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UNEP Statement at the Governing Body of the International Labour Office's 300th Session

Speech by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Governing Body of the International Labour Office's 300th Session

Working Party on the Social Dimension of Globalization

Panel discussion on 'Decent Work' for sustainable development - The challenge of climate change

Geneva, 12 November 2007

Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation;

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
former Director-General of the World Trade Organization(WTO);

Head of Environment policy,
Confederation of British Industry (CBI);

Joaquín NIETO
Secretary for Occupational Safety, Health and Environment,
Comisiones Obreras Trade Union (CCOO), Spain
President, Sustainlabour
(international labour foundation for sustainable development);

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

In a few short weeks Governments meet in Bali, Indonesia, for next round of climate change talks under the UN Climate Change Convention.

It comes against a backdrop of unprecedented momentum on this issue - perhaps an issue that it the greatest challenge of this generation.

Over the past year - and in no small part due to the fourth assessment of the UNEP and World Meteorological Organisation-established Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the momentum on global warming has been nothing short of breathtaking.

The science has taken on ever more sobering clarity and the economics have also become clearer - combating climate change will cost perhaps as little as less than one per cent of global GDP a year for around 30 years.

The costs of delay will cost far much more.

A point incidentally made abundantly clear on the wider sustainability challenges in UNEP's flagship report - the Global Environment Outlook-4, launched last month to a great deal of public and media interest.

If, as they must, governments get down in Bali to either agree a post 2012 emission reduction regime or set the parameters and deadline for negotiations, then environmentally and economically we will have genuine cause to celebrate.

But I believe there are others who can also raise their glasses - the unemployed, those in the dole queue from Detroit to Delhi and Bogota to Beijing.

Those too who, rightly or wrongly, fear their employment prospects are being out-sourced to Hyderabad, Hanoi or Hong Kong.

Decent work too for new graduates and for a new generation of workers now and in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we talk about environmental sustainability and climate change, we often downplay the significant employment opportunities that will arise if nations can collectively agree on a transition to a low carbon and resource efficient economy.

Jobs not for just the middle classes - what now are being called 'green collar' jobs.  But also job generation in construction and agriculture to engineering and transportation.

In many ways that transition is already occurring.

This is partly as a result of the existing Kyoto climate agreement and its carbon trading and clean development mechanisms.

Partly in anticipation of even tighter controls on greenhouse gases post 2012.

Partly because on the wider environmental front, society may be finally waking up to challenges of declining ecosystems and unsustainable exploitation of natural and nature-based resources  - and is perhaps beginning to invest in more intelligent management of these economically important assets.

And partly because the relationship between organized labour and captains of industry and the environment - once characterized by suspicion and a concern that environmental regulation was bad for business and bad for jobs - is blossoming as a result of a sense of mutual self interest.

Let me give a few examples of the transition that is already underway.

  • A study by the US-based Management Information Services estimated that in 2005 the environmental industry in America generated more than 5.3 million jobs; over $340 billion in sales and close to $50 billion in tax revenues.

  • The same study estimates that the environmental industry employs ten times more workers than the US pharmaceutical industry.

  • In June this year, a UK-based company called Eaga which improves the energy efficiency of homes, floated on the London Stock Exchange - it employs 4,000 people in one of the UK's former coal mining regions, a significant number of whom worked in the pits before they were shut in the 1990s.

  • A new report by UNEP's Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative estimates that investment in renewables has now reached $100 billion - it now represents 18 per cent of new investments in the power sector.

  • Hansen, a wind power gear box maker owned by the Indian company Suzlon is building a new factory in Coimbatore which will supply up to 3,000 gear boxes and employ 800 people. A second factory just built in Tianjan, China, will employ 600 people.

  • The Indian city of Delhi is introducing new eco-friendly compressed natural gas buses which will create an additional 18,000 new jobs.

