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The future of work in a changing natural environment: Climate change, degradation and sustainability

This paper argues that economic activity and work cannot be understood independently from the natural environment in which they take place. Indeed, two major trends related to the natural environment – current and future environmental degradation on the one hand, and the push towards environmental sustainability on the other – will define the future of work and social justice. Environmental degradation negatively affects the world of work given the tight linkages it has with the natural environment, notably through the loss of ecosystem services, the occurrence of natural disasters and the inequalities related to the exposure to environmental degradation and its associated risks. Efforts to advance environmental sustainability will disrupt the world of work through a reallocation, since achieving sustainability is akin to a structural transformation. Importantly, however, efforts to advance sustainability are compatible with employment opportunities and with the promotion of decent work; sustainability is not a job killer. In all, this paper contends that a good future for work requires a stable and healthy environment. It contends that such future requires attention to environmental degradation and protection for workers and communities from it. The paper calls for a development and economic model that underscores environmental and social outcomes and ensures that the transition towards sustainability is just.