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Good jobs, green jobs

Speech by UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference

Washington DC, 4 February 2009 - I would like to thank, and congratulate, the diverse group of sponsors and funders that made this conference possible.

Particularly, I would like to thank key organizers, including:

- Dave Foster and the Blue Green Alliance

- Leo Gerard and the United Steelworkers

- The Sierra Club, including the hard work of Margrete Strand Rangnes

I would also like to thank Donald Kennedy, Chair of the Sierra Club's Climate Recovery Partnership for his introduction.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first say how delighted I am to be here in Washington DC literally days after watching on TV - like hundreds of millions around the world - the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States.

The UN Environment Programme, of which I am the Executive Director, has its global headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

I mention this for two reasons.

Firstly, because we are one of only two UN agencies headquartered in the developing world.

It perhaps gives us a different, if not even a unique, perspective on world affairs.

We are confronted daily by the evidence of inextricable links between environmental degradation and poverty, unemployment and other keenly felt economic, social and ecological factors.

Secondly, because President Obama's father was, as I am sure you know, Kenyan and his election has meant so much to the people of East Africa not least to many of the staff at UNEP.

The Multiple Challenges Now and in the Near Future

Ladies and gentlemen,

The world, including the United States, is going through one of the most challenging moments in its history.

But some economies and some world leaders are committed to turn crisis into opportunity and to show leadership during grim economic times.

President Obama has signalled by word and also by recent deeds to want to do just that and in doing so to re-establish US leadership at home and abroad across a suite of compelling, contemporary issues.

It could not come a moment too soon.

The year 2008 was marked by the food crisis, the fuel crisis and the financial crisis which has translated itself into a full-scale global economic crisis.

And, ladies and gentlemen, there are more to come.

President Obama has talked about a 'planet in peril'.

Climate change is accelerating and, unless checked, promises to be the greatest market failure of all time.

It has serious and significant implications for employment and economic activity now and throughout this and the next century.

With serious ramifications too for poverty, health and the natural or nature-based services that underpin lives and livelihoods in the developed but especially the developing economies.

Sir Nicholas Stern, on behalf of the UK Government has estimated that global GDP could be cut annually by five per cent and perhaps as much as 20 per cent unless the world deals with rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Other market failures are emerging.

Natural resource scarcity is reaching a tipping point, with limits being met and passed on scores of fronts.

In mid-February, the world's environment ministers will meet at UNEP headquarters for the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum.

Here we will present some of the latest findings on the state of the world's ecosystems, such as forests and soils to coral reefs and fisheries, in our UNEP Year Book 2009.

A few facts:

  • Entire forest systems have effectively disappeared in at least 25 countries and have declined by 90 percent in another 29 countries.

  • Since the onset of industrial fisheries in the 1960s, the total biomass of large, commercially-targeted marine fish species has declined by a 'staggering' 90 percent, says the Year Book.

  • On current projections, the availability of cropland per person is set to drop to 0.1 hectares requiring a rise in agricultural production "unattainable through conventional means".

  • Soil degradation, linked with intensification, has now and already affected all but 16 percent of the world's croplands.

Overall, the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that 60 percent of the Earth's ecosystems are damaged or being degraded. The Year Book confirms that many of the trends continue unabated.

In the past, environmental crises were essentially local - pollution of the local lake; fly-tipping in city park, perhaps the felling of a much-loved forest.

Today, as a result of the consumption and production patterns of the industrialized economies and newly emerging ones, the level of degradation is having global consequences.

In years gone by, communities and societies could move on - could avoid calamities by emigrating to find safer, more prosperous places where opportunities were manifold.

That is not possible in a world of six - rising to nine - billion people where resources are finite. We have to produce and consume in far more efficient and less extractive ways where we re-invest in the productivity of the work force; innovation and the natural assets that are the foundation of prosperity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The good news is we still have choices - the point at the fulcrum of today's meeting.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organisation, estimates that somewhere around 0.1 percent of GDP spent annually until 2030 can lift the threat of climate change.

A peer-reviewed study by the consultants McKinsey, published last week, estimates that greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 40 percent by 2030 over 1990 levels through a suite of readily available technological options.

That represents a 70 percent cut below a 'business as usual' scenario; it represents, too, a lot of green jobs here and abroad.

Global Green New Deal - Green Economy initiative

Ladies and gentlemen,

One thing that is not in short supply is human ingenuity nationally and internationally.

