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“There are no jobs on a dead planet”

October 08, 2014: To mark this year's World Day for Decent Work, trade unions have chosen the theme of climate change, urging governments to move now to create prosperity for all on a sustainable planet.

This focus comes in the wake of the UN Climate Change Summit last month, where again and again, I heard political and business leaders issuing a similar call and making the link between decent jobs and sustainability.

We inhabit a time marked by the highest levels of inequality in living memory. Growing job insecurity is a reality for many, especially the world's 1.2 billion working poor. Climate change is destroying jobs and livelihoods in every corner of the planet.

In the face of these grim realities, workers are demanding an ambitious, global agreement that limits climate change and promotes social inclusion and poverty reduction by creating decent jobs.

True, adapting to climate change and reaching a global agreement in Paris in December 2015 remain daunting challenges.

Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, now exceeding 54 billion tons of CO2 per year. Science tells us that the maximum tolerable global warming limit of no more than two degrees Celsius by the end of the century would be 44 gigatons today and falling global emissions from 2020 onwards.

The magnitude of the challenges notwithstanding, I am encouraged by what I saw and heard when attending the Climate Summit convened by the U.N. secretary general Ban ki-Moon in New York on 23 September. A meeting of over 120 heads of state and government on a single day to discuss one issue was unprecedented.

President Obama of the United States pointed out that climate action creates jobs. The presidents of Barbados and Croatia referred to the green jobs they had generated through their energy policies. Highlighting the great strides made by Indonesia to reduce deforestation, the largest source of greenhouse gas emission in that country, president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono argued that these strides would only have staying power if they were buttressed by social sustainability.

The summit was also attended by over 100 chief executives of multinationals active in sectors from energy to food to transport and finance. These business leaders echoed the union slogan that "there are no jobs on a dead planet," acknowledging that "business cannot succeed on a planet that fails".

The economic opportunity that can come from proactive climate policies was not only stressed by political and business leaders along with civil society and trade unions. It is also the main message of a new report "Better Growth – Better Climate" presented by a high-level panel of distinguished politicians and scientists, including two Nobel prize-winning economists.

The report supports the key conclusions of earlier analysis by ILO, UNEP and others that the world does not have to choose between development with jobs and higher living standards on one hand and stabilizing the global climate on the other. It argues that the investments of US$ 90 trillion in energy, urban development and agriculture can put growth on a sustainable path. It highlights the importance of putting a price on carbon. Significantly, the report also stresses the need for a just transition for workers whose jobs and incomes are negatively affected.

Through our Green Jobs programme and the Partnership for Action on Green Economy the ILO collaborates with UNEP, UNDP, UNIDO and UNITAR to help member States put sustainable policies in place. Meeting the world of work challenges of climate change is one of the priorities for the ILO and as the Organization moves toward its second century I have made it one of our centenary initiatives.

Meeting the world of work challenges of climate change is one of the priorities for the ILO and as the Organization moves toward its second century I have made it one of our centenary initiatives.

I have met with Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which spearheads efforts to reach a global climate agreement in 2015. We agreed to work together closely to highlight the gains that can come from ambitious climate policies.

Momentum is building. There is a growing consensus that climate change and decent work for all are the two defining challenges of the 21st century. And they should be addressed in tandem. The World Day of Decent Work is an opportunity to galvanize workers, employers and governments. The time is now. The ILO supports an ambitious global climate agreement that also fosters the just transition to decent work for women and men everywhere.

- Guy Ryder is director general of the International Labour Organization

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