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Zero carbon, zero poverty

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2016 – 11:44

Climate change impacts working people first. Leading the worker’s fight on climate change, Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation talks about why we should act now to secure a stable climate with development and inclusive growth

Sharon BurrowThe year 2015 marked a turning point in global ambitions. The UN Sustainable Development Goals were born from the recognition that a model of development relying on the trickle down theory of benefit from corporate growth had not only failed but also set the world on a course of greater inequality, historic unemployment, escalating conflict and mass migration. And the Paris agreement on climate was born of necessity to end our dependency on fossil fuels if we are to mitigate the social and economic ravishes of climate change.

Together these decisions can chart a course for a world where zero carbon, zero poverty is realised but it requires planning and investment on a global scale not seen before.
There are no jobs on a dead planet. This is much more than a slogan for us. We are already witnessing the loss of lives and livelihoods.

Climate impacts hit working people first and with extreme weather events, changing seasons and rising sea levels whole communities stand on the frontlines.

In order to stabilise the climate, we need to make profound changes to energy systems – and therefore to all economic sectors. This means workers are again on the frontlines in both vulnerable industries and with their families in vulnerable communities. However, they are also on the frontline of opportunity with the possibilities for investment and jobs.

The challenge of industrial transformation is an opportunity for unions to demand dialogue, to organise, to bargain for and to lead the changes to work and skills acquisition that will be required. It is also an opportunity to ensure our pension funds work for sustainability on our terms.
We know there are jobs, millions of jobs. With infrastructure investment projected to be US $50 trillion by 2030 and $90 trillion by 2050, we certainly know this means more jobs.

There are more jobs in construction, manufacturing, transport and services as we green every industry and build those mega cities. There are more jobs in sustainable agriculture and forest and land restoration.

Our own research shows us there are jobs in existing industries. A 2012 study by the Millennium Institute for the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) showed that if just 12 countries invested 2% of GDP each year for five years in existing industries this would generate around 48 million jobs.

The ILO has similarly found that policies facilitating climate transition are employment generators. Combining economic growth with environmental improvement can lead to net gains of up to 60 million jobs. Energy is critical to the transformation so energy workers are at the centre of the transition. In renewable energy the U.S. solar industry is creating jobs twenty times faster than the overall economy while the world’s largest renewable energy job market is in China, with 3.4 million working in the industry. And in Germany, 370,000 people are employed in renewable energy, the largest number in Europe.

Germany is one of the few countries with a comprehensive nationwide energy plan.

All nations and all sectors must plan for the future. And the urgency to go further, ensure a circular economy to live within planetary boundaries will spawn new technologies, businesses and jobs.

For unions our members are involved in every aspect of this challenge – from activists campaigning for action on climate to workers in new industries to workers in fossil fuel production.

We know that our sons and daughters may work in energy in the future but they probably won’t work in fossil fuels. Yet, we demand that the workers who have brought us the prosperity of today have to be given their due respect and that the transition be a just and equitable one.
Workers and unions want to see the dialogue that will ensure that there are plans at national, industry and enterprise level for transition.
Workers and their unions both demand and accept responsibility for the dialogue necessary to develop and implement just transition plans.

Success needs governments to show leadership when setting ambitious climate goals but it also requires all of us – businesses, workers and their unions, civil society and communities to support change. The transition requires dialogue and understanding of different needs at all levels. It requires an integrated approach to both climate action and the UN Sustainable Development Goals for inclusive development, with investment consistent with these objectives.

It was heartening to see massive support for the call to dialogue for just transition evident at the Paris Climate Summit, with representatives of 1,000 businesses and 500,000 civil society activists signing up with the ITUC to a Joint Declaration.

The consensus is that a just transition will:
• invest in decent work opportunities in sectors which reduce emissions and help communities adapt to climate change;
• respect the contribution that workers in fossil-fuel industries have made to today’s prosperity and provide them with income support, retraining and redeployment opportunities, as well as secure pensions for older workers;
• guarantee social protection and human rights;
• invest in community renewal to gain the hope and trust of regions and townships at the forefront of the energy transition, industrial transformation or climate impacts;
• support innovation and technology sharing to enable a rapid transformation of energy and manufacturing companies along with all other economic sectors and the involvement of workers and communities in the sectoral plans for transforming megacities;
• formalise jobs associated with rescue, restoring communities and building resilience to climate disasters;
• be based on social dialogue with all relevant parties, collective bargaining with workers and their unions for workplace change, resource productivity and skills development with the monitoring of agreements which are public and legally enforceable.

This is the most significant challenge the world will face in the next 30 years, but we must start now. We can lose the battle on climate change with horrendous consequences for all working people and their communities, or we can act now to secure a stable climate with development and inclusive growth