Reducing working hours over the rest of the century could eliminate up to 50% of the global warming not already locked in, according to analysis by the US Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)
“The calculation is simple: fewer work hours means less carbon emissions, which means less global warming,” said CEPR’s David Rosnick, author of the report.
He estimates that between 8% and 22% of every degree of warming up to 2100 would be cut by an annual 0.5% reduction in work hours. And, assuming that up to 60% of potential global warming is effectively already locked in, between 25% and 50% of future warming caused by greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere could be cut by adopting shorter working hours.
Rosnick says policymakers, particularly in high-income countries, have a choice over whether gains from increases in productivity should focus entirely on raising living standards – as has been the case in the US and to a lesser extent in Europe, where working weeks have gradually declined since the 1970s – or whether some of the benefits should be taken as reduced hours.
As productivity rises, societies may choose to work less rather than maximise output, says the paper.
“Increased productivity should allow workers to have more time off to spend with their families, friends and communities. This is positive for society, and is quantifiably better for the planet as well,” comments Mark Weisbrot, co-director at the Washington-based research organisation.
Rosnick acknowledges, however, that in countries with high levels of income inequality, such as the US, where almost two-thirds of all income gains from 1973–2007 went to the top 1% of households, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards to work less.
A shorter working week would only be possible if future gains from productivity growth are more broadly shared, he says.