ej sd

World Day of Decent Work: Understanding the employment dimension of environmental policies


In recent years, climate change has been in the shadows of policy making. In particular since the Copenhagen Summit, where after some political and media visibility, world leaders demonstrated that they were not ready to take on the kind of commitments needed to solve the climate crisis. The trade union movement has noticed that little has changed at the national level when it comes to emission reductions, and even more so in regard to the ambitious industrial transformation agenda needed to protect the climate and sustain decent jobs.

The massive climate rally in New York (http://peoplesclimate.org/ ) last September made clear that even if political leaders are still shy when it comes to climate policy making, there is a growing concern across citizens (bringing together environmentalists, youth, social justice groups, trade unions, just to mention a few). A strong platform for changing the direction of our economies is being built.

For the World Day of Decent Work, on October 7, for example, the International Trade Union Confederation has called on its 350 affiliates all over the world to make a link between workers’ justice and climate justice. This link is clear as we know climate change is already impacting the livelihoods of working families in the developing world, while hurricane Katrina and storm Sandy proved that the poorest in wealthy economies are equally at risk. 

Decent Work is a four-pillar concept aiming at ensuring dignity for all. Each one of those pillars are at risk due to climate change: employment, as climate change will damage sustainably agriculture, fisheries or tourism, as well as the infrastructure needed for producing everything else; social protection – as recurrent GDP losses in many countries will prevent governments from reinforcing social security, as public budgets will simply go into repairing and rebuilding climate change affected areas and infrastructures; social dialogue, as food insecurity, forced migration, water scarcity will all drive chaos and harm any possibility for building the peaceful environment needed for it; and finally rights at work, as the race to the bottom, when it comes to environmental protection, goes hand in hand with the weakening of labour standards everywhere. 

Therefore, it is in solidarity with all those who will suffer, but also in the direct interest of workers to promote an ambitious climate agenda. How does this translate in international policies, and more specifically in the OECD?

Trade unions have been arguing for the past years about the need to have a better understanding of the employment dimension of environmental policies; both, when there are positive impacts or expected challenges and risks. Trade unions have also made clear that Just Transition strategies were key for building social support for future policies by including pro-active labour market policies, social protection, skills and economic diversification at the local level, just to mention a few of them.  After years of considering this as a marginal issue, the OECD started to consider the distributional and employment impacts of climate and other environmental policies. 

That said, a long way remains ahead to ensure convergence between the policies that the trade union movement considers crucial for addressing those impacts and those proposed by the OECD. The upcoming Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum appears as a key moment for ensuring that our concerns and proposals are heard. 

The OECD should also play a more ambitious role when it comes to issues that are politically sensitive and therefore silenced in UN negotiations, such as the appropriate level of emission reductions each OECD country should assume to support a 2°C trajectory. 

The trade union movement, on this World Day of Decent Work, as well as every other day, will remain committed to this agenda. The transformation we need requires working people to be at the driving seat to ensure a climate-sound society is also a workers’ friendly one.