Every industry will feel the effects of the climate crisis in one way or another. Even those who feel far removed from the most obvious hazards – volatile weather, for instance, or the delays and shortages caused by disrupted transportation routes – will be impacted either financially or operationally by global warming.
It’s important to remember that, at this point, there is still everything to be played for. The climate crisis is not a concrete fact of life, but a looming risk that can still be reduced and quashed with the right, unified approach from policymakers. If we can boost the UK’s capacity for renewable energy through commercial solar developments of offshore wind farming and, at the same time, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, then we can contribute to a massive global movement toward a better and healthier future. It’s a big ‘if’, but it’s all that stands between us and jeopardy.
Already, more than half of UK businesses are reported to be experiencing the effects of climate change, and that number is only expected to climb higher in the coming months and years. Here are five examples of the ways in which UK businesses will be impacted if we can’t change soon.
Outdoor Workers Will Find it Increasingly Difficult to Work
Periods of prolonged high heat don’t just pose a risk to the very young and very old. Employers and labourers will need to show more caution during the summer months, regarding the heat and sunshine as significant workplace hazards that need to be treated with a much higher degree of caution than they have been treated historically.
As of right now, there is no legal upper limit on the temperatures employees should be expected to work through. The Health and Safety Executive has urged employers to rethink their own policies on how they protect employees during periods of particularly high temperatures but until more decisive action is taken from the government there remains a significant risk that employers will continue to underestimate the impact heat can have on manual labourers.
In some ways, it’s still hard to imagine the British weather becoming unendurable, but plenty of outdoor workers have already been brought face to face with the climate crisis. Last year, record temperatures across the UK forced many of us to rethink how we lived our lives – when we could venture outside, for how long, and what the risks of exceeding those personal limits were.
While this summer has so far proven very mild for the UK, much of Europe is currently experiencing a severe heatwave – a harbinger of what’s to come if we fail to get the climate crisis under control, and a case in point of what happens to outdoor workers – from those in the construction industry to agriculture – when the weather spirals beyond ‘normal’ parameters.
A recent piece published by the Guardian shed light on the toll Italy’s weather is taking on outdoor workers, particularly those with pre-existing heart conditions. But the risks of dehydration, organ failure (as a result of heat stroke), and sudden drops in blood pressure impact everyone – even those who are relatively physically fit. Last year, insights published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that 70,000 serious injuries as a result of heat stress were recorded in labourers across the USA, and more than 800 deaths.
Even in the UK, where health and safety regulations are among the most stringent in the world, outdoor workers have very few protections against a world spiralling into a climate crisis. If the world continues to edge closer to disaster, thousands will need to rethink the ways in which they work – or risk entire industries grinding to a halt.
Those in the food production chain will need to adapt
From agriculture to fishing, supply lines are being disrupted – or severed entirely – by a growing number of issues. Severe weather is making it increasingly difficult for crops to thrive, while by-products of global warming – for instance, ocean acidification, which is caused by excess carbon dioxide in ocean water – are disrupting entire ecosystems, leading to dwindling volumes of fish in areas that once proved bountiful to fishermen.
The Government’s 2022 Agri-climate report found that 64% of farmers are taking their farm’s greenhouse gas emissions into consideration when making decisions, but what about the impact changing (and increasingly volatile) weather patterns have on production levels?
In 2021, the Met Office published a study titled Climate Risk Management, which detailed the areas of British farming most at-risk as the climate crisis worsens. Farmers will need to learn to adapt to the loss of livestock as a result of heat stress – particularly dairy cattle, which can generally cope with shorter periods of intense heat but suffer in conditions of prolonged exposure – along with potentially ruinous crop diseases and fungi. Potato blight, for instance, is a fungus that thrives in humid conditions.
Some crops may fare better than others. Rising temperatures, dry seasons and shorter winters may mean we can introduce new crops into the industry, but those changes will likely come at the cost of keen staples, like the potato.
There are ways of marrying together climate reform with better agricultural practices. For instance, agrivoltaics combine solar farms with crop and livestock farming, offering shade for animals and plants not designed to cope with extreme heat and sun exposure. This also equips farmers with a secondary line of income through clean energy that can be exported to the national grid, and enables the UK to boost its capacity for renewable energy generation.
Whatever the ultimate solution, it’s clear that UK agriculture – and any industry that depends on it, from food production to hospitality – will have to learn to adapt to a rapidly changing world sooner rather than later.
Many industries will need to rethink supply chains
Lord Stern recently told the BBC that higher taxes may be the key to injecting more funding into greener technologies. For businesses that depend on long, international supply chains, there may come a breaking point at which rethinking their operations is necessary to avoid significant new costs derailing continuity.
UK tourism may take a significant hit
Sunnier, warmer weather tends to be a prerequisite for a strong year for any business involved in the UK’s £131 billion tourist industry, but it may also be part of its undoing if the climate crisis isn’t curbed.
Research conducted by 3Keel, along with the National Trust and Oxford University, found that the optimum temperature for National Trust visits is 21°C. If the temperature exceeds 28°C – as it is expected to do with increasing regularity over the coming years – then visitor volumes drop significantly.
Inland locations are at the greatest risk and while the research has enabled the National Trust to begin thinking of ways to adapt to changing visitor demands, it hints at an unstable future for the UK tourism industry at large.
Much of the UK’s infrastructure is not designed to keep people comfortable during prolonged periods of intense heat. Older buildings pose a significant challenge to adaptation, although there are still plenty of options. Shutters and green roofs may help us to make historic sites more comfortable during future heat waves, but a large question mark still looms over outdoor spaces that have historically proven very profitable for the hospitality industry.
An increase in remote working
While some reports differ on the exact effect that the rise in remote workers is having on the climate crisis, the general impression seems to be that the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Remote working cuts down on emissions from the commute and cuts down on the burden large, air-conditioned office spaces place on the national grid. There are, of course, plenty of ways to make working spaces more sustainable, but there are also plenty of businesses neglecting to take their role in climate reform seriously.
Less paper is wasted thanks to the emphasis on remote collaboration on-screen, and plastic waste is reduced as fewer workers rely on single-use cups and food packaging on a daily basis. As businesses have adapted to remote meetings, the burden of international work trips has also eased.
The Covid-19 pandemic sped up the shift toward remote working, and the clear benefits it poses not just for the climate crisis, but for employee satisfaction and flexible working, too, mean that, for many businesses, this now represents the new normal.
The true impact widespread remote working will have on the climate – positive or negative – remains to be seen, but, with the right measures in place to make households greener, it’s likely that the trend will prove even more beneficial as time goes on.
The impacts of global warming are not limited to the most high-profile crises that make headline news. Many direct threats are a lot more insidious, and have already begun to take hold in some of the most prominent industries in the UK. There’s still time for change, but we all need to learn to adapt and instate those changes sooner rather than later.