The globe goes green

While ILO Director-General Juan Somavia in his speech to the International Labour Conference in June called for sustainable development and green jobs, the outside world had a few news stories as well. Planet Work looks at some of climate change’s news, stories and events making headlines around the world today and also at how businesses are adapting to this issue.

The global phenomenon of climate change is no longer on the sidelines. As Arctic icecaps melt, the African savannah’s riverbeds crack and oceans flood onto towns and cities, people everywhere fear the worst. Homes ruined, jobs lost and families relocated – this is the situation that has already swept across many parts of the world. Is this also the future that awaits the rest of us? As we grapple with a world that is a few degrees too hot, our ways of attempting to offset the effects of global warming are resulting in both loss of investment in sectors such as forestry and oil and an increase of employment in emerging fields such as biofuels, hybrid technologies and other clean-energy businesses.

The G8 Summit

    The most breakthrough news this year on the issue of climate change is the pact formed by the G8 summit. In June 2007 the G8 met in Germany to agree on a landmark deal, with the industrialized countries pledging to make “substantial” cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The G8 statement says: “Global greenhouse gas emissions must stop rising, followed by substantial global emission reductions.” (BBC News, June 2007)

    The G8 meeting is a major advance in world leaders’ commitment towards environmental protection. US President George Bush said, “I’ve recommitted myself today that the United States will be actively involved, if not taking the lead, in a post-Kyoto framework, a post-Kyoto agreement. I view our role as a bridge between people in Europe and others in India and China.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel also claimed that she was “very satisfied” with the outcome. However, other reactions have been lukewarm. Environmentalists are complaining that the deal sets neither actual numbers nor deadlines and that action may be too late. (, 8 June 2007)

    Developing countries around the world also oppose the G8 decision to curb carbon emissions. Indian Minister of State for Industries Ashwani Kumar reinforced India’s position on climate change. While it is crucial to address the critical issues, there ought to be an equal balance based on development in the emerging economies, that is, the curbing of carbon emissions should be on a per capita basis. “The terms of the debate and the idioms of the dialogue should not be such as to unjustifiably transfer the major burden of sustainable development on developing countries,” he said. Even though India is one of the larger consumers of energy in the world given its large population, the carbon emission per capita is only one-fourth of the global average and just 4 per cent of that of the United States. (News Post, 16 June 2007)

Impact of Global Warming

    Global warming has already caused the upheaval of communities, that is, environmental migration. According to Michele Klein Solomon of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), this trend will continue: “All around the world, predictable patterns are going to result in very long-term and very immediate changes in the ability of people to earn their livelihoods.” The Christian Aid agency predicts that by 2050 there will be close to one billion people displaced as a result of global warming. Flooding, droughts, desertification, and rising sea levels are a few of the environmental mayhems that could very well force people to flee in order to survive and find decent work in less harsh conditions. (Boston Globe, 18 June 2007)

    The early months of this year heralded an epic drought situation in Australia, perhaps the first climate-change driven disaster to strike a developed nation. The Murray-Darling basin in south-eastern Australia that yields 40 per cent of the country’s agricultural produce suffered as a result of the lack of rainfall and near-drying of two of the major rivers that feed into the region. As irrigation became impossible and bushfires ran amok, farmers and pastoralists abandoned properties and sold off livestock at rock-bottom prices. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (see sidebar) has warned Australia and New Zealand on the impact of global warming, one being that by 2030, production from agriculture and forestry is likely to decline due to increases in droughts and fires, Australia is one of the world’s biggest energy consumers and one of the only two industrialized nations – the other being the United States – not to have ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. (The Independent, April 2007)

    The Europe Caribbean Business Forum held in Trinidad on 8 June discussed the effects of climate change on economy and development in the Caribbean. The conference recognized that climate change presented a major development challenge for the Caribbean, one that had not been widely understood by either the government or the private sector. Jamaica’s Foreign Minister and Minister of Foreign Trade Anthony Hylton said that it was imperative for every company with an ethical approach to commerce to incorporate environmental costs and a response to climate change into their business plans. As a result of climate change, the future of the Caribbean would face food and energy insecurity, a water crisis, infrastructure problems and a decline in biodiversity. Solutions would include businesses reducing their carbon footprint (see sidebar); the public sector offering incentives to the private sector to reduce emissions; and adopting the mitigation of climate change as part of the entire region’s business vision. (Jamaica Gleanor, 17 June 2007)

