With COP26 having recently ended, climate change remains top of mind. This 3rd of December, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities represents a key moment to reflect on the challenges that climate change poses to persons with disabilities, and the need for a more inclusive transition towards a low carbon economy.

From the outset, the Paris Agreement stated that “efforts to mitigate the risks of climate change should respect human rights obligations, including the rights of persons with disabilities”. Persons with disabilities face a disproportionate impact from climate change. They are often least able to access emergency support, driving higher rates of mortality during extreme weather events. In addition, barriers to education access, discrimination as well as socioeconomic factors result in high rates of unemployment, with persons with disabilities being three times less likely to be employed. Climate change acts as a multiplier, exacerbating these existing inequalities in the labour market, for example when heat stress or extreme weather conditions impact the working environment. This has an impact not only on the quality of life of people with disabilities but also on society. The International Labour Organisation estimates the underemployment of people with disabilities can cost between 3 and 7 per cent of GDP.

The transition to a low carbon economy will have a profound impact on the labour market and represents a significant opportunity for change. A just transition that is inclusive for persons with disabilities will require policy makers and governments to develop suitable legislation, strong social safeguard mechanisms as well as skill development initiatives. Programmes designed to support workers facing job losses from the green transition can be developed to include persons with disabilities to make this transition to new “green jobs” (and the skills development opportunities that come with it) more widely accessible.

Employers in the private sector also have a key role to play in changing attitudes in the workplace. They can do so by supporting and empowering their employees who live with disabilities and ensure they can take full advantage of the new opportunities created by the green economy. Électricité de France (EDF), for example, has done so for the last 25 years with their disability inclusion programme. By collaborating with organisations and NGOs who work with people with disabilities, employers can also improve their hiring process, involving a wider set of candidates that would otherwise remain under the hiring radar. Taken together, actions by both the public and private sector can help achieve a more inclusive and just transition towards a new low-carbon economy.