PAGE Ministerial Conference

We cannot tolerate the cost of inaction on climate change

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder outlined three key climate change challenges and put forward a number of proposals, in an address to the Ministerial Conference of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), in South Africa.

Statement | Cape Town, South Africa | 10 January 2019
Minister Mokonyane
My colleagues of the UN system
Representatives of employers, workers and civil society
Ladies and gentlemen, good morning

Let me begin by bringing to you all the warm greetings of the International Labour Organization, and convey through you, Madame Minister, the sincere gratitude of us all to the Government of South Africa for having convened here in Cape Town this 3rd PAGE Ministerial Conference. And I want to join with other ministers in paying tribute to the leadership and contribution of your immediate predecessor.

Ladies and gentlemen, the International Labour Organization is very pleased to be working together, working closely, and working well with our partners – UNEP, UNDP, UNIDO and UNITAR, with our action and funding partners, and with an increasing number of member States in PAGE to address what we have heard already, some of the most pressing issues of our day. We believe the ILO brings, in particular, to the partnership our unique tripartite constituency and our normative framework.

I say all this because we believe very strongly that PAGE matters because of what it does, and also because of how it does it.

As regards to how PAGE stands as an example of the type of cohesive cooperative action across the multilateral system in support of member States, that, I think is the very essence of the reform of the United Nations system which is now in progress. And when it comes to the what, PAGE, although it was adopted two years before the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, and indeed the Paris Climate Change Agreement, it is a crucial contribution to inspiring, to informing and to enabling countries to meet their objectives under each of these instruments.

After all, it is above all else by advancing action for an inclusive green economy that we can address simultaneously all three dimensions of sustainability – the economic, the social and the environmental. We have learned that to progress in the future on any one dimension of sustainability is likely to be compromises if we don’t advance on all three. We have learned as well that there is no necessary trade-off between these dimensions. But we know well that the task ahead of us is also complex because it requires a major change in the fundamentals of the way we organize how we live, how we produce and how we consume.

© T. Saputro / CIFOR
Let’s be clear, these are formidable challenges, not least because, economically, the world is on a significantly slower growth trajectory than it was before the 2008 global crisis; because socially, unemployment remains unacceptably stubbornly high and equality in our countries continues to increase; and environmentally because as the United Nations Secretary-General reminds us, climate change is running ahead faster than our capacity or apparently our will to act against it.

So time is not on our side. We say that now it’s the moment but the moment was really yesterday, so we have to do our best. Four years since their adoption, the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals presents us with these formidable challenges. But, as President Mandela famously said – “it always seems impossible until it’s done” – and in PAGE we – the governments, the advocates and activists, the employers’ and workers’ organizations, the international organizations gathered here, we have started to do it.

Ladies and gentlemen, scientific evidence, our political life and realities, and, perhaps most powerfully of all, our directly learned experience of increasingly severe, frequent extreme weather events, all testified to the reality that the cost of inaction is simply impossible for us to tolerate.

Already at the beginning of this century, that is, between the years 2000 and 2015, 23 million working years were lost annually as a result of environment-related hazards caused or aggravated by human activity.

At the ILO we estimate that if we allow continued global warming, then by 2030, two per cent of total hours of work could be lost. And this amounts to a loss in productivity equivalent to no less than 72 million full-time jobs.

Southern Asia and Western Africa are going to be most affected by this scenario, with production losses equivalent to 4.8 per cent and 4.6 per cent respectively of the GDP.

So it seems to me that doing the right thing means addressing climate change through a process of just transition to sustainability in ways that lift millions from poverty, secure decent work for our young people in particular, and reduce inequality, notably gender inequality. It means as well harnessing the potential of small and medium-sized enterprises as incubators of innovation and entrepreneurship, and it means as well harnessing the extraordinary potential of the fourth industrial revolution.

