Climate change is widely seen as a threat to our health, our wealth and our planet. Yet, it also presents huge opportunities for the creation of new jobs aimed at mitigating its effects through energy and industrialization policies. The 300th session of the ILO’s Governing Body opening this week will consider new initiatives by its government, employer and worker representatives for tackling the issue in the world of work. ILO Online spoke with Peter Poschen, the ILO’s senior sustainable development specialist, about the Organization’s “Green Jobs Initiative”.
ILO Online: ILO Director-General Juan Somavia proposed a “Green Jobs Initiative” at the International Labour Conference this past June. What are the risks posed by climate change in the world of work?
Peter Poschen: One of the most visible risks concerns food and economic security, particularly in regions and sectors based on agriculture. Twenty-two per cent of the global population work in agriculture, a sector where most of the world’s poor are concentrated. Because of its impact on agricultural livelihoods, climate change poses a major threat to the realization of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A further negative impact is on health which will also affect the workforce, particularly in developing countries. Another weather dependent sector is tourism where employment has been growing fast. What’s more, increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters are likely to trigger or accelerate migration flows and could increase existing political tensions and instability.
ILO Online: What is the link between climate change and the Organization’s Decent Work Agenda?
Peter Poschen: Climate change itself, adaptation to it and efforts to arrest it by reducing waste and greenhouse gases have far-reaching implications for economic and social development, for production and consumption patterns and therefore for employment, incomes and poverty. These implications harbour both major risks and opportunities for decent work in all countries, but particularly for the most vulnerable in the least developed and small island States.
ILO Online: Even so, there appear to be huge opportunities for creating jobs in this context. Can you outline what they are?
Peter Poschen: Major investments in adaptation to climate change could offer significant employment and income opportunities in areas such as extending coastal defences, reinforcing buildings and infrastructure, renewable energies, water management and harvesting. Energy efficiency gains have historically been one of the biggest contributors to reductions in emissions and have a significant potential to create new employment. Examples of such green jobs include the hundreds of thousands of new employment opportunities created in wind and solar energy production in Germany and Spain, in the programme to make existing buildings more energy efficient in Germany and in the Brazilian bio-energy programme.
ILO Online: Still, concerns exist that the transition to a low-carbon economy may become a “job killer” and actually reduce employment. Is this the case?
Peter Poschen: There are only a limited number of quantitative assessments of the impact on labour markets and most of these concentrate on industrialized countries. However, a number of studies have projected that a transition to a low-carbon economy should not be a “job killer” but rather produce a net increase in employment. According to a 2006 report by the German Ministry of the Environment, Protection of Nature and Reactor Security, the expansion of renewable energies could double the number of jobs in the sector by the year 2020, reaching more than 300,000. The study cautions, however, that the net employment effect will depend on the evolution of energy prices and foreign demand for renewable energies. Investments in increased energy efficiency in Europe would have a similar effect. A 20 per cent saving in energy consumption would translate into up to 1 million new jobs in Europe according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Renewable energy also has a high employment multiplier in the United States. Even the early phase of the bio-ethanol programme has created 147,000 jobs in all sectors of the economy. Almost 350,000 jobs would be created by the year 2025 in the US by an increase of energy supply from all renewable sources to 20 per cent according to the University of California.
ILO Online: What about the developing world?
Peter Poschen: For developing countries we lack the sector-wide studies that have been done for industrialized countries, but there are numerous examples illustrating the potential. Bio-fuels in Brazil have created about a million jobs and there are plans to expand bio-diesel production to benefit hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers. China has a large-scale programme to reduce methane emissions from animal husbandry which is creating a whole new industry of biogas equipment manufacturers and producers. In South Africa, energy upgrading of housing in slum areas avoids emissions and creates more than 100 new skilled jobs for every 100 units of buildings renovated. Such projects could expand to large-scale operations because they can attract significant funding from industrialized countries through the Clean Development Mechanism created by the Kyoto-Protocol.
ILO Online: What about the 1.6 billion people who lack access to modern forms of energy?
Peter Poschen: Small-scale renewable energy for decentralized power generation would be a major boost for development and poverty reduction through green jobs. Such links between climate change and development are still in their infancy, but the potential can be seen, for example, in the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s projects linking power generation to youth employment programmes in Mexico and Cuba or by the promotion of solar energy by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India.
ILO Online: What about the contribution of the ILO?
Peter Poschen: The ILO has been invited to contribute to UN system programmes in China and Brazil financed by the Spanish Millennium Development Fund focusing on energy efficiency and bio-energy. In China, this will include design and testing of ways to improve energy efficiency in small enterprises along the lines of the successful ILO programme “Work improvement in small enterprises” (WISE). The programme in Brazil will help assess employment and income potential, organization of producers and design of extension programmes that promote productivity and decent work in the value added chain for biofuels.
ILO Online: How could ILO government, employer and worker constituents participate in a “Green Jobs Initiative”?
Peter Poschen: Climate change is not only an environmental issue. It has clear economic and social consequences and is inextricably linked to a broader sustainable development agenda. The response to climate changes needs to be mainstreamed into national, sectoral and local development strategies. The active participation of governments, employers and workers as major stakeholders would be very valuable. Our constituents in many countries have expressed the need to step up their capacity to engage in these policy debates.
ILO Online: What about other UN agencies? Are they not also vital to making a Green Jobs Initiative a success?
Peter Poschen: The response to climate change will trigger major financial flows, including for technical assistance and become a major theme for the UN system goal of “Delivering as One”. The UN Chief Executives Board (CEB) has just adopted a system-wide approach to climate change at its October 2007 meeting. ILO Director-General Juan Somavia presented the ILO’s “Green Jobs Initiative” at the UN High-level event on climate change held in New York on 24 September 2007. The ILO will actively support this initiative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a system-wide focus on climate change.
Making our societies more resilient to the impacts of climate change is to a very large extent about ensuring that workplaces and labour markets are not disrupted. Given its mandate, constituency and expertise, the ILO could play a major role at international and national levels in a system-wide approach, especially through its Decent Work Country Programmes. In close cooperation with other UN agencies, the ILO can contribute among others to facilitating economic and social transition for key sectors like energy generation, construction, transport and other relevant sectors; promoting green jobs which contribute to growth while reducing emissions; and greening the workplace by mobilizing employers and workers to improve energy efficiency of existing facilities and equipment, in particular in small enterprises.