Future of Current Forms of Work

    Biofuel is a form of renewable energy that is derived from biomass such as agricultural products. People are turning to biofuel as an alternative to natural resources such as petrol and oil. The emerging multi-billion-dollar a year biofuel industry wants to provide as much as 25 per cent of the world’s energy within 20 years. However, the cultivation of food for energy involves large-scale industrial farming which, according to many environmentalists including Jan van Aken of Greenpeace International, Amsterdam, might not be an efficient form of agriculture: “More and more people are realizing that there are serious environmental and food security issues involved in biofuels. Climate change is the most serious issue, but you cannot fight climate change by large scale deforestation.” A report compiled by UN-Energy in April 2007 claims that the rush towards growing food for energy can have negative implications for farmers and the urban and rural poor in developing lands. Food prices will become more volatile and the increased food insecurity will put pressure on their limited finances. (The Guardian, 9 May 2007)

    Mining giant BHP Billiton announced that it would spend no more than 0.2 per cent of annual profits on measures to abate greenhouse gas emissions. BHP chief executive Chip Goodyear said it would be “naïve” to think that countries would forgo coal to benefit the environment and that it is more realistic to look at minimizing carbon emissions as the way to move forward without “stifling economic development in developing and developed countries”. Australian Conservation Foundation chief Don Henry said the mining corporation’s plans were “disappointingly weak” and required more commitment. “We would urge BHP Billiton to play a more public and constructive role in the climate change policy debate in Australia,” he said. (, 18 June 2007)

    Afforestation initiatives in Bangladesh have been on the rise. Small industries and research communities have undertaken work in forestry, and more than 335,000 beneficiaries are involved in social afforestation through profit-sharing principles, creating massive rural employment opportunities and resulting in poverty alleviation. Indigenous people of the area have been given resources and financial backing to get involved in the afforestation process. These projects are also flood-preventative measures for the future, as the low-lying regions of Bangladesh are prone to flooding, and many fear that parts of it might become submerged within the next 50 years. (The New Nation, 14 June 2007)

    Tourism in Africa has developed immensely as a result of ecotourism, attracting vacationers from industrialized countries in search of unspoilt wilderness. The United Nations and international conservation bodies such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) back the ecotourism trend. They view the development of sustainable tourism as a way of combining local needs for poverty alleviation with care for the environment. Eugenio Yuris, head of the World Tourism Organization’s sustainable tourism section, says, “One can safely say that the growth we observe in Africa . . . is mainly based on ecotourism growth.” However, many places including Kenya have faced damages related to high-volume, low-cost ecotourism, demonstrating that it is necessary to create a strong, regulatory foundation. In other places like São Tomé and Principe, ecotourism is just gathering pace. (Enquirer,, 10 June 2007)

    Another important environmental issue in developing countries is water management and how that can be used to boost local employment. According to Ugandan Minister of Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba, paying for the numerous foreign water technicians absorbs 35 per cent of Africa’s total official development aid. An average of 6,000 people die every day of water-related diseases such as diarrhea, parasites and dehydration, says the UNESCO-IHE Institute of Water Education. Mutagamba suggested that it would be more cost-efficient to employ qualified Africans and African expatriates and encourage local communities to manage their own water supplies. (Reuters, 15 June 2007)

New Energy Employment

    Businesses are starting to seriously consider how they can tackle climate change. They are adopting greener attitudes and preparing for a carbon-constrained future by investing in technologies that will produce cleaner energy. Global investment in renewable power-generation, biofuels and low-carbon technologies rose from $28 billion in 2004 to $71 billion in 2006, says New Energy Finance. (The Economist Special Report, June 2007)

    Many new sectors of employment are being created as a result of the world-wide trend to cut carbon emissions. The head of SRI research at Merrill Lynch says that not only can businesses cut energy and costs and minimize the risks of disruption to their supply chains and workforce, but they can also create new products and set the agenda on regulations and policies such as the upcoming carbon-trading schemes in the United States. Legislation is likely to get tougher and affect a wider variety of sectors. As quantifying and circulating emissions data become the standard, investors will judge employers on new environmental valuation measures such as revenues per tonne of CO2. (Climate Change Corporation, 18 June 2007)

    Solar energy is another clean-energy business that is picking up. Renewable sources provide 13 per cent of the world’s energy needs and solar power hopes to join the main sources of renewable energy, geothermal and hydro-electric power and biomass. Many governments have set targets for the proportion of their nation’s energy to be supplied by renewable sources. However, as the scope of private-sector involvement is limited given the scale of building dams or, in the case of solar power, the shortage of silicon that is needed for solar panels, subsidies are becoming available. Many governments are experimenting with different types of subsidies, such as the feed-in tariff system which involves a fixed payment for electricity; the quota-and-trade system which stipulates that a set proportion of electricity from a power distributor must come from renewable sources; and the US’s production tax credit, which gives renewable-energy producers $0.019 per kwh to encourage investment. (The Economist, June 2007)