How the climate crisis affects the world of work
A just transition to a clean economy with the generation of new and better jobs was debated at the International Event of the series of Sustainable Future Dialogues, at the Climate Week in Salvador
By Juliana Lopes and Maira Teixeira
The implementation of actions to confront the climate crisis and to promote a new clean economy will attract new business and professional opportunities. According to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), 24 million new jobs could be created globally by 2030, if these measures are implemented. This topic was at the center of the debate of the International Event about Climate and the World of Work, the eighth in the series of Sustainable Future Dialogues, sponsored by iCS - the Institute for Climate and Society, and the German Embassy in Brazil, for the Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW), which was held between August 19 and 23, 2019.
Leaders of representative organizations of workers, research institutes, experts, and public managers presented their analyses of how the climate crisis is transforming labor markets.
Lutz Morgenstern, the first secretary for Environmental Affairs of Germany in Brazil, highlighted the significant potential of combating climate change as a driver of growth and job creation.
"In Germany, climate policies are already an important economic factor: 1 in every 30 workers owes their job to them. About 1 million people work in the area for the provision of services for environmental protection, sanitation, and energy efficiency of buildings. Almost 300,000 employees work in the sector of renewable energies and another 85,000 people are employed in the production of goods used to combat climate change," he explained.
For Ana Toni, executive director of the Institute for Climate and Society (iCS), the high rate of unemployment in Brazil could be happening precisely because we are still not committed to the economy of the future. According to her, climate change is much more a vector of opportunity than of risk for the country, if policies are implemented for a just transition.
"We need to promote re-industrialization, with bio-economy as its base. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to train the workforce to enable people to have the skills to take advantage of these opportunities that are emerging and to ensure that these jobs are not insecure," emphasized Ana.
The discussions about the climate and the world of work gained greater prominence after the inclusion of the concept of just transition in the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which 195 countries assumed commitments to reduce emissions in order to confront the climate crisis.
According to Montserrat Mir, the secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and special adviser of the Just Transition Centre of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), this was an important landmark, giving more significance to the social dimension in climate discussions. ETUC has 200 million workers worldwide and has been looking to build alliances with companies in order to train people and to anticipate the needs that these new markets will present.
"It was an important first step to prepare our workers to play their role, because not everyone understood climate change as a priority. With this, we have made progress as trade unions by suggesting to governments the creation of groups to prepare for a just transition. These alliances have already been created in countries such as New Zealand, Canada, and Germany," she explained. She also pointed out examples of how some countries prepare current and future generations for new opportunities.
The city of Bottrop, in Germany, whose economy was significantly dependent on the coal industry succeeded in making a transition to renewable energies and preserving jobs. The local government formed partnerships with companies and together they managed to invest 200 million euros to promote the sectors of renewable energies, electrification, mobility, and green constructions, with most of this investment coming from the private sector. In this way, Bottrop has achieved the lowest rate of unemployment in the region, generating, on average, 1,200 new jobs a year since 2015.
"We knew 20 years in advance that the last coal mine would close in 2018. We were able to prepare ourselves for this transition. We set a target of reducing greenhouse gases emissions by 50% by 2020. We have currently achieved a reduction of 38%. We invested in over 300 projects, including the creation of a new university focused on renewable energies. We offered incentives to renovate buildings seeking greater efficiency," explained Tilman Christian, the head of the Environmental Planning Division of the city of Bottrop, in Germany. Another important project was the transformation of the sewage treatment plant into an electric energy plant that produces over 60,000 kilowatts/hour.
Challenges in Brazil
Planning is the key for a just transition to a green economy. Recent Brazilian federal governments instigated public policies in this regard. However, the current government has abandoned these policies and the role is now being played by the sub-national governments. They have mobilized into consortiums and partnerships among themselves, and with the private sector, in order to confront the climate crisis.
The mayor of Brasiléia, located in Acre, Fernanda Hassem, explained a practical example of planning based on the preservation of the environment, economic development, and income generation for the population. The city has in its territory an extractive reserve of 470 kilometers, which has been managed for decades. However, in recent years it has been using the Floresta em Pé [Forest on Foot] Program, which subsidizes the activity of the 3,000 people who live in the reserve. "This year alone, through our partnership between Brasiléia and the government of Acre, we have distributed 4,000 seedlings of rubber, açaí, and chestnuts," highlighted the mayor. Furthermore, the generation of local wealth has taken place through the purchase of the entire production of 130 family farmers by the city hall, which is sent to hospitals, schools, and kindergartens, as well as these families supplying the entire city market.
Daniel Gaio, national environment secretary of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), made a conjunctural analysis to speak about the differences of the European and Brazilian context to deal with the just transition of workers to a clean economy. The fact that Brazilian inequality is significantly greater than in developed countries places Brazil in another location of the social dialogue on the world stage. "We need to have the solidarity of the European Union whose transition was only possible because of the relationships with countries from the south. European companies - wind farms in Spain, and German mining or agrochemical industries - when they begin to operate more profitably support the deregulation of work in Brazil to make their profits here."
Gaio points to the sector of renewable energies as a significant Brazilian vocation. "We need to compete with foreign capital and take advantage of our potential in this area. The idea is to build a public policy so that what we want today as a just transition is seen from the point of view of our reality."
Clemente Ganz Lúcio, the technical director of the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socio-economic Studies (DIEESE), highlights that there is no solution to the climate problem without the reduction of inequalities, and significant structural investment, including from the private sector. The solution, says Lúcio, is to structure distributive policies that are capable of conducting this transformation by the world of work.
"It is an almost impossible task with the current government. We have to mobilize as workers to resist and propose other trajectories, in smaller areas, such as at the city hall, for example. It means that we have to prepare citizens to discuss this and maybe tomorrow they will become mayors because they are capable of discussing a complex situation. They need to be bold to build a community. It is urgent to go back and treat this issue as essential,” he emphasized.