24 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Changing employment and investment patterns resulting from efforts to reduce the effects of climate change were already generating new “green jobs” in many sectors and economies, and they could create millions more in both developed and developing countries over the coming decades, according to a new study commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference this morning, when he presented the findings of the study -- entitled “Green Jobs:  Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World” -- Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, said the idea for it had come from simply looking at what was already happening in the world.  A green economy, at its core, examined where sectors were emerging, jobs being created, and investments being mobilized to tackle numerous challenges and essentially restructure economies.  Climate change had been a major driver in that respect because it focused on a number of transitions that must be undertaken.

Mr. Steiner emphasized that, with the global market for environmental products and services projected to double from the present $1.37 billion per year to $2.74 billion by 2020, the report showed policymakers that, with the right incentives -- as well as the proper research-and-development support programmes -- massive economic sectors could potentially emerge.  “The world will spend hundreds of billions of dollars in the next 12 months on stabilizing the global economy.  Imagine for a moment if some of the stimulus packages that are now being developed could be targeted towards, not maintaining and sustaining the old economy of the twentieth century, but investing in the new economy of the twenty-first century.”

He said the climate change process would continue to have negative effects on workers and their families, especially those whose livelihoods depended on agriculture and tourism.  Action to tackle climate change and cope with its effects was therefore needed urgently and should be designed to generate decent jobs, according to the study, which was funded by UNEP under a joint Green Jobs Initiative with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Organization of Employers (IOE).

Mr. Steiner said the report warns that many of the new jobs could be “dirty, dangerous and difficult”, with the main sectors of concern including agriculture and recycling -- particularly in developing economies, where there was often low-pay, insecure employment contracts and exposure to hazardous materials.  Moreover, too few green jobs were being created for the most vulnerable -- the 1.3 billion working poor, or 43 per cent of the global workforce, with earnings too low to raise themselves and their dependants above the poverty threshold, or for the estimated 500 million youth who would be seeking work over the next 10 years.

Accompanying Mr. Steiner were Juan Somavía, Director-General of the International Labour Organization; Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation; and Ronnie Goldberg, Vice President of the International Organization of Employers.

Mr. Somavía said that moving towards a sustainable development path would bring about major changes in the production and consumption patterns of all countries.  The challenge was global, but it would happen in the world’s enterprises and workplaces.  Employers and Governments must help ensure that the transition happened.  It had already started.  In Germany, for instance, the renewable energy sector would be larger than the automobile and machine manufacturing sectors in the next 10 years.

Furthermore, the issue was worldwide and relevant to all countries, as half of the 2.3 million jobs in the renewable sector today were in the developing world, he said, noting that moving towards a sustainable, low-carbon economy could work for the poorest of the poor.  However, it was necessary to ensure that green jobs were “decent jobs”, and to acknowledge that good green jobs did not come naturally.  Throughout the world, millions of workers were involved in the recycling of discarded computers and mobile phones, jobs that were often lacking in quality.  “Building a low-carbon economy is not only about the technology of finances, it’s about people and society.  It’s about a cultural change to greater environmental consciousness and opportunities for decent work.”

Mr. Ryder said the report delivered the message that, to move the world to a sustainable future trajectory, it was necessary to marry the objectives of greening the world of work and achieving decent work for all.  While the International Trade Union Confederation had been unable to endorse the Kyoto Protocol for half a decade owing to fears that it would cost members their livelihoods, it had endorsed the goal of an 85 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 on the basis of 1990 emissions.  It had been able to do that because it had managed to integrate the notion of action against climate change with a green job agenda.  The report showed that it was possible to reconcile the two objectives in a way that did not threaten worker interests, but actually promoted them in the long term.

Moving toward a decent sustainable development was not a “convenient truth”, he continued, saying it required an international regulatory framework as well as a “quick deal” on the post-Kyoto targets.  It was also necessary to convince public opinion that such development was not at the expense of increased employment or better living standards and, for the developing world, at the expense of its legitimate development aspirations.

Ms. Goldberg said employers had made an essential contribution to the pursuit of sustainable development, not only because they provided the livelihood for all jobs, but because they provided the revenue, skills, technological solutions and other resources necessary to tackle the challenges ahead.  It had been estimated that the private sector would bring 85 per cent of the necessary financing and resources to the climate-change challenge, and a similar share to other environmental and sustainability challenges.

In response to a question about biofuels and what the United Nations system thought about the balance between climate change and the food pricing crisis, Mr. Steiner said that, when talking about green jobs, one must start with the real world and try to progress toward greener jobs and a greener economy.  The

partnership that had created the report recognized that there was no panacea in an enormously complex world of very different economies and realities.  The study’s message was that investing in a greener economy could not be done by letting people lose the basic conditions defined in international agreements.  Moreover, the social reform processes in different countries would gain from being seen through the lens of the green economy because such an economy included decent-work criteria.

Asked what ILO was doing to ensure workers in green jobs enjoyed decent conditions, Mr. Somavía said the organization’s Green Jobs Initiative was being incorporated into its Decent Work Agenda, which was based on the notion that people worldwide were asking for a fair chance at decent jobs.  ILO was now working in more than 70 countries, such as India and China, to carry out that agenda.

Responding to a question about green jobs and the Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Ryder said it was important to expose the interconnectedness of the issues at hand.  It made no sense to address any one of the three sustainable development pillars -– environmental, economic and social -- in isolation.  The report was precisely trying to unite all those issues.

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For information media • not an official record