Climate change and safety in high-hazard industries

The topic of NeTWork’s 2022 workshop is Meeting the challenges of climate change and safety in high-risk industries. The workshop will take place in October 2022 at the Abbaye de Royaumont, near Paris, France. The workshop is organized by Gudela Grote (ETHZ, Switzerland), Corinne Bieder (ENAC, France) and Johannes Weyer (TU Dortmund, Germany).

The issue

Climate change is now widely acknowledged and its impacts — whether real through recent events or potential — are recognized. Climate change induces new threats to product and process safety, as also discussed in the related concept of NaTech referring to natural hazards causing industrial accidents (Krausmann et al., 2011). But the relationship between high-risk industries and climate change is more complex. As introduced in the banking domain, a double materiality concept (Adams et al., 2021; Gourdel et al., 2021) seems interesting to characterize this relationship, considering not only the impact of climate change on high-risk industries (from a safety point of view among others), but also the impact of high-risk industries on climate change. Aviation or oil and gas are two emblematic industrial domains whose very existence is challenged in a context of climate urgency (see the flight shaming movement for example), while nuclear power production is revitalized as a “green” technology (Tillement & Garcias, 2021; Verma, 2021).

All actors, including high-risk industries, are urged to reduce their contribution to climate change, imposing new challenges to organizations in which safety has a certain importance and level of priority. In this push for transformation driven by the need for sustainability, what is at stake for safety (Blokland & Reniers, 2020)? Some tentative connections have been discussed, for instance regarding food safety (cf. Pires et al. 2020), workers’ safety, especially in relation to heat stress (Dasgupta et al., 2021; Kjellstrom et al., 2016; Schulte & Chun, 2009; Schulte et al., 2016), safety of infrastructures (Nasr et al., 2021), and public safety (Stroebe et al., 2021). Yet, it seems that only a small part of the interplay has been explored despite their coexistence at all levels (users, operators, organizations, industry, governance) in practice.

In a broader perspective, considering societal subsystems such as energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, or health systems, sustainable transformation is a huge challenge that policymakers and civil society must address to prevent climate collapse. As some authors have already noted, more academic attention is needed regarding the safety implications of disruptive, sustainability-driven changes in sociotechnical systems (Iacovleva er al., 2021; Kivimaa et al. 2021). In this context, safety issues can be considered as both side effects (e.g., the volatility of renewable energy sources, or chemicals used for plant-based nutrition) as well as important facilitating conditions (e.g., users’ safety expectations regarding existing technologies, or strong actors/institutions that provide safety standards for new products and infrastructures). Consequently, transforming complex sociotechnical systems requires not only the dismantlement of prevalent system structures and the achievement of a stable future state, but also managing the process of establishing new practices in a safe and reliable manner without interrupting important systemic functions and services.

The workshop will address the following subjects and issues:

  • Mutual impacts in theory and practice:

    • What are the theoretical synergies (and tensions) between climate change and safety research, e.g. regarding key concepts of uncertainty or complexity?

    • Do we need new theories and methods to address new challenges from climate change?

    • To what extent and how are the mutual impacts currently acknowledged and integrated in practice?

  • Actors, governance and dilemmas

    • To what extent are climate change and safety considered — and conceptualized as well as communicated — as synergetic/conflicting at different levels (users, operators, organizations, industries, safety authorities, societies)? E.g. public awareness and acceptability of sustainability-driven innovations that potentially reduce safety (cf. Volken et al. 2019).

    • How are arising dilemmas managed at all levels? How are power relationships between the respective actors considered?

    • What is the interplay of state, private organizations, and various societal actors in promoting and managing safe transformations?

    • Should the sustainability imperative be a part of the mandate of safety authorities? Are safety regulators equipped to mandate and inspect implementation of industrial transformations that will occur more quickly than in the past?

    • Do new modes of governance emerge, for example demand-side management in the energy sector (cf. Kuzemko et al. 2017, Hoffmann et al. 2021).

  • Transformation

    • How can the transformation of high-risk industries and/or societal subsystems be sustainable itself? Concepts, theories, policies, experiences, (historical) case studies.

    • What measures are needed to secure safety in transition periods?

    • What methods exist and/or should be developed for holistic risk assessment and mitigation to concurrently manage safety and climate change risks?


Adams, C.A., Alhamood, A., He, X., Tian, J., Wang, L., & Wang, Y. (2021). The Double-Materiality Concept: Application and issues. Global Reporting Initiative.

Blokland, P., & Reniers, G. (2020). Sustainability safety science, a systems thinking perspective: From events to mental models and sustainable safety. Sustainability. 5164. DOI: 10.3390/su12125164.

Dasgupta, S., Van Maanen, N., Gosling, S. M., Piontek, F., Otto, C., & Schleussner, C. (2021). Effects of climate change on combined labour productivity and supply: An empirical, multi-model study. Lancet Planet Health, 5, e455-65.

Gourdel, R., Monasterolo, I., Dunz, N., Mazzocchetti, A., & Parisi, L. (2021). Assessing the double materiality of climate risks in the EU economy and banking sector. Available at SSRN 3939895.

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Nasr, A., Björnsson, I., Honfi, D., Larsson Ivanov, O., Johansson, J., & Kjellström, E. (2021). A review of the potential impacts of climate change on the safety and performance of bridges. Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure, 6(3-4), 192-212.

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Pires, S. M., Thomsen, S. T., Nauta, M., Poulsen, M., & Jakobsen, L. S.(2020). Food safety implications of transitions toward sustainable healthy diets. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 41 (2_suppl), 104S-124S. DOI: 10.1177/0379572120953047.

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Stroebe, K., Kanis, B., Richardson, J., Oldersma, F., Broer, J., Greven, F. & Postmes, T. (2021). Chronic disaster impact: The long-term psychological and physical health consequences of housing damage due to induced earthquakes. BMJ Open, 11, e040710.

Tillement, S., & Garcias, F. (2021). ASTRID, Back to the Future: Bridging Scales in the Development of Nuclear Infrastructures. Nuclear Technology, 207:9, 1291-1311, DOI: 10.1080/00295450.2020.1868892.

Verma, A. (2021). The Nuclear, Humanities, and Social Science NexusChallenges and Opportunities for Speaking Across the Disciplinary Divides. Nuclear Technology, 207:9, iii-xv, DOI: 10.1080/00295450.2021.1941663.

Volken, S., Wong-Parodi, G., & Trutnevyte, E. (2019). Public awareness and perception of environmental, health and safety risks to electricity generation: an explorative interview study in Switzerland. Journal of Risk Research, 22 (4), pp. 432–447. DOI: 10.1080/13669877.2017.1391320.

Workshop organizers

  • Corinne Bieder (ENAC)
  • Johannes Weyer (TU Dortmund)
  • Gudela Grote (ETH Zürich)

Image credit: Don O’Brian