The UK may need to drastically reduce its working hours to avoid a climate disaster, a study has concluded.
The study, conducted by thinktank Autonomy, found that workers in the UK, Sweden and Germany may all need to reduce their work to less than ten hours a week per person to limit global warming just to around 2C, given current productivity levels.
The study, based on UN and OECD data on carbon productivity per industry sector in the three countries, also found that reducing working hours would not be enough to tackle the climate crisis by itself, as it concluded that a drastic economic shift will also be needed.
‘Working time reduction as an isolated policy by itself will likely be insufficient to combat climate change,’ the study says.
‘Rather, it needs to be supplemented by other policies facilitating radical economic transformation, for instance to shift jobs from sectors such as manufacturing and fossil fuel extraction towards employment in service professions and green jobs (e.g. reforestation operations).’
The paper assumes an ‘absolute’ decrease in working time by those currently working, with jobs not being offered to the unemployed or extra hours being offered to the underemployed.
However, it does not factor in the other possible environmental benefits of reducing working hours such as a drop in commuting levels and fewer goods being produced.
The author of the study, Philipp Frey, said that given the scale of the climate crisis reducing working hours is not just but a necessity.
‘If ecological sustainability requires an overall decrease in material consumption, a vast expansion in terms of leisure time and thus an increase in “time prosperity” would be less of a luxury and more of an urgency,’ he said.
The report comes as the idea of a ‘Green New Deal’ gains traction in the US and Europe, which focusing on decarbonisation of the economy to give workers well-paid, sustainable jobs.
Growing levels of automation in the workplace have also led to calls for the working week – on average around 40 hours in the UK – to be reduced.
Advocates for a shorter working week say that it would lead to improved wellbeing, increased productivity and better gender equality, as well as helping to tackle the climate emergency.
Image credit: Ana Gic from Pixabay