In October last year UNEP launched its Global Green New Deal - a response to the immediate crises - and Green Economy initiative, a more medium- to long-term strategy.

Both echo and support the agenda and direction of the new US administration - in that they both see the challenges but also opportunities through a national but also global lens.

Part of the UNEP initiative includes work on green jobs, conducted with the International Labour Organisation, trade unions and employer organizations.

In terms of developed economies, this report drew heavily on the experiences and initiatives of many of you in the audience today.

Proof, if proof were ever needed, that the United States is and can increasingly be the font of inspirational and transformational policies so urgently needed in the 21st century.

I will not recite back to you the long list of statistics on how many jobs could be generated in the United States from "weatherizing" homes to investing in high-speed rail links, wind and solar power - only perhaps to suggest that the potential for green jobs may be even higher than is commonly supposed.

The United States leads with 3,000MW of installed geothermal energy followed by the Philippines with close to 2,000MW and Indonesia with 1,000MW.

A new assessment coordinated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that the United States could provide a significant slice of its base-load electricity from geothermal.

It says that the US has enough geothermal potential to generate 100,000 MW (100 GW) of base-load electricity by 2050 by investing in enhanced geothermal systems.

Current total energy generation in the US is somewhere under 1,000GW of which between 0.23 percent and 0.4 percent is estimated to be geothermal, according to various sources.

The report says that there is a widely-held view that high, exploitable levels of geothermal resources do not exist in the US.

But the report says: "Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) represent a large, indigenous resource that can provide base-load electric power and heat at a level that can have a major impact on the United States while incurring minimal environmental impacts"..

Combined public and private investment of $800 million to a $1 billion is needed over 15-year period needed to get it up and running commercially and to realize 100GW by 2050. Somewhere over $200 million of this is needed to achieve a break-even point with coal.

This is equal to total Research and Development in the past 30 years globally on EGS and still less than the cost of a single new-generation "clean coal" power plant.

And what about the employment and revenue-raising potential here and abroad if the US exported its cutting-edge geothermal know-how?

Various studies estimate that, for example, geothermal could grow by 900 percent in Papua New Guinea and by 90 percent in Turkey.

In Africa UNEP is working to develop geothermal in the Great Rift Valley from Kenya up to Djibouti; Germany and Iceland are involved, why not the United States?

The Green Economy is an Idea Whose Time Has Come.

The United States is not alone in glimpsing an economic renaissance through a green lens.

There are shining examples of Green Economy solutions - even though perhaps they were not termed that at the time - developed and implemented in Europe, Japan and elsewhere in the OECD.

Feed-in tariffs in Germany and Spain that have spawned an extraordinary renewable revolution there.

The incredible energy efficiency of Japan, triggered in part by that country's historic lack of natural resources and thus its need to make every drop go further and farther.

Well over 90 per cent of Iceland's electricity is either hydro or geothermal - a deliberate policy decision taken after the oil crisis of the late 1970s/early 1980s.

Developing economies are also involved. Costa Rica and Mexico with their long-standing pioneering payments for ecosystem services - essentially paying poor rural people to manage forests and watersheds in the sure and certain knowledge that this is a big bang for your buck.

Grameen Shakti is a company launched by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank - a pioneering microfinance organization in Bangladesh.

It has been leading a quiet renewable revolution in the country selling and financing solar photovoltaic panels and greening the energy supply of over 8,000 homes in Bangladesh every month.

Women who buy these panels become village electricity distributors, selling their solar electricity to neighbouring homes at no more than the monthly cost of kerosene, their normal fuel.

The plan is to convert a million homes from health-damaging kerosene stoves to solar electricity by next year.

Too often we are told certain things are not possible - too often the vested interest or vested ignorance has won out.

Brazil was told several decades ago that developing an ethanol economy was economic folly - we know different now.

Only recently UNEP was told that getting solar power to rural people in India was impossible as it was unaffordable and too risky for banks.

In cooperation with the UN Foundation and two foresighted Indian banks, we brought down the cost of solar loans. The short term subsidy put solar into 100,000 people's homes almost overnight.

The project is now self-financing and hundreds of banks are now involved.

So "Yes You Can, Yes We Can, Yes We All Can!" - if we can share ideas and fast-forward innovative ideas.

Globalization means that the ups - and currently the real downs - of the global economy reach everywhere. But so, too, do ideas and imaginative initiatives.

