Address to the ITUC Asian Pacific Regional Conference on Environment Protection - Sustainable Development and Employment

by Ms Sachiko Yamamoto, Regional Director, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok, Thailand | 25 March 2008

Mr. Noriyuki Suzuki, ITUC-AP General Secretary, distinguished trade union leaders, representatives of international organizations, ladies and gentlemen:

It gives me immense pleasure to address this important Conference, on behalf of ILO. I congratulate the ITUC-AP for bringing together trade union leaders in the Asia-Pacific region to reflect on how best to ensure that the development we are pursuing today is sustainable, that is resource and environment-friendly, conducive to employment-creation, equitable, gender sensitive and protecting workers’ health and safety. During the 2007 International Labour Conference, the ILO Director-General Mr. Juan Somavia highlighted a new “Green Jobs Initiative”, a joint initiative led by ILO, UNEP and International Trade Union Confederation. The initiative aims to support workers and enterprises through the transition to a much more environmentally sustainable process of development.

ILO pursues sustainable development goals through economic, social and environmental agenda. Working in partnership with our tripartite constituents, we strive to pursue a pattern of development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising what we owe to the future generations. For this, we must take immediate and decisive action to stop the rapid deterioration of our environment. Saving our planet is not a matter of choice; it is an imperative!

As a long-time advocate for environmental protection, I can only but express deep satisfaction that - finally - the issue is where it should be: high on the agenda of governments and civil society. People all over the world are waking up. They are increasingly aware of their responsibilities, individually and collectively, in relation to carbon emissions, climate change, energy saving, and so on. Many are changing their lifestyles; many more are pushing decision-makers to translate their oral commitments into meaningful action. Millions are actively involved in the world-wide campaign to undo the great damage we have inflicted on Mother Earth.

In this campaign, trade unions are movers and shakers, not only to “take the temperature” on environmental-friendly production methods, but also to push for sustainable development through their relentless efforts for decent work and livelihoods for all women and men. As producers and consumers of goods and energies, workers and their trade unions have a central place in policy development and implementation of action plans for sustainable development – whether in the economic, social or ecological sphere. They have been instrumental in raising awareness and understanding of the employment and development potential in combating climate change. They participate in the development of prevention, adaptation, mitigation and just transition policies and measures. In fact, at the recent Bali Conference of the parties to the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, the global trade union movement signaled its commitment to an 85 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, underlining the perceived value of environmentally sustainable development and a future in "green jobs."

Social justice is an intrinsic element of sustainable development, as are environmental protection and economic growth. Unfortunately, in discussing about climate change and green jobs, there is a general tendency to focus on economic growth and its impact on the environment and vice-versa. Quite often the social dimension is overlooked.

This is actually where the ILO has its comparative advantage and we should use this in the work on green jobs. Moreover, ILO’s tripartite structure is a unique and important factor in achieving sustainable development, given the involvement of the key actors: governments, trade unions and employers’ organisations.

A major task of the ILO is to stimulate research and use the knowledge base for advocacy, policy advice and practical initiatives to promote coherent policies that address climate change and at the same time ensure sustainable development. As a component of a larger effort of the International Labour Office, we are organising a Research Conference in April this year in Niigata , Japan . The aim of the Conference is to define the scope and explore potential of “green jobs” as alternative development paths in responding to climate change and promoting sustainable patterns of production and consumption.

The focus of the Conference is on Asia and the Pacific, where it has been predicted that the most severe environmental and economic impacts of climate change will take place, and where the pressure for more and better jobs is especially great given that the region is home to some 60 per cent of the world’s total labour force and three-fourths of the world’s poor living on less than US$2 a day. The input of the trade unions in this Conference will be important.

It should be noted also that the City of Niigata, Japan, where the Research Conference is held, will also host the G8 Meeting of Labour Ministers in May this year. The G8 Meeting is expected to discuss Green Jobs as part of its agenda and I hope very much that the results of our Research Conference will be a tangible input to the meeting.

To conclude this brief address, I would like to share some food for thought, quoting from a recent joint statement by the ILO Director-General, Mr. Juan Somavia and the ITUC General Secretary, Mr. Guy Ryder. Referring to green jobs, they said: “These jobs will play a vital role in reducing the environmental footprint of economies and promoting sustainable production and consumption patterns. In a rapidly greening labor market, those jobs lost to environmental un-sustainability will have to be replaced by just transitions involving the promotion of social security, economic diversification and retraining. Yet green jobs are not enough. Meeting the challenge of climate change will require a new development model that combines reduced emissions with a better future for the vast majority of people and the opportunity to earn a living in a decent job.”

I wish you a successful and fruitful Conference!