How Decent Work and climate resilience grow together

By Tomoko Nishimoto, Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

Comment | Bangkok, Thailand | 18 September 2017
BANGKOK (ILO news) – There once was a general view that you had to choose either to promote jobs and economic growth or to protect the planet, and that these options were in tension, almost incompatible. That tension was overcome after we’ve realized, that you can’t do one without the other. At least if we want to give our future a chance, as the threat of climate change, shows no signs of slowing down.

Societies and economies in Asia and the Pacific are particularly exposed to that threat. In some areas people are forced to leave their jobs and homes with their families after watching their livelihood, their house, and often all they have in life, destroyed by sudden natural disasters or ruined by the effects of climate change.

Whilst climate change has disruptive and sometimes devastating consequences also beyond Asia and the Pacific, confronting it has great potential for job creation. Good jobs. Decent jobs that provide livelihood, protection and dignity. The only kind of jobs that ensures a sustainable and inclusive growth. The ILO calls these ‘Green Jobs’.

We must learn to recognize these opportunities and design strategic environmental policies driven by a decent work agenda. There is an urgent need for green employment policies in (i) prevention – before disasters occur; (ii) mitigation – transitioning to clean energy; and (iii) adaptation – waste recycling, and reusing of materials such as plastic. This process of change at work will require the combined efforts of governments and of employers and workers through social dialogue.

Day by day, workplace practices, skills, product design and job profiles are being adjusted. Most automobile manufacturers produce more fuel-efficient (or electric) cars; farmers apply more climate-resilient growing methods with organic fertilizers; enterprises use more energy-efficient techniques.

This new working dynamic argues strongly for thinking in terms of processes to enable the greening of economies and production, rather than a dichotomy between unsustainable, dirty jobs to be discontinued, and sustainable, clean ones to be created.

The globally endorsed UN Agenda for Sustainable Development stipulates that countries need to “improve global resource efficiency in consumption and production to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation by 2030” (Goal 8). Leveraging decent work would accelerate that process by coupling productive activities and environmental promotion.

Jobs are not decent by default. They are decent by design. A significant amount of thinking and efforts go into developing climate-proof infrastructure in Asia and the Pacific; we must pay the same attention to develop climate-proof human capital with the adequate skills for today’s jobs and tomorrow’s employability.

Efforts from our region can also bring innovative solutions for better work and entrepreneurship to other countries facing the consequences of climate change and increasing natural disasters.

Whether we work in a field, a factory, a shop or an office, inside or outside, on the sea, in the air or on the ground, we can all contribute to a just transition towards more sustainable, equitable and smarter societies.

Joining forces is the only way we can address the current and upcoming challenges of climate change. While structural adjustments are required from all of us - government, employers, workers - together we can turn the workplace into a common driver of environmental, economic and social progress, for all.