The challenge today is to embed Green Economic policy in national economies everywhere - to make the many shining examples already pursued here and there part of the mainstream of economic thinking, part of the "here and now".

I believe the rest of the world can learn from your experience and you from theirs, and that the UN's convening role can be the platform.

UNEP's Global Green New Deal report, bringing some of these global ideas and policy-actionable initiatives and compiled by a team of leading economists, will be published on 16 February at our environment ministers gathering.

It will draw on these and countless other examples. It will draw too on President Obama's stimulus package with its many environmentally-focused recovery strategies.

Draw too on China's over $140 billion stimulus and its pro-employment focused investments in rail rather than road, renewables and investments in river systems.

Also on the Republic of Korea where jobs are being lost for the first time in over five years.

President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea's plan is to invest $38 billion employing people to clean up four major rivers and reduce disaster risks by building embankments and water-treatment facilities.

Other elements of his "Green New Deal" include construction of eco-friendly transportation networks such as high-speed railways and hundreds of kilometres of bicycle tracks alongside generating energy by capturing methane from refuse tips.

With an eye on both the short and the long term, the package will also invest in developing hybrid vehicle technologies for the car industry.

Japan's stimulus package also includes plans to lead a "low-carbon revolution" and generate one to two million jobs through tax breaks in areas such as electric cars, low-energy appliances and renewables.

In the UK, $100 billion is to be spent on renewable energy in order to generate 15 percent of the country's electricity by 2020 and to create "hundreds of thousands of new 'green-collar' jobs".

Last week the UK government also announced multi-billion dollar support for the UK car industry with that support linked to developing high technology and green vehicles.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If we are to deal with the immediate crises and the ones just around the corner, then every dollar, Euro, peso and yuan is going to have to work smarter and harder.

The investments being made now in order to counter the various "crunches" need to set the stage for a resource efficient, innovation-led, economic renaissance.

One that tackles the fundamentals, rather than papers over the cracks: one that sets the stage for Green Economic growth.

Investments that generate not only employment, but decent jobs for the 1.3 billion people unemployed or under-employed and for the half a billion young people that will join the global work force over the next ten years.

Not just in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world but in the rapidly developing and "hardly" developing economies of the global South.

Making Markets Work - Unleashing Investment

Ladies and gentlemen,

There are still many voices being raised saying we cannot afford it - that it is interfering in the market as if the market was some perfect construct - independent of human affairs.

That elected governments have little or no role left; that regulation and standard-setting is outdated, stifling for business, just more "red tape".

We know, very much as a result of the past 12 months, that markets are not divine creations - they are made by men and women and as such they can be redesigned by human beings and governments to achieve multiple aims.

Designed to invest in long-term, sustainable profits, wealth creation and decent kinds of employment - where some balance is re-established between financial, human and environmental capital.

Where refocusing and redirecting markets, not stifling them, can bring some intelligent management of natural and nature-based resources and of energy use - where we draw a line between the extractive and short-term models that have characterized so much of late twentieth century economic focus and the crucial factor X of sustainability.

Does the United States Need the Rest of the World - Should it Back a Global Green Economy?

Ladies and gentlemen,

There may be those who wonder why it is in the interests of the United States to support Green Growth globally.

I believe the lessons of 2008 make the "why" abundantly clear.

Globalization has economies interconnected in ways that are perhaps impossible to disentangle - the global village is a reality.

It used to be said that if America catches a cold, we all get one.

There are now countless countries, and growing, from where colds can come but also where cures can be found.

The United States has been at the forefront of innovative ideas and innovation - today it must also champion the international cause of the Green Economy and of a transition to a low-carbon society.

To transform the United States into a resource efficient, clean-tech, decent employment-led economy is crucial for its own sake, yes.

But the United States also has a key leadership role globally and self-interest in working multilaterally.

Put simply, unless there is a global Green Economy who will be out there to trade with and to buy - let alone deploy - this new generation of high-tech, highly efficient goods and services produced by the United States?

Secondly, and as mentioned before, climate change knows no boundaries and respects no race, creed, ideology or philosophy.

A strong economy can, for a while perhaps, shore up its infrastructure, coastlines, agriculture and water supplies to increasingly extreme weather events.

But not forever, and not if greenhouse gases take global temperatures beyond two, three, four degrees Centigrade.

Per capita emissions in the United States are currently five times the global average and 200 times that of someone living in one of the poorest parts of the world.

