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All eyes on Geneva for next stage in climate risk debate

Date posted
13 March 2024
Ivan Williams Jimenez
Estimated reading time
4 minute read

This year, a UN Special Rapporteur will present a report to the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, on corporate accountability in the context of human rights and climate change. IOSH policy specialist Dr Ivan Williams Jimenez outlines our response to last year’s consultation.

As the world moves towards sustainable energy and meeting its net zero targets and commitments, the fossil fuel industry continues to drag its feet. That’s how we see it at IOSH, anyway, based on a picture of poor levels of accountability, disclosure, traceability and transparency that we’ve observed in the sector in terms of its risk management on climate change.

This climate of neglect brings a tangible threat to those global communities in which the fuel industry operates, where deforestation, water shortages, toxic chemical release and an increased risk of exposure to zoonotic and vector-borne infections and diseases is a constant menace. It makes an imperative case to develop policies and practices that look to scale up support to address climate change risks and environmental sustainability.

Take the practice of ‘flaring’, for example – the burning of waste gas during oil drilling, particularly common in the Gulf States. Major oil operators continue to demonstrate poor levels of accountability in the Middle East by failing to tackle air and occupational pollution from fossil fuels. Exposure to pollutants from flaring, according to the World Health Organization, is known to be a contributing factor to strokes, cancer, asthma and heart disease.

Vulnerable workers

The dangers of climate-related hazards are not exclusive to those working in or living near heavy industry and its supply chains. For example, metal manufacturing can destabilise the human nervous system and possibly increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases; long-term exposure to mine dust has been found to have harmful health effects for artisanal and small-scale mining workers; and climate-related hazards can also have an impact on the reproductive health of female workers.

Some workers, including those in agriculture, emergency responders and construction workers are disproportionately affected by extreme heat, occupational pollution and other extreme weather events. Those working outdoors or in hot indoor environments are at greater risk of heat stress and other heat-related disorders.

Moreover, vulnerable and disadvantaged workers, including migrants, ethnic communities, older people, women and those with underlying health conditions tend to be neglected by national health policies and adaption plans when it comes to climate change. Many continue to be denied access to health promotion, disease prevention, treatment and care programmes.

In the context of energy transition and climate change, boards and leadership/top management in the fossil fuel industry need to take the lead on introducing more effective assessment and reporting with respect to human rights and climate change, not only throughout their operations, but across the entire value chain. A more holistic and equitable approach is needed when making decisions on capital allocation, one that considers the workforce, stakeholders and investors.

Pressure on investors

Greater transparency of business reporting is essential if investors are to have meaningful and comparable social data that allows them to make informed investment decisions on human rights and climate change. The fact is, however, institutional investors (namely pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, banks, insurance companies and endowment funds) continue to fall short of the standards set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change. It is also proving difficult to overcome their opposition to moving away from financing fossil fuel projects and investments. According to SOMO, the Centre for Research on Multinationals, less than 1 per cent of the $255 trillion of global private financial assets presents itself as sustainable.

Socially responsible investors need to take steps to demonstrate transparency and constancy when investing in companies or organisations whose businesses run counter to their non-financial values and ethical principles, those they perceive to have negative effects on society or their people.

Investors should also cast a careful eye on the emerging, so-called green industries which often present work that’s dirty and dangerous, rather than good and decent. Such jobs can be found in renewable energy production, water services, green transportation, waste management, green buildings, sustainable agriculture and forestry, recycling and the development of low-carbon technologies.

We look forward to the future Geneva discussions with great interest. In the meantime, to better understand how occupational safety and health professionals and businesses are perceiving, adapting, and in some cases taking action to address the challenges of climate change, IOSH will launch its first survey on climate risk in the next few weeks. Watch this space.

Climate change is all around us and it’s threatening the health and wellbeing of workers around the world. So, how can the OSH profession protect them? What role does it have to play? This is what we’re asking in our survey. Please take a few minutes to let us know your views. Thank you.

Last updated: 20 March 2024

Ivan Williams Jimenez

Job role
Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager


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