I think that the scaling up of PAGE, the ensuring of the sustainability of its impacts beyond these direct interventions is crucial to all of these challenges. And more concretely, to highlight what seems to me to be the three principal areas that we must take on for our continued action.

Firstly, I believe that we must continue to restructure our economic and financial systems by investing to transform them into drivers of sustainability and social inclusion.

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate 2018 report estimates that about USD90 trillion will be invested globally in infrastructure up to 2030. This is more than the entire current stock of infrastructure today.

That means that the choice of technologies – whether labour-intensive or capital intensive, carbon-intensive or low carbon options – will determine both the environmental and employment outcomes of such investments.

These investment choices are fundamental drivers that can take us in the right direction, or the wrong one.

Important engagements have been and continue to be made. At the latest UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland just last month, over 400 institutional investors, managing some USD32 trillion of assets, reiterated their commitments to shift investment portfolios towards low-carbon transitions. This is a good start.

The second challenge I want to mention, is that we must radically rethink the ways we consume and produce. Sustainable consumption and production and a shift toward a circular economy can indeed advance social and economic development without depleting the planet's finite natural resources. That means renewed efforts, increased efforts, to de-couple economic growth from resource consumption and environmental degradation through the efficient use of resources and by minimizing pollution.

The ILO's own World Employment and Social Outlook: Greening with Jobs 2018 report suggests that a sustained 5 per cent annual increase in recycling rates for plastics, glass, wood pulp, metals and minerals can generate on its own around 6 million additional jobs across the world.

That sounds great, but the sad reality is that the handling of waste today as well as recycling, remains largely part of the informal economy in many countries. Workers there often are not legally registered and are not protected by any labour laws or institutions, with no access to social protection benefits.

The obvious conclusion from all of that, ladies and gentlemen, is that we need, as well, to make these activities part of the formal economy through integrated policy frameworks for decent work.

The third and final challenge I want to mention is that we must simply re-shape the future of work in a green economy. We already see how technology and automation, with many other factors indeed, is transforming the world of work. At the ILO, as we celebrate our Centenary this year, we have set ourselves the task of considering and constructing the future of work that we want.

Central to our debate is how greener economies and the greening of economies impact on jobs. Some still consider that we must choose between economic growth and jobs on the one hand, and environmental sustainability on the other.

This is a false choice and I believe the one that we have to free ourselves from. It is not action against climate change and environmental degradation that will destroy jobs, it is inaction that will destroy jobs. There are no jobs on dead planets.

Economic activity and jobs depend on ecosystem services and a safeguarding of the natural environment. Around 1.2 billion jobs, or 40 per cent of world employment in 2014, were in industries that depend heavily on natural processes.

At the same time, lack of decent work and income generation opportunities often lead to the overexploitation of natural resources. But ultimately, environmental degradation will compromise livelihoods and magnify inequality. We must work around these highly interconnected challenges to devise workable solutions in specific country contexts.

Ladies and gentlemen, the future of work will be different from what we have known and what we have done in the past.

As the ILO celebrates its Centenary this year, we recognize that our efforts must also be oriented towards conservation and sustainable use of the world's natural resources, maximizing resource efficiency.

These efforts must fully integrate labour and the social dimensions to meet what the Paris Agreement on Climate Change calls "the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities."

This is entirely possible. It is indisputably necessary. But it is an illusion to think it will happen automatically. Just transition processes for all require a lot of ingredients ̶ effective social dialogue, careful planning, coordinated policies and adequate funding ̶ to address gaps in social protection, to support skills development that will be needed in the transition, and empower enterprises to fully take advantage of the real opportunities of the green economy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These are challenges of the most pressing urgency and importance. They are the existential challenges of transforming our economies, our societies and indeed ourselves. PAGE is just one way we can rise to meet these challenges, but it is a vital one, and that is why here in our Conference today, your presence and participation is of such fundamental significance. I want to thank you for being here and I wish everybody here success for our Conference.

Thank you!