Greening the Workforce

The climate negotiations are entering into their most intense phase. Negotiators are aiming to put together one of most complex sets of international commitments ever. This goal is an ambitious package which can deliver within the short time frame that is left for preventing dangerous climate change. Such an agreement will massively redirect investments, trigger technology transfers and mobilize billions of dollars to help developing countries cope with climate change.

The challenge of striking a deal in Copenhagen is not underestimated by the representatives of the world of work -- employers, workers and governments -- who come together at the International Labour Organization (ILO). They are aware of the profound changes in production and consumption patterns that a meaningful climate agreement will have. But their message to world leaders and to the negotiators is that they are ready for the challenges of the transformation of enterprises, jobs and employment patterns.

Climate change and jobs in times of economic crisis
In the last year, mounting concern over jobs and the state of the economy has been threatening to eclipse other priorities and is likely to linger. Thanks to decisive and concerted action by governments, markets show signs of bouncing back, but incomes, jobs and people have not.

An ILO survey of 53 countries shows a 23.6 per cent increase in unemployment in the year to March 2009.1 With the world's labour force rising by 45 million a year, some 300 million additional jobs will be needed from now to 2015 just to return to pre-crisis levels of unemployment. The impact of the crisis on poverty is even more challenging. The United Nations estimates that 73-103 million more people will remain or fall into poverty due to the crisis.2

But we cannot afford to wait to address the climate challenge until economies and labour markets have recovered. We have to tackle both climate change and the jobs crisis together, and we can.
In fact, the climate and the jobs crisis have common roots. We have over-emphasized the economy, especially the financial sector, and undervalued the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability. The response to the crisis needs to redress this imbalance.

A Global Jobs Pact
Governments, employers and worker organizations of the ILO's 183 member countries underscored this at the International Labour Conference in June 2009 when they focused on a productive and people-centred response to the economic crisis. They adopted a Global Jobs Pact3, which includes a shift to a low-carbon, environmentally friendly economy as part of a comprehensive and coherent set of policies that will help accelerate jobs recovery, recuperation of income levels and sustainable growth of enterprises and economies.

The economic and jobs crises can be turned into opportunities to speed up the transition to low-carbon, high-employment, poverty-reducing economies. The short-term green stimulus measures, as well as the longer-term policies adopted in a growing number of industrialized, emerging and developing economies, demonstrate that targeting economic growth and action on climate change can be mutually reinforcing.

Measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate climate change have created millions of green jobs in countries at all stages of development through energy efficiency in buildings, in industry and in transport, in sustainable agriculture and forestry and through a shift to low-carbon, renewable energy. Developing and emerging countries can even "leapfrog" and directly adopt clean, twenty-first century technology and infrastructure. The gains in green jobs and in greener, sustainable enterprises far outweigh those that will be lost or transformed in emission-intensive sectors.

This insight is beginning to resonate and translate into concrete policy. At their meeting in Pittsburgh, the G20 leaders agreed to put jobs at the heart of the recovery to a greener, more sustainable and balanced global growth.

The ILO estimates that the discretionary fiscal expansion in the G20 countries, together with automatic stabilizers such as unemployment benefit, will have created or saved between 7 and 11 million jobs in 2009. A significant proportion of these will be green jobs which help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

An ILO survey of government policy responses to the crisis has shown that many countries have included green jobs components in their recovery measures, for example, through stepped-up investments in infrastructure and energy efficiency. Under the "Green New Deal" package in the Republic of Korea, almost a million green jobs are being created or maintained in 2009/10 with an investment of US $30.7 billion. Measures in the United States include US $500 million to train workers for green jobs. China has the largest of all green stimulus packages, which could generate about 3.7 million jobs over the next two years. More needs to be done by more countries, but we can see the potential and the demand.

Large as some of them are, investments in a green recovery are just the beginning of a longer-term programme of structural change. Broader and continuous efforts are needed to put the world on track for a lasting recovery from the crisis and sustainable growth and development, enabling all countries to create productive employment and decent work for all, to overcome poverty and to preserve the natural environment.

Making a climate deal work
Coherent policies underpinned by a comprehensive international agreement can ensure that all countries pursue sustainable development and promote equity between and within countries. An important part of such a package must be resource transfers to support investments in a low-carbon-growth path in the developing world.
Such an approach can help direct investments and benefits to those who need them most, in particular, the poor and other vulnerable groups. It can provide for a just transition for those who are bearing the brunt of adaptation to climate change and those whose jobs may be lost in the transformation to a low-carbon economy. These elements will be vital for equity and for the political sustainability of a new agreement.

Synergies are not automatic. It takes coherent policies and integrated strategies to turn the transition to a low-carbon economy and adaptation into an opportunity to create jobs and generate income. Policy instruments like NAMAs (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions) and adaptation strategies like NAPAs (National Adaptation Plans of Action) as well the financial flows and institutional arrangements for the implementation of a new deal ought to reflect this.

The ILO tool of social dialogue with industry and trade unions is a vital mechanism for building coherent and effective policies for the transition.

A global climate agreement that factors in the social and economic transformation it will bring about and that brings on board the relevant actors can put the world on a path towards a greener, fairer and sustainable global economy.

Through the Green Jobs Initiative and the ILO global programme on Green Jobs, the world of work is actively contributing to attaining this goal.

A forward-looking deal in Copenhagen in December 2009 will of course only be the start of a long process. The ILO looks forward to being part of the follow-up to making the deal on climate change work.

Notes 1 ILO September 2009. Protecting people, promoting jobs. A survey of employment and social protection policy responses to the global economic crisis. ILO, Geneva.
2 United Nations 2009. World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009. UN, New York.
3 See: