Will climate action deliver decent work?

A promise of more and better jobs
Let's start on a positive note. A transition to low-emission, environmentally sustainable economies and societies will be beneficial to job creation. An ILO review of nearly 20 studies examining the potential impacts of reducing carbon-emissions and improving energy and resource efficiency, finds net gains to the order of 15 million to 60 million additional jobs by 2030.

Doubling the share of renewable energy by 2030 could create up to 24 million new jobs in the sector on top of the 8 million jobs it already counts, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. But, job gains are not confined to the energy sector. The high labour intensity of sustainable farming methods has also been demonstrated to yield significant employment gains in a range of developing countries.

Amid complex changes in the world of work
But changes across markets are much more complex. The goal of decarbonisation by the end of this century - which is necessary to keep the average global temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius above its average during pre-industrial times - has massive implications for economic growth and employment. A decisive move towards a low-carbon economy is likely to cause shifts in the volume, composition and quality of employment across sectors and affect the level and distribution of income.

Four types of changes can be expected:
  1. Some jobs will be created.
  2. Some jobs will be lost.
  3. Other jobs will be replaced.
  4. Many more jobs will be transformed.

While the potential for job creation outweighs the risks of job losses, certain economic sectors will undergo more drastic and potentially painful readjustments (PDF).

Energy is a case in point. The bulk of the world's energy systems still rely on fossil fuels, notably oil and coal. Studies have suggested that to date, adverse employment changes in fossil fuels have been the result of industry restructuring and consolidation, as well as rising mechanisation, and less as a consequence of responses to climate change.

However, as the outlook for renewable energies improves, significant policy shifts are starting to take shape. The Chinese government announced a plan to close thousands of coal mines in order to reduce overcapacity and address climate change. This policy will lead to the loss of an estimated 1.3 million jobs in the coal sector and another 500,000 jobs in the steel industry, accounting for about 20 per cent and 11 per cent of China's total workforce in these two sectors.

The imperative of a just transition for all
As countries prepare to implement their climate change commitments, they find themselves in a global situation of massive unemployment. Estimates from the ILO suggest that some 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030 to reach Sustainable Development Goal 8 on Economic Growth and Decent Jobs. This priority cannot be set aside and disconnected from climate change objectives.

The Paris Agreement acknowledges the need to respond to this issue, noting that "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". Concretely, this means that responses to climate change should maximize opportunities for decent work creation and ensure social protection for all.

As the Agreement enters into force, a key question is how to give practical meaning to the notions of decent work and a just transition to sustainable economies. Climate change negotiators are considering this challenge as part of a discussion known as the "improved forum on response measures", which examines the effects that climate-change policies could have on issues like employment.

Further to this point, the governments, workers' and employers' organizations which comprise the ILO, recently adopted a set of Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all. These guidelines offer a comprehensive framework of policies that countries can draw on to implement their climate change commitments. For example, the guidelines suggest that energy subsidy reforms have a better chance of success if designed with social protection and compensation schemes for disproportionately affected groups, an idea in line with findings (PDF) from the International Monetary Fund and other institutions.

Active engagement of governments, workers and employers
The world of work played a crucial role in the process leading up to the adoption of the Paris Agreement. It will be indispensable to its successful implementation.

Enterprises will have to continue spearheading the innovation of green products and services, improving their business processes and scaling-up investments that will unleash climate-resilient growth through greater efficiency.

A capable workforce with adapted skills is necessary to transform our energy systems, buildings, industry, transportation and agriculture. A key challenge before us is to improve educational and training systems to deliver the required skills needed to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Importantly, social dialogue allowing governments, employers and workers' organizations to engage collectively with climate--change policies, can facilitate their implementation with benefits (PDF) for workers, businesses of all sizes, and society at large.

Find out more about the ILO contribution to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) in Marrakech.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Morocco (Nov. 7-18), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate-change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.