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Climate: Towards a just transition, with no stranded workers and no stranded communities

23 May 2017
by Guest author

By Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

Ambitious action on climate is an imperative. The G20 leaders have a chance to reinforce the Paris Climate Agreement and raise ambition with concrete measures to ensure significant progress towards net zero economies and reap the benefits of investment now in jobs and economic growth.

There can be no doubt that a zero-carbon world is possible, but critical choices need to be made about how we manage the transition. The trade unions fought for the demand of a just transition with the result that the Paris Agreement included the requirement that national responses ensure just transition measures.

The OECD report Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth adds to the volume of evidence that there is economic advantage, there are jobs and we can secure the future for humanity.

However, the sectoral and economic transformation we face is on a scale and within a time frame faster than any in our history. And increasingly companies and investors are acting to avoid risk and build the foundations for a zero-carbon world.

Notwithstanding, stranded workers and stranded communities will result if inclusive planning which includes just transition measures does not feature in national development plans along with industry and investment strategies. We can work to prevent fear, opposition even inter-community and generational conflict if unions and community are consulted and sustainable jobs and decent work result.

People need to see a future that allows them to understand that, despite the threats, there is both security and opportunity.

The shift is on in energy. Renewable energy employed 8.1 million people around the world in 2015. And investment trends in this sector are beginning to outstrip that in fossil fuels.

But we cannot accept that workers and communities dependent on fossil fuels will be abandoned as investment shifts. These workers and their communities brought us the prosperity of today. This is why industrial transformation should generate both new sources of energy with new companies and transparent plans for existing companies to transition to renewable energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency, with the guarantee of decent work. To see new energy jobs paid a fraction of traditional energy jobs is not acceptable, and breaking down labour rights and standards is not the answer.

Beyond those vulnerable groups it is also about new industrial processes, new skills for new jobs, new investment and the opportunity to create a more equal economy that helps to reduce emissions, improves resilience and ensures the solidarity of compensation for loss and damage for those on the front lines of extreme weather events, water shortages or changing seasons.

Facilitating the social dialogue that allows government, business, trade unions and civil society groups to collaborate in national, industry and community planning for transition and decent work is the key. Clean technologies, energy efficiency, retrofitting, infrastructure built to green standards, investment, information technology and digital distributional systems, and demand management of all sectors inclusive of upstream and downstream supply chains: this is the imperative. It must be a just transition that leaves no one behind.

For coal and other fossil fuel companies in communities dependent on coal fired power stations, corporate transition with investment in new energy, new infrastructure, new industries and new jobs are vital. And some responsibility for community renewal needs to be enshrined whether directly or by exit funding arrangements.

For cities, the job opportunities are significant in green construction and retrofitting, electric mass transit and related services. It requires long-term investment, but creates jobs and drives growth.

For industry, renewable energy must be supplemented with cleaner industrial processes.

For workers, collective bargaining will ensure workers the essential support when there will be a need for redeployment, re-skilling and redeployment. Pensions for older workers must be secured. Sharing prosperity based on resource productivity must become a new tool for ensuring just wages and decent work within planetary boundaries.

For parents everywhere, a just transition can ensure strong communities and quality jobs for their sons and daughters.

There are good examples of progress emerging. And there are models for investment vehicles to secure progress but while businesses, unions and communities are acting, there are many gaps. The absence of appropriate government policies, funds and structures for a just transition makes it hard for workers, employers and communities to move forward on their own. In particular the need for targeted investment in infrastructure, regional redevelopment and social protection requires the broader scope and mandate that governments bring. Without more assertive action from governments, we risk seeing many more examples of unjust transition, with stranded workers and communities.

For governments to fulfil the Paris Climate Agreement, governments should ensure that job-related aspects of climate policies are part of their decarbonisation pathways. They should establish plans and strategies for a just transition.

This requires the urgent establishment of formal social dialogue mechanisms so that just transition strategies can be democratically designed for all levels–community, region, company and sector, and country. The ITUC has established a Just Transition Centre to support this vital social dialogue.

Just transition plans should be based on the ILO’s just transition guidelines.

And governments should establish just transition funds in all countries and for vulnerable communities, regions and sectors. The funds will support the implementation of just transition plans.

Just transition funds should cover investment in education, reskilling and retraining; extended or expanded social protections for workers and their families; and grant, loan and seed capital programmes for diversifying community and regional economies.

The G20 Financial Stability Board’s Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures should be expanded to include disclosure of just transition plans for vulnerable workers and communities, consistent with disclosure of company plans for decarbonisation and management of climate risk.

The design of public and blended investment in low emissions infrastructure with the aim of creating decent, high value work throughout the value chain and with a focus on vulnerable communities and regions.

Investment in public transport, renewable energy and appropriate grid and storage infrastructure, zero emissions buildings, and infrastructure for electric vehicles should be prioritised.

When 64% of people in 15 of the G20 countries in the ITUC Global Poll 2017 want their governments to do more to promote a just transition to a zero-carbon economy, the mandate is there for governments to act.

The G20 group of countries can set the direction through both individual and collective action. This is a time for leadership, and where there are reluctant leaders other must simply set the pace.

 

References and further reading

The Just Transition Centre is at www.ituc-csi.org/just-transition-centre

The OECD report Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth, released on 23 May, provides an analysis of how low-emission and climate-resilient development can be achieved without compromising economic growth, competitiveness or well-being. Chapter 6 of the report provides a detailed discussion of just transition issues and how governments can manage them.To read the publication, synthesis report and related material visit:  www.oecd.org/environment/cc/g20-climate/

 

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