  • Direct employment in tourism in Kenya - tourism essentially based around wildlife, national parks and natural landscapes - stands at around 200,000. The wider impacts on the economy and on employment are estimated to be far higher.

And it is not just about job creation but attractiveness for prospective employees and job satisfaction for existing ones.

  • A new survey in the United States found that 80 per cent of young people questioned were interested in a job that had a positive impact on the environment and over 90 per said they would chose to work for an environmentally-friendly and socially responsible one.

  • Another new survey of workers in Brazil, China, Germany, India, the UK and the US, found that employees who perceive their company has a strong CSR policy are happier and more likely to stay.

And what about wider social impacts?

  • The UK launched its Environmental Task Force as part of the New Deal for young unemployed people in 1998. The Government there estimates that around 45 per cent of those taking part find work immediately afterwards.
  • The Green Jobs Act in the United States passed recently as part of the Energy Bill, talks about the green economy as a 'pathway out of poverty'.

  •  Part of the budget is earmarked specifically for the training of at-risk youths, former prison inmates and those on welfare in renewable energies and the 'green' building sector.

And what of the future?

  • Roland Berger, a Munich-based consultancy, estimates that more people will be employed in environmental tech-industries in Germany in 2020 than in the car industry.

  • Working Capital, a report by UNEP's Finance Initiative which involves some 170 financial institutions, estimates that the market providing finance for clean and renewable energies could reach $1.9 trillion by 2020.

  • A related but separate report by the world's third largest law firm - commissioned by UNEPFI- concludes that legally, the investment community has in key cases the responsibility to incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues into investment decisions.

  • A round table this year in Brazil, organized by UNEP and the Association of Brazilian Investment Banks, concluded that it was not only institutional investors but also High Net-Worth Individuals who are progressively realizing the importance of ESG-inclusion for long-term investment performance.

  • The Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol could deliver $100 billion of funds flowing from North to South for investments in carbon off-setting projects such as renewable energy schemes and tree planting projects.

  • An alliance of tropical forest countries are pressing for standing forests to be included in the carbon markets which in turn could generate new employment opportunities in sustainable management, conservation and tourism.

  • Several countries including Costa Rica, Norway and New Zealand, have pledged carbon neutrality which in turn will require investment and employment in carbon friendly sectors.

  • In the wider environmental landscape, more creative market mechanisms are emerging such as payment for ecosystem services - power companies with hydroelectric stations are paying farmers and communities to maintain forests and soils upstream -Costa Rica and Kenya for example.

  • Debt for Nature swaps - where countries have some of their debts cancelled with some of the savings invested in conservation and rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems. Last year the United States agreed to reduce Paraguay's debt payments by over $7m with the funds to be spent on the conservation and restoration of the Atlantic Forest of Alto Parana.

    France has also signed a 'debt for nature swap, with the Government of Cameroon aimed at the Congo River Basin.

  • The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that a country like Kenya will see one in twelve of its work force employed directly or indirectly in tourism by 2010.

  • Over 20 states and some 300 cities in the United States have adopted renewable energy portfolio standards and/or emission reductions targets in line with Kyoto Protocol.

  • Last week the National Development and Reform Commission and the Commerce Ministry in China announced bans and restrictions on foreign investment in mining and some energy sectors.

  • China says it wants to encourage foreign investment that will help China protect the environment, cut pollution, develop renewable energy and stimulate innovation.

  • Research by the University of California at Berkeley indicates that between 250,000 to 300,000 new jobs could be generated in the United States if 20 per cent of that country's electricity needs were met by renewables.

  • A recent report by the US economist Roger Bezdek concluded that with the right government incentives and investments in research and development, renewable energy and energy efficiency industries could create 40 million jobs across the United States alone by 2030.

Ladies and gentlemen, if we add all this together we clearly stand on the edge of something quite exciting and transformational.

How do we make it happen - how does the international community assist in realizing this potential on a scale, at a pace and across the globe, not just in Europe and the United States but in Ecuador to Eritrea.

