It’s been three years since 195 nations came together to reach the Paris Agreement. From major emitters to small island states, these nations committed to keep warming well under 2°C, aiming for 1.5°C. And, in the Paris Agreement text, they committed to do this whilst prioritizing a just transition, implicitly agreeing to leave no one behind.
These nations will meet again at COP24 in just a few days time. This year’s summit comes at a time where ambitious and comprehensive action on climate is more urgent than ever. Findings from the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C paint an alarming picture of a world we’re heading toward. A world where devastating floods, wildfires and heat waves along with economic and food insecurity are a regular reality.
While governments, businesses, cities, investors and more must answer this call swiftly, they cannot neglect workers and communities in the process. Only when workers and communities are part of the process, through social dialogue, will we unlock the skills and productivity needed to transform our economy toward net-zero emissions. A just transition can deliver a fairer world. A world where, coupled with social protection and policies, rapid decarbonization creates conditions that uplift workers and communities dependent on fossil fuels.
These protections and policies, however, are key. Speaking at this year’s Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka emphasized their importance, “Simply demanding that industries shut down with no plan for people who are put out of work, no call for shared sacrifice and no dialogue and solidarity for communities—that poisons that political will and slows meaningful action on climate.”
Business is acting for a green and decent future
Companies are heeding Trumka’s message and acknowledging that without proper guidance and direct collaboration with workers, unions, governments and communities, climate action stands to worsen conditions for those dependent on the fossil fuel industry. At GCAS, businesses took meaningful climate action toward a just transition, committing to ensure new, green jobs are decent jobs. Supported by The B Team, International Trade Union Confederation and BSR, both renewable energy buyers and developers announced they’re taking the Pledge for a Just Transition to Decent Jobs.
For renewable energy buyers, this means they’ve committed to only buy from renewable energy providers that uphold fundamental workers’ rights including social protections and wage guarantees. Safaricom, one of the first signatories of the Pledge, is putting this commitment at the heart of its mission. “We don’t come from a traditional high-carbon industry. The role we can play as an organisation is to shape what is going to be the country’s theme of just transition,” Stephen Chege, Head of Corporate Affairs for Safaricom said when announcing the company’s commitment at GCAS, “And in doing that, we are putting community at the center of it all.”
Renewable energy providers taking this pledge are also committed to keeping communities and workers and the heart of their actions. For Ørsted, deciding to take the pledge was a natural next step in the company’s commitment to just and inclusive decarbonisation. “We are committed to keep improving ourselves,” Ørsted North America President Thomas Brostrøm commented when discussing the company’s divestment from fossil fuels and announcing its taking the Pledge for a Just Transition to Decent Jobs at GCAS.
The company’s actions have been particularly impactful in communities in its home country—Denmark. The country’s strong social dialogue between unions, governments, workers and employers, means that employees and unions support strong wind and climate policies in the country. In 2015, wind employed 31,251 people and delivered 42 percent of Denmark’s electricity. In these conditions, Ørsted enjoys good industrial relations, a highly skilled and motivated workforce and global recognition as a clean economy leader. It’s also committed, through the Pledge, to pursue social dialogue and high labour standards in its global operations outside of Denmark.
Enel, an Italian multinational electricity leader and another renewable energy producer taking the Pledge, has also entered into social dialogue with its unions. Enel has established apprenticeships, internal mobility and training, commitment to retention, retraining and redeployment, early pension for older workers and more. “We are facing a huge transformation process, but we can’t face it without the involvement of all of the stakeholders,” Cristina Cofacci, Enel’s Industrial Relations and Labour Law Manager said, “One of them, importantly, is our employees and their unions.”
While unions are key players in efforts to retrain, reskill and retain these employees, they also play a crucial role in the creation of new, green jobs. “Retraining workers is good, but it is not enough. Workers need new and decent jobs. Creating new, low emissions jobs is critical,” Samantha Smith, Head of the Just Transition Centre said, emphasizing how unions can help create new, clean jobs that are also decent.
At COP24, it’s time for governments to step up
Global governments now have a clear signal from business: a clean energy transition must be a just transition. With COP24 approaching, countries can match this ambition and keep the promise of the Paris Agreement. At this year’s meeting, nations will have the opportunity to adopt the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, helping them incorporate just transition into climate action plans and encouraging the financing needed for these plans. Governments must seize this opportunity to invest in green jobs and infrastructure, reskilling programs, social security and more.
Building this just transition toward a thriving clean energy economy is a journey, but collaboration to uphold the fundamental rights of workers and communities is the first step.
“It’s very simple. There are no jobs on a dead planet. We have to work together with business, with government and workers,” B Team Vice Chair and ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said on the necessity of working together, “We can build a future that’s about the dignity of work, secure employment and shared prosperity.” We can build this future, but only if we work together.