Climate change calls for an upheaval of current economic growth models. For Moustapha Kamal Gueye, the transition towards a green economy is a tremendous opportunity for employment.
In your opinion, is the ecological transition a threat or an opportunity for employment in developing countries?
The transition towards a green economy will inevitably lead to job losses in certain sectors, but these losses will be more than offset by new job opportunities. The world of work is intrinsically linked to the natural environment: it needs it to be sustainable. Inaction on climate change and environmental degradation destroys jobs and livelihoods, specifically in countries where 40% of jobs depend on natural resources. Biodiversity loss, deforestation, increasing scarcity of natural resources and global warming are all challenges which, if they are not addressed in the near future, will be and are sometimes already causes for job deterioration or destruction.
The stakes are high. An International Labour Organization (ILO) study has shown that while climate change mitigation measures will lead to the loss of some 6 million jobs in the short term, they will also create some 24 million jobs by 2030. These short-term job losses are partly due to the negative effects that climate change has on health and work efficiency, triggering a decline in productivity. Nevertheless, the implementation of sustainable practices will induce a net increase of 18 million jobs around the world.
What is a “green job”?
A green job is a decent job, meaning it offers a decent salary, safe working conditions and social protection. It also helps alleviate the negative impacts economic activity has on the environment, fight pollution, improve waste management… A green job fosters a sustainable economy from an environmental, economic and social perspective.
In what way is the transition towards a green economy inseparable from a global strategy for economic and social development?
To achieve the 2015 Paris Agreement long-term objective (to keep the global average temperature increase below 2 °C compared to preindustrial levels), our societies have no choice but to come out of the fossil era by the end of this century. This transition towards a sustainable economy with low carbon emissions requires a structural transformation which will involve all economic sectors: the shift to a circular economy will alter the organization of all activities. The ecological transition needs to be combined with economic and social measures that promote decent work, facilitate worker redeployment, offer local solutions and support displaced workers. Protecting employment is the best response to climate change. But it is also by taking ambitious measures for the environment that existing jobs will be protected and new jobs created.
Are international labor standards sufficient to support this transition?
International labor standards are a social pillar of the green economy: they offer decent working conditions in the emerging sectors of sustainable development, like health and safety. Yet they still do not take sufficiently into account the specific issue of climate change. Heat stress, for instance, is a phenomenon which particularly affects agricultural workers and developing countries. With the prospect of a 1.5 °C increase by the end of the 21st century, it is estimated that by 2030, 2% of working time is likely to be lost due to heat stress increase. The associated loss in productivity is equivalent to 72 million full-time jobs. Heat stress is a risk for work safety and health: it needs to be recognized as such. Some of our international legal instruments therefore need to be revised to further take into account climate change challenges.
How to structure the ecological transition so that it has a positive impact on employment and growth in developing countries?
Certain countries have been able to improve their labor market while decoupling growth and controlling their carbon emissions. In Africa, this is the case in Ethiopia, a leader in the field of renewable energies, which is building on the diversity of the clean energy supply: wind farms, geothermal power plants, solar energy or hydropower. In Senegal, programs to restore mangrove forests make it possible to withstand soil erosion and curb advancing waters. These new activities produce new jobs which are considered green. In the same way, the increased use of electric or hybrid vehicles creates new activities that offer opportunities for green jobs.
However, this employment potential requires skills upgrading and training to adapt the working environment to the ecological transition. It also requires social measures to support workers who are already affected by climate change.
What is the role of public authorities in combining economic growth and the ecological transition?
Public authorities are faced with a twofold challenge: understanding the nature of the changes that need to be made on the labor market and gauging them. But the nature and scale of these changes vary according to national and geographical contexts. In coastal areas, tourism industry is negatively affected by rising water levels. In certain African regions, labor productivity is hampered by rising temperatures. Public authorities need to be involved both at the local and national levels. The political authority must provide general guidance, monitoring, and ensure that the transition is implemented at local level by prioritizing consultation and social dialogue. In this respect, local communities and social partners are also key actors in the transition towards sustainable economies and societies.
Does this involve partnerships with the private sector?
Changing energy production methods by the end of the century requires international collaboration between countries, companies and workers. It can only be achieved through massive investments. Companies therefore have a crucial role to play in the transition, through green jobs, innovation, new technologies and production methods, investments and the establishment of standards. Creating green jobs on a large scale can only be achieved with real economy actors.
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.