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Sustainable development

10 action points towards a greener economy

Just before the opening of the Paris climate conference that is expected to set new ambitious targets to move to a low-carbon economy, ILO Green Jobs Programme Coordinator Kees van der Ree outlines ten steps that can facilitate a transition to a green economy.

Comment | 26 November 2015
By Kees van der Ree, ILO Green Jobs Programme Coordinator

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Kees van der Ree
Moving the global economy to an environmentally sustainable footing will be a “turbulent” experience. It will have profound implications both for the planet and the future of work.

This was the message we heard at an international experts’ meeting on green jobs that recently took place at the ILO, chaired by the Labour Minister of Barbados, Esther Byer-Suckoo. You can learn more about that meeting and listen to an interview with Byer-Suckoo here.

Many questions arise when discussing this topic, such as: how we can manage the transition so that it will work for all? What should be done to ensure that companies, workers and societies benefit from the move towards a green economy? How can the transition bring decent work and social justice to all? Here are ten action points to consider.

1. Send a strong political signal

Governments need to send a strong signal that they wish to accelerate the transition towards a green economy and, in doing so, involve workers and employers. This will help to create a stable investment climate so that green innovation and sustainable-enterprise development is encouraged. For example, South Africa sealed the Green Economy Accord in 2011 by involving all key ministries, business and labour. Peru has made green and inclusive growth a priority. Indonesia is taking big steps to promote green jobs and green-job skills. At the international level, Brazil is cooperating with other countries in the “Global South” to promote sustainable development.

2. Promote inclusive social dialogue

Social dialogue between workers, employers and governments should be present at all levels, from policy design to implementation and the measurement of results. Members of workers’ and employers’ organisations should participate actively in social dialogue at the enterprise, sectoral and national levels to assess opportunities and resolve challenges posed by the transition.

3. Design economic growth policies that are environmentally friendly

All economic policies should include measures to support sustainable development. Environmental tax reform could help finance the compensation for those affected by the transition through investments in new green jobs and more innovation.

4. Make sure nobody is left behind

Special attention should be given to the industries and communities which are most likely to be affected by the effects of climate change or the transition to a green economy. For example, in Bangladesh, Cyclone Sidr disrupted hundreds of thousands of small businesses and adversely affected 567,000 jobs in 2007. In the United States. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy left 150,000 workers displaced and reduced overall employment by 11,000 workers in New Jersey alone. With unpredictable weather patterns, more frequent storms and prolonged drought, vulnerable communities are increasingly at risk – and must be protected.

5. Support businesses, especially SMEs

The transition includes all companies. It is especially important to enhance the resilience of sustainable enterprises, in particular small-and-medium-sized companies (SMEs) and cooperatives. This can be done through financial incentives for businesses adopting environmentally sound practices and by offering technical advice to employers and workers.

6. Make sure workers have the right skills

A new green economy will require new skills. Certain groups of workers will need to upgrade or learn entirely new skills to keep their jobs. Young people should be able to acquire skills for green occupations and greener work practices as part of their education. Owners and workers of small enterprises should be able to access specific training services. The transition will differ in scale and nature across sectors and regions, but it is very important to anticipate, together with companies and educational institutions, the changes this will imply for a skilled workforce.

In Zambia, for example, a joint UN programme led by the ILO promotes skills and business development to build greener housing for low- and middle income families. The project is expected to create 5,000 skilled jobs and boost local small enterprises engaged in environmentally sound construction.

7. Make sure green jobs are safe

As with all jobs, work in the green economy needs to be clean and safe. The adoption of appropriate occupational safety and health measures can contribute to greener businesses and better work. Take pesticides in agriculture, for example, and the risks of misuse for both farmers and their land. For new occupations in the green economy, additional measures may be needed. The evaluation of new risks and the development of preventive measures is something important to be considered. Legislation may in some cases need to be updated and labour inspectors should be informed and trained.

8. Promote social protection

Social protection is a good way to improve resilience and safeguard populations against the impact of economic and environmental shocks. Social policy measures should be integrated into national responses to climate change. Employment-guarantee schemes and public works can help in multiple ways: they create essential jobs, help rehabilitate natural resources and create new productive and sustainable economic assets.

For example, several ILO projects focussing on restoring livelihoods for people affected by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines include social protection and environmental-friendly components. Building back better and making infrastructure and local economies more sustainable prepares communities better for future disasters.

9. Anticipate changes

Policies should be put in place to help companies and workers anticipate changing labour-market demands. This includes strengthening public employment services and providing targeted subsidies to allow workers to acquire the type of skills that will improve their chances to keep or find a new job.

10. Promote decent work

The four pillars of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda are social dialogue, social protection, rights at work and employment. They are also indispensable building blocks of sustainable development. They must be at the centre of policies for strong, sustainable and inclusive growth and development.

If managed well, the greening of economies can become a strong driver of job creation, job upgrading, social justice and poverty eradication. The actors of the world of work cannot be passive bystanders; they must be active agents of change.

The change in policies at global and national level is critical. But the need to act is on all of us – collectively and individually.

The real success of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference will depend on the contribution from each of us, wherever we work and live. The ILO is counting on you too.