The United Nations, in partnership with organized labour, the private sector, local authorities and civil society, has a responsibility and a defining role to Deliver as One in the green jobs agenda.

Part of that responsibility is to assist governments to make the right choices in the current climate negotiations - for without a strong and decisive emission reductions regime the transformational foundations being laid today could prove to be built on sand tomorrow.

The UN also has the classic role of setting norms and standards - UNEP and other agencies are working with global initiatives to establish the ground rules for bio-fuel production.

Another area that underlines the challenge for the UN in terms of norms and standards, including the ILO and UNEP is in the area of waste.

From the disposal of end-of-life electronics to ships - many developing countries can generate employment in these fields but it cannot be at the expense of workers health and safety or the wider environment.

But equally it would be wrong to establish 'green' barriers or tariffs that cut the developing world out off such economic and livelihood opportunities.

The UN can also demonstrate and pilot creative market mechanisms - we recently concluded a solar energy project in India that has brought clean energy to 100,000 people and by inference improved education and employment prospects.

Here the key was working with banks to bring down the interest on solar loans so they become affordable for the rural poor.

Research and Development is also key and an area in which the UN can pilot projects and persuade governments.

During the oil crisis of the late 1970s, one billion dollars was invested globally in photo voltaic research. It triggered a 50 per cent improvement in photo cell efficiency.

However in many parts of the world, public-funded R and D has been in decline - this needs to be reversed and in doing so it can not only generate new solutions to the carbon challenge and wider environmental challenges, but also generate new jobs in science and engineering.

There are many more suggestions and ideas that can be explored.

Ladies and gentlemen,

UNEP is striving to bring ever greater meaning and action to bear on environmental employment.

We have strengthened our relationship and our activities with organized labour.

Last year, in cooperation with the ILO and support from the World Health Organization, organized a trade union assembly at our headquarters in Nairobi and launched the Workers' Initiatives for Lasting Legacy.

In cooperation with the ILO and SustainLabour and with funding from Spain, we are also strengthening our assistance so that organized labour can participate more fully in international environmental processes including the climate change convention meetings.

It will contribute to the implementation of the resolutions adopted by the first Trade Union Assembly on Labour and the Environment and to launch environmental initiatives in the workplaces, in Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean.

UNEP fully supports and will be an active partner with the ILO under its banner "Green Jobs" initiative - this is partly about workers rights but also responsibilities in a climate challenged world.

However, it is also about the enormous opportunities emerging as a result of the urgent need to transit to a low carbon society and to climate proof economies against climatic impacts.

Part of that initiative includes "Investing in People' and supporting the training and development of the skills needed in areas of climate, adaptation, energy and resource efficiency and introducing new technology.

There is emerging one very direct initiative in which this could be tested and piloted almost immediately.

Last month the Chief Executive Board of the UN agreed to move the entire UN system towards carbon neutrality under the coordination of the Environmental Management Group of the UN.

Ladies and gentlemen, this will be a challenge not least in operations such as peace-keeping set aside the large and global 'estate' that UN owns or leases in countries and communities around the world.

However, this represents a real opportunity to not only practically demonstrate the UN's climate credentials by phasing-out our emissions but to demonstrably prove by action on the ground that system-wide we are also in the 'Green Job' business.

Together with the ILO and other colleagues, I would be keen to see how we can influence this -especially in respect to the labour policies and contracts involving carbon neutrality initiatives at UN offices and operations in developing countries.

Thanks for your attention

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director



Further Resources

International Labour Organization (ILO)

UNEP Finance Initiative

Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4)

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

UN Climate Change Conference Bali,Indonesia, 3 -14 December 2007

Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building

UNEP's Labour & Environment Initiative

Labour and the Environment: A Natural Synergy

WILL 2006
The First Trade Union Assembly on Labour and the Environment

Tourism and Environment


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