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An opinion piece by Mustapha Kamal Gueye

Woman in green jacket wearing white cap and headphones

The Green Transition train is already gaining momentum but there’s a growing concern that without adjustments certain workers, enterprises and communities could be left behind. The International Labor Organization (ILO) have demonstrated that the Green Transition has the potential to not only transform our environment but also to be a just transition—one that benefits governments, businesses, and the workforce alike.

At the recent COP28 climate conference in Dubai discussions on how climate action can ensure a future where workers can thrive, were ample. The final text of the UEA Consensus calls for a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels. Furthermore, 76 countries endorsed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Gender-responsive just transition.

The Green Transition is already reshaping our economy, our environment, and societies, but it isn’t occurring in smooth way. In 2022 worldwide employment in renewable energy reached nearly 14 million, nearly doubling the number of jobs since 2012. In the solar technology sector nearly 40 percent of jobs worldwide are held by women.

Equitably managed, the Green Transition has the potential to create new opportunities and alleviate poverty, all while safeguarding the planet for future generations. The ILO, UN Environment Programme and the International union for the conservation of nature estimated that 75 million people work in nature-based solutions (nbS), in 2022. An additional 20 million jobs could be generated worldwide if investment in NbS were tripled by 2030.

While these gains should be celebrated, we should be cleareyed about larger employments trends around climate change. This is because climate change is eliminating more jobs worldwide than renewable energy initiatives are creating. The present trendline is for the situation for workers to worsen. Research by the ILO suggests that by 2030 more than two percent of total working hours, the equivalent of 80 million jobs may be lost each year owing to global warming and heat stress. Moreover, 40 percent of global employment hinges on a healthy environment.

Around the world the ILO, in collaboration with the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), is supporting countries in their journey towards sustainability. For instance in India we have been working with Indian Railways to establish a task force on environmental sustainability. In Argentina ILO and PAGE worked with authorities to finalize a National Green Jobs Promotion Strategy and Roadmap, with a focus on greening labour market policies. Recently in North Sulawesi in Indonesia, we brought together representatives of labor, capital and the government to map ways that protect the biodiversity of the local environment while stimulating secure jobs.

Mustapha Kamal Gueye,  director of the ILO Priority Action Programme on Just Transitions Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies.

Key to the global challenge are distributional impacts. New employment opportunities are not always created for the same workers and in the same locations where jobs are lost, and not at the same time.  For example, the province of Mpumalanga in eastern South Africa accounts for approximately 80 per cent of total coal production and is central to the country’s decarbonization plans. However, most jobs in renewable energy and related employment are in the Northern Cape region.

Enterprises are central to achieving a green transition, notably by shifting investments and operations from fossil fuels to clean energy. Several leading oil and gaz companies from Enel to Iberdrola and Ørsted to Iberdrola, have pledged to transform their business models through a green energy transition.

Around the world the ILO, in collaboration with the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), is supporting countries in their journey towards sustainability. For instance in India we have been working with Indian Railways to establish a task force on environmental sustainability. In Argentina ILO and PAGE worked with authorities to finalize a National Green Jobs Promotion Strategy and Roadmap, with a focus on greening labour market policies. Recently in North Sulawesi in Indonesia, we brought together representatives of labor, capital and the government to map ways that protect the biodiversity of the local environment while stimulating secure jobs.

Protecting workers from climate change will require more than band aid solutions. Shifting toward green economies is also about sustainable resource management, energy efficiency, waste reduction, social justice, poverty reduction, and gender equality. A just transition brings these essential aspects into focus, creating a holistic approach to sustainability.

None of this is as easy as flipping a switch. Just transitions have ups and downs but central has been dialogue. It’s about bringing workers’ representatives and employers together to ensure equitable distribution of transition benefits, including training opportunities and reinvestment of energy savings. Spain’ Long-ter decarbonization strategy of the German Coal Commission are illustrative example,

Without a just transition, the risks are real. Increased social inequality, worker dissatisfaction, labor disputes, decreased productivity, and loss of business competitiveness are possible outcomes.

The complexity of the green transition demands comprehensive solutions driven by integrated policy responses. For this reason, at the International Labour Conference in June 2023, representatives from governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations from the 187 members of the ILO endorsed the Guidelines for a just transition as the central reference for policy making and a basis for action.

Look to nations that have embraced just transition approaches. Their experiences offer insights into making this vision a reality. They’re proof that it can work. Internationally endorsed guidelines by the ILO outline principles and policy approaches for a just transition. These include macroeconomic policies, sectoral development, enterprise support, skills development, occupational safety, social protection, and active labor market policies, all rooted in rights and social dialogue.

Initiatives like Climate Action for Jobs (CA4J) aim to develop national Just Transition policies, create green jobs, and promote social justice in line with climate action. These are concrete steps toward the brighter future we envision.

The goal of a Just Transition is clear—to harmonize environmental imperatives with economic equity, aiming for sustainability and prosperity for all. It’s our bridge to the future we want. As we navigate the challenges of our time, let’s remember that a Just Transition is not just a path forward; it’s the path we must take if we are to leave a better world for future generations.

 

An opinion piece by Mustapha Kamal Gueye,  director of the ILO Priority Action Programme on Just Transitions Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies.

  • What is PAGE doing to promote a Just Transition?

  • PAGE’s cooperation on Sustained Economic Growth and Decent Work

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