From the TUC

Bonn Diary 2: UN opens Just Transition dialogue

05 Jun 2013, by in Environment

From Cancun onwards, the UN has included the principles of just transition and decent work in its conference decisions. Gradually, the idea has taken hold, to the point where, today, in Bonn, a key UN committee has devoted a whole session to discussing the key principles involved – social partnership with a place at the table for trade unions, the vital role of green jobs and skills to support green growth and tackle global poverty.

Often, before, you might be asked, Why is climate change a trade union issue? Now hopefully we have been able to create the space, after years of persuasion, to provide some of the answers. By coincidence, today, these same arguments are flying in Geneva, where the 102nd International Labour Conference opened with ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, argued that tackling climate change, “more than any other single element, will distinguish the ILO’s future responsibilities and activities from those of the past.”

Today the ITUC argued that in a Just Transition framework:

“the labour movement captures the complexities of the transition towards a low‐carbon and climate‐resilient economy, including progressive industrial and social policy, to maximise the benefits and minimise the hardships for workers and their communities in this transition.”

So the core principles include:

  • Social partnership and dialogue between unions, governments, industry and NGOs at national and regional level.
  • Investment in green end decent jobs.
  • Training and skills – both to “green” existing jobs and for the growing green sectors.
  • Research and assess impacts of emission reduction scenarios.
  • Social protection for those affected by industrial change.
  • Local economic policy analysis and economic diversification

The ITUC and its affiliates had devoted extensive resources in recent years to build trade union capacity to address climate change. Globally there was now an abundance of examples where unions were working to support green economic growth at all levels, from greening the workplace to high level forums with government and industry. The UN now had a key role to foster progress on just transition, helping to ensure it is applied at national level in developing and developed nations alike. “The UN should now bring together example of good practice of “multi-stakeholder approaches at national level, including those in which trade unions participate.”

For the ILO, Marek Harsdorff acknowledged that transition policies are needed, but that net employment gains would follow from greening economy, particularly through joint social dialogue. For example, in South Africa, under the Green Economy Accord (2011),government, business and labour agreed “the most comprehensive social partnerships on the green economy in the world,” promising 300,000 new Green Jobs by 2020. In Bangladesh, the government’s Solar System strategy would create 100,000 jobs by 2015, supported by three key initiatives:

  • Institutionalisation of training curricula in Technical and Vocational Institutions
  • Job placement and linking trainees with renewable energy service providers.
  • Promoting solar entrepreneurship through business skills and finance.

In this UN process, Just Transition informs not only its overall shared vision but acts as a “response measure” for countries or communities having to deal with the impacts of climate change policies – carbon taxes, border taxes, eco-standards for products, etc. In Cancun (2010) the UN text said:

“Recognising the importance of avoiding or minimizing negative impacts of response measures on social and economic sectors, promoting a just transition of the workforce, the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities and strategies…”

For the G77 and China, Julie Hoppstock argued that a just transition also had to be:

“seen in the broader context of the  achievement of sustainable development, in accordance with nationally defined priorities. And the results of Rio + 20 should be taken into account, in particular the affirmation that poverty eradication is the greatest global challenge facing the world today.”

Regarding the ILO’s Green Initiative, Ryder said today that the ILO needs to be centre-stage in international efforts to assure the long-term future of the planet. “Whether we like it or not, production and consumption systems are crucial determinants of environmental sustainability and the world of work is going to have to make unprecedented efforts to reconcile its future with that of the planet.”

By the time it gets to Warsaw for COP 19 in December, the UN has to develop a strategy that brings together the key arguments and principles that have informed this workshop series. It would help if the ITUC and ILO were to bring its own thinking together in time for this key event.