Indeed, the UN estimates that the average air conditioning unit in Florida is responsible for more CO2 in a year than a Cambodian is in a lifetime.

It's better - but not so much better - in Europe. An average dishwasher there produces as much CO2 in a year as three people do in Ethiopia.

Thus the historical legacy is the United States', as it is Europe's, Japan's and the rest of the industrialized world.

However, even under a relatively modest emissions growth scenario, non-

OECD countries will account for about 70 percent of the warming problem in 2100, and an even larger part of the growth in emissions in the next 100 years by some estimates.

Over the 21st century, with no internationally agreed constraint, the developing countries will emit four to five times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the developed economies over the last century and a half.

Thus the legendary innovation, science and high-tech know-how of the US should and must be brought to the global stage - it is in the interests of the United States and the rest of the world's 190-plus sovereign states to see technology transfer and the adoption of low-carbon products.

All countries have a stake, and a role, in the solution.

An engaged United States for example will stimulate low-carbon markets at home and export markets abroad and build international confidence that the world's most powerful economy can also be a low-carbon one.

If the United States can do it so can Brazil, China, India and the other rapidly emerging economies: it is the trigger for global agreement and confidence-building.

A United States in the UN carbon markets will also add traction to the global carbon investments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol from emission trading to the offset instrument - the Clean Development Mechanism.

The move to include tropical forests in these emission offsetting measures may be the key to conserving these vast, natural utilities that currently moderate much of the climate, water supplies and nutrients on a global scale - currently they do it for free, soaking up the emissions of the rich countries to the tune of billions of dollars a year.

The litmus test of international commitment, including that of the United States, on climate change comes in just over 300 days from now.

Governments must agree deep, meaningful, inclusive and transformational new deal at the crucial UN climate meeting in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

Achieving this must be one of the central goals for the Green Economy over the coming months - it could perhaps be the biggest and most far-reaching stimulus package of all.

The Era of Responsibility - Nationally and Multilaterally

Ladies and gentlemen,

President Obama has called this the era of responsibility. I share his sentiments.

UNEP's role is to encourage and to establish the norms and standards that assist in promoting responsible economic activity and sustainable trade.

It is done in part through convening the best and brightest brains and the world's governments and by underlining the big factors that bind us rather than narrow differences that set us apart often needlessly and at great cost.

Our role is also to bring forward the latest global science on climate change to the state of the world's oceans alongside the policy options that can catalyze fair and equitable change within a family of nations at different stages in their development paths.

The era of responsibility is generational but also inter-generational - in bailing out the banks and rescuing jobs we cannot transfer the costs and the debts to our children - we cannot compromise their right to decent work and livelihoods; to a healthy and functioning planet.

Thus the decisions taken in Washington DC, in April at the G20 summit in London, and in Copenhagen and beyond will not only ripple across countries and continents but will reverberate and echo down the generations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe that the UN and its environment programme need the United States as never before and that in a globalized world the US in turn needs the UN and the multilateral system.

The US is one of our founding fathers and like all families we have had our ups and downs.

But let us not forget that the President who signed the UN Charter in San Francisco 64 years ago, and who saw the value in multilateralism as a force for good in the world was none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt - the architect of the New Deal that powered America out of recession and inspired the Green New Deal being taken forward in the White House and elsewhere today.

The UN and the United States share a common history - today we celebrate a common vision on Green Jobs in a Green Economy.

Perhaps I can leave you with the words of Issac Wright Jr., an ex-convict and participant of Growing Home Inc., which offers "social business enterprise" job training for low-income people here in the United States.

It is perhaps a very personal view of the "era of responsibility" but one that I think sums up the direction that so many people from Calcutta to Cairo and Canberra to Chicago want from their leaders - a New Deal that is Green and one that has global dimensions.

Asked about a Green Job, he told the Chicago Tribune: "I can't see past today."

"But if I'm allowed to wake up tomorrow, I'm going to do everything I can to help out. If it means saving the Earth, why not? Because you only get one Earth, right? Like you only get one mama."

Full Release




Further Resources

Green Economy Initiative

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Speech on the Green New Deal

UNEP Labour and the Environment

Green Jobs Report

UNEP Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative

The UNEP- ILO- IEO - ITUC Green Jobs Initiative

Davos Climate Focus: Ban Urges Leaders to Think Green & Steiner Promotes Design for Good

UNEP Climate Neutral Network

UNite to Combat Climate Change


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