United Nations labour agency, International Labour Organisation (ILO) has launched ILO Green Week to explore what a green future of work could look like, and how we can get there. This is coming as the world grapples with the devastating economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 crisis.
The ILO event is highlighting how a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies can take place while also addressing the imperatives of decent work.
In May 2018, the UN labour agency said that action to combat climate change could create millions of new job opportunities and “more than” offset losses in traditional industries.
It made the announcement at the launch of its annual flagship report on the state of the global job market.
Its forecast that 24 million new posts “will be created globally by 2030”, contains the caveat that “the right policies to promote a greener economy” must also be in place for this to happen, along with better social safety nets for workers.
The ILO report predicts that the transition to a green economy will also lead to the loss of six million jobs in industries that are heavily reliant on carbon-based production.
ILO Deputy Director-General, Deborah Greenfield, insisted in a statement that the green economy “can enable millions more people to overcome poverty and deliver improved livelihoods for this and future generations”.
But she warned that jobs also “rely heavily on a healthy environment”, something that is at risk from rising global temperatures which ILO believes will lead to a two per cent global loss in hours worked by 2030.
“Most sectors” of the economy will benefit – out of 163 analysed in total, according to ILO – but 14 will face losses of more than 10,000 jobs worldwide.
Two sectors, namely petroleum extraction and refining, are set to see job losses of one million or more.
In line with the historic Paris Agreement on climate change accord of December 2015, UN member states pledged to respond to destructive climate change, by keeping temperature rises to below two degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial levels.
This should lead to more new jobs in the sustainable energy sector through public policy shifts – as well as private sector development – ranging from the promotion of electric cars to energy-efficient buildings, according to the ILO report.
It indicates that the regional winners from investment in energy use and production will be Asia and the Pacific, with 14 million jobs created, the Americas (three million) and Europe (two million).
In contrast, negative job growth is forecast in the Middle East (minus 0.48 per cent) and Africa (minus 0.04 per cent) if the reliance of these regions continues, respectively, on fossil fuels and mining.
Catherine Saget, lead author of the report, underlined the need to help low and middle-income countries offset the potential “short-term” employment losses in countries attempting to make the transition to environmentally sustainable economies.
Social dialogue between employers, workers and Member States is also crucial, according to Ms Saget, adding that it has played a “key role in reconciling social and economic objectives with environmental concerns” in some situations.
Measures that could help workers include cash transfers, better social insurance and even limits on fossil fuel use, according to the ILO report, which states that this policy mix “would lead to faster economic growth, stronger employment creation, fairer income distribution and lower greenhouse gas emissions”.
The report’s other findings include a call for governments to take urgent action to train their workforces so that they have the right skills to make the transition to a greener economy possible.
However, for a sustainable future, the UN agency stressed the need for a “strong social consensus” on the goals and pathways to move forward, maintaining that social dialogue must be an integral part of institutional frameworks for policymakers, with the inclusion of workers and employers being critical for an equitable transition at all levels.
“Working together, Governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations can jump-start a just transition to a sustainable future, today”, said ILO.
Africa’s Sustainable revolution
Although Africa generates a low share of global carbon emissions, the continent is highly vulnerable to climate change.
According to ILO, global warming and heat stress will lead to the loss of nearly five per cent of total working hours in western Africa alone – equivalent to losing nine million full-time jobs.
Climate vulnerability could also reduce yields from rain-fed agriculture, affecting millions of jobs and livelihoods.
Rich in minerals, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper and iron – needed for electric vehicles and machinery, the continent has all the elements needed to “win the battle against climate change”, along with the potential to generate some two million additional jobs, ILO said.
Africa is home to the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest rain forest, which absorbs significant amounts of global carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity and possess 60 per cent of the world’s arable land, which, the UN agency pointed out “could drive a new green, sustainable agricultural revolution”.
Moreover, it is home to the Great Green Wall – the world’s largest solar power station, located in the Moroccan desert – and has the potential to use its ocean resources for sustainable economic development.
“With assets like these, Africa can have a more sustainable future, with more and better jobs”, ILO said, while also cautioning that as a leading producer of oil, coal and natural gas, it must end its dependence on fossil fuels, which could lead to the loss of some two million jobs.
In the context of Green Week and this year’s Earth Day, ILO and its partners hosted a regional launch of the Climate Action for Jobs Initiative to showcase how jobs feature at the heart of global action to protect the environment and promote climate-neutral and climate-resilient economies and societies.
Countries need to adopt clear and comprehensive policies that address income and job losses, skills and enterprise development, and labour mobility to achieve a “human-centred future of work in Africa”, said ILO.
With its young and dynamic population, vast natural resources, and political and social engagement, the UN agency upheld that “Africa offers solutions to the world”.
“There is indeed an urgent need to put African young people and women as agents of change, to drive innovation and green job creation”, Cynthisa Samuel-Olonjuwon, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa, said at the event.