Op-Ed

Creating 15 million new jobs for a sustainable recovery and a net-zero emissions future

By Ana María Rodríguez-Ortíz, Vice President for Sectors and Knowledge at Inter-American Development Bank, and Vinícius Pinheiro, ILO Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Article | 28 August 2020
After the pandemic, countries will need to restart their economic engines. This requires supporting businesses and redoubling efforts to protect vulnerable people and their income. It will be a huge effort to pave the way towards a new normal, which must also be a better normal.

One way to do things better is to create a net-zero carbon emissions economy. In addition to being essential to protecting the future of humanity, it will be able to create 15 million net jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean this decade. These jobs are needed more than ever in the aftermath of unemployment and greater labor informality caused by the pandemic.

The arguments in favor of a more sustainable and inclusive economic development are numerous. One of the strongest has to do with the need to face the climate emergency that has been repeatedly announced, and that exposes workers to the vulnerabilities demonstrated during the pandemic.

The IDB estimates that damage caused by climate change could cost the region USD 100 billion annually by 2050. The International Labor Organization has estimated that, due to thermal stress caused by global warming, 2.5 million jobs could be lost in Latin American and Caribbean countries, which would affect, among others, the construction and agriculture sectors.

In this scenario, the evolution towards an economy that favors sustainability and social inclusion is a necessity for our times. But can it generate the promised jobs?

A new study by the IDB and the ILO has carried out the task of identifying the sectors where it is possible to generate these jobs while making progress towards reaching the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

This process of decarbonizing the economy involves reducing carbon emissions, and balancing the remaining emissions, for example by planting trees at scale to act as carbon sinks. Moving forward with this transformation creates millions of jobs in sectors such as sustainable agriculture, forestry, solar and wind energy, manufacturing and construction.

Latin America and the Caribbean is well positioned to benefit from a transformation towards a sustainable and inclusive economy. The region has 40% of the world’s biodiversity and 50% of the tropical forests, and it is a very important food exporter. Furthermore, it has the cheapest renewable electricity in the world and lithium and copper reserves are an advantage for the transformation towards electromobility.

In turn, the restoration of ecosystems, the introduction of new methods of agriculture, and ecotourism come with development opportunities and higher incomes in rural areas. The strengthening of public transport improves access to employment and the quality of life for all; and the integral management of waste and the promotion of the circular economy can improve the competitiveness and health of citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean.

There are great challenges of course. Some jobs will cease to exist, for example in the coal, oil or large-scale livestock industries. Affected workers, communities and companies will need social protection, training, business development and new investments in sectors of the future, rehabilitation programs, compensation mechanisms and other policies to recover. In addition, it will be necessary to develop strategies so that both workers and companies acquire new skills and can take advantage of these opportunities, while seeking to achieve decarbonization objectives and to extend decent work opportunities.

Faced with these challenges, it is essential to have an effective social dialogue, which allows the necessary consensus to be achieved to build a decarbonized future.

The reconstruction that will be necessary to achieve a productive recovery in the coming years must be linked to a transformation in the way we produce and consume. In the search of this better normality, a commitment to a more sustainable, inclusive, resilient and healthier future will be imperative.

A version of this article was published originally by El País of Spain.