ILO report: “It is not action against climate change and environmental degradation that will destroy jobs, it is inaction that will destroy jobs”

ilo2019workforabrighterfutureTo mark its centenary in 2019, the International Labour Organization (ILO) commissioned a Global Commission on the Future of Work in 2015. On January 22, the Centenary was launched with the release of the Commission’s report : Work for a Brighter Future , an aspirational document with  recommendations for government policies to address the “ unprecedented transformational change in the world of work.”   The ten recommendations in the report call for a universal labour guarantee that protects fundamental workers’ rights, an adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces, a universal entitlement to lifelong learning , managing technological change to boost decent work, and greater investments in the care economy, green economy, and rural economy. The Executive Summary is here ; the full 66-page Report is here  .

Work for a Brighter Future is a broad and visionary document, but its arguments and proposals are supported by a series of more detailed research papers, including The Future of work in a Changing Natural Environment: Climate change, degradation and sustainability (August 2018) . The Research Paper argues that “… on the one hand, environmental degradation destroys work opportunities and worsens working conditions. On the other hand, any efforts to achieve sustainability will entail a structural transformation. Crucially, this transformation can result in more and better jobs.”

The paper calls for a new development model that acknowledges that the economy, including the world of work, is a subsystem of the global ecosystem, and cannot expand beyond the confines of ecological limits. It concludes: “….For developing economies, it means adopting a development strategy based on sustainable principles in energy, transport, construction, resource-intensive manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and waste management. For developed economies, it means restructuring these industries so they become sustainable … In advanced economies, it means, potentially, embracing zero growth… For both developed and developing economies, it means developing a service sector that is decoupled from material extraction or carbon emissions in addition to progress towards resource efficiency and low carbon intensity….….At a global level, if a tax on CO2 emissions were imposed and the resulting revenues were used to cut labour taxes, then up to 14 million net new jobs could be created.”

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder summed up some of these themes in his address to the Ministerial Conference of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), held on January 10 – 11 2019 in South Africa. He stated:  “It is not action against climate change and environmental degradation that will destroy jobs, it is inaction that will destroy jobs. …Economic activity and jobs depend on ecosystem services and a safeguarding of the natural environment. Around 1.2 billion jobs, or 40 per cent of world employment in 2014, were in industries that depend heavily on natural processes.… ultimately, environmental degradation will compromise livelihoods and magnify inequality. We must work around these highly interconnected challenges to devise workable solutions in specific country contexts. “

Just Transition is essential to a low carbon economy. How can unions contribute?

ILO 2018 JUST TRANSITIONOn October 22, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released   Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All,  which argues for the importance of  just transition policies –  not as an “add-on”, but an integral part of the climate policy and sustainable development policy framework.  This Policy Brief, aimed at a labour union audience,  reviews the history and fundamental principles of the Just Transition concept, provides case studies which  form an impressive catalogue of how just transition has (and in some cases, hasn’t) worked around the world,  and concludes with recommendations of how trade unions and workers’ organizations can contribute to the goal of Just Transition to a low carbon economy .

The Just transition case studies are drawn from both from the global North and the global South – specifically, Alberta; Australia; Brazil; California; Chiapas State, Mexico; Europe; India; Indonesia; Phillipines, Ruhr Valley;  South Africa; and  Vietnam. They reflect interventions at the regional, country, and  sectoral level – most frequently the coal industry. In the end, the author concludes that,  while a coherent strategy with clear objectives and targets is essential, it can only work properly if supported by the main stakeholders. Cooperation of environmental and labour advocacy groups is extremely important, as is the input of Indigenous people. He further judges that “ 10-12 years seems to be a realistic framework which would also allow time to build up well-founded just transition plans.”

What can trade unions do?:  The author’s recommendations are:  Be proactive and build just transition strategies for the future; Be involved at all levels; Build coalitions; Manage labour market transitions; and Develop future-oriented innovative approaches. To help unions, the author provides information for “Capacity and network building” on page 10,  including the network and databases  provided by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW)  project : specifically, the Green Collective Agreements database     and the Education and Training materials database .

Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All   was written by Béla Galgóczi, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute and an Associate of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW)  research project.   The new report is available in English  and in French , published by the ILO Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV), which also publishes the International Journal of Labour Research.   In May 2018, the ILO Employment Policy Department issued an Employment Research Brief,  Green Growth,  Just Transition and Green Jobs: There’s a Lot we don’t know , which summarizes and links to the most recent international studies on these three topics.

 

Green Jobs, Green Economies from a Social/Gender Justice Lens

A discussion paper released in February by the ILO and the Global Labour University provides a wide-ranging and well-documented global analysis of Green New Deal programs, green economies, and green jobs. Some excerpts: “…while advocates of the green economy promise the elimination of poverty, the green economy agenda is a new version of what has been described as finance-led accumulation and as such a continuation of the neoliberal project that has fuelled inequality during the past three decades”. Of green jobs, he observes, “statistical evidence suggests that many of the assumptions associated with green jobs are far too optimistic”. Referencing Austrian, EU, and South African studies, he states, “statistical evidence suggests that in terms of working conditions they (i.e. green jobs) are actually worse than average jobs…in sum, female workers are clearly disadvantaged when it comes to the distribution of the benefits from green growth”. Finally, “in sum, an alternative approach to a green transition towards a more sustainable economy and society must go beyond the goal of a thermal insulated capitalism and promote ecological, gender and social justice”. The author particularly discusses the importance of hours of work as a key factor in equality/inequality, and in ecological damage. Source: Green New Deal and the Question of Environmental and Social Justice.

Climate Change is the Theme of ILO World Day for Decent Work, and CLC Announces a Climate Change Week of Action

According to the Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO), “To mark this year’s World Day for Decent Work, trade unions have chosen the theme of climate change, urging governments to move now to create prosperity for all on a sustainable planet”. “There is a growing consensus that climate change and decent work for all are the two defining challenges of the 21st century”. The Canadian Labour Congress also marked the day, and, referring to the Report of Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment, made this statement: “In keeping with the Climate Justice theme for World Day for Decent Work, the CLC used this report to invigorate the preparations for its planned national climate change week of action this December, set to coincide with the United Nations global climate change meeting (COP 20) in Lima, Peru, from December 1 to 12, 2014”.

LINKS:

ILO Director’s blog is at: http://iloblog.org/2014/10/08/there-are-no-jobs-on-a-dead-planet/

CLC announcement of Climate Change Week of Action is at: http://www.canadianlabour.ca/news-room/statements/october-7-2014-world-day-decent-work