Disability and Development Report, p. 152.

[17] ILO, “Persons with disabilities in a just transition to a low-carbon economy”.

[18] ILO, “The employment impact of climate change adaptation. Input document for the G20 Climate Sustainability Working Group” (August 2018).

[19] Analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/44/30, 22 April 2020, Available at <https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G20/097/56/PDF/G2009756.pdf?OpenElement> Accessed on 07th October 2022.

[20] Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work, International Labour Organization (2019), Available at <https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_711919.pdf> Accessed on 18th October 2022.

[21] Persons with disabilities in a just transition to a low-carbon economy, Policy brief, International labour Organization, October 2019, Available at <https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_emp/---ifp_skills/documents/publication/wcms_727084.pdf> Accessed on 09th October 2022.

[22] Abhishek Kumar, Heatwave And Disability, The Sangyan, Available at <https://sangyan.medium.com/heatwaves-and-disability-89d708739b6> Accessed on 20th October 2022.

[23] Alejandra Borunda, Climate change is eroding a precious resource: sleep, National Geographic, Available at <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/climate-change-is-eroding-a-precious-resource-sleep?cmpid=org=ngp::mc=social::src=twitter::cmp=editorial::add=tw20220525env-climatechangeerodingsleep&linkId=166610248> Accessed on 20th October 2022.

[24] Abhishek Kumar, Ulgulan Talks!: Interview with Anjali Vyas, The Sangyan, Available at <https://sangyan.medium.com/ulgulan-talks-interview-with-anjali-vyas-c1cd217731c7> Accessed on 11th October 2022.

[25] Abhishek Kumar, Ulgulan Talks!: Interview with Alice Abraham, The Sangyan, Available at <https://sangyan.medium.com/ulgulan-talks-interview-with-alice-abraham-766786ba0b21> Accessed on 11th October 2022.

[26] Abhishek Kumar, Ulgulan Talks!: Interview with Gopika Anand, The Sangyan, Available at <https://sangyan.medium.com/ulgulan-talks-interview-with-gopika-anand-732ad45280cc> Accessed on 11th October 2022.

[27] Abhishek Kumar, Ulgulan Talks!: Interview with Kavya Poornima Balajepalli, The Sangyan, Available at <https://sangyan.medium.com/ulgulan-talks-interview-with-kavya-poornima-balajepalli-c64486fbc389> Accessed on 11th October 2022.

[28] Climate Vulnerability Assessment for Adaptation Planning in India using a Common Framework, Department of Science and Technology, Available at <chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://dst.gov.in/sites/default/files/Full%20Report%20%281%29.pdf> Accessed on 20th October 2022.

About the Author

Abhishek Kumar, NCPEDP-Javed Abidi Fellow on Disability.

The author can be reached at abhishek.ncpedp@gmail.com

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Law. Environment. Disability | Curator ~ Adv. Abhishek Kumar | Working on the 'Impact of Climate Change on Persons with Disabilities' | thesangyan.in | 🇮🇳 |