Roundtable Two: Insights from Young Women Economists on Jobs and Climate Action
3 September 2020 – 8:00-10:00AM EDT
On 1 July 2020 the Secretary-General launched a series of roundtables of renowned economists to address critical issues in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first roundtable focused on three pressing areas profoundly affected by the crisis: external debt, external finance and international trade.
The second roundtable changes the lens to look at the two defining issues of our time, especially for younger generations: jobs, their shifting nature and lack thereof after COVID-19, and climate change in the context of a green recovery and a just transition to create decent and quality work. Young women are crafting bold and innovative policy ideas and solutions and their voices, like those of climate activists, need to be amplified.
An uncertain future: no jobs or precarious jobs
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, work in developing and developed countries alike was often characterized by precarity. In developing countries, the majority of those with a job worked in the informal sector. In developed countries, youth unemployment was often high and new forms of work – such as the sharing and gig economy – were expanding without the benefits and protections afforded by ‘standard’ forms of employment. Concerns about the employment impacts of automation and digitalization were also on the minds of many. While COVID-19 has opened new opportunities on these areas, the lack of job protection remains a concern.
In this context, the economic damage of the pandemic is dramatic. Hundreds of millions of jobs have already been lost and many more could be added if the global health crisis continues, with young people among the most affected. Young people were already three times more likely than adults to be unemployed worldwide, giving way to economic scarring, and rolling back progress made in poverty (SDG 1) and inequality reduction (SDG 10). With disruptions to high-carbon sectors, education and training caused by the pandemic, a generation of young people is at risk of even greater labour market uncertainty. Some talk of a “lost” or “lockdown generation”.
... and a climate crisis
These seismic shifts to the world of work have taken place against the backdrop of the unabated climate crisis. 2019 was the second warmest year on record and 2020 may rival last year’s temperatures. The effects of changing temperatures and increasing natural disaster risk have already negatively impacted the livelihoods of many, and could spur massive internal migration. Furthermore, climate change risks exacerbating inequalities as social groups in vulnerable situations, including the poor, youth, women, the elderly and children, are the most affected. Without substantial cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, these trends are accelerating. However, the world is currently far off track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Recovering better for jobs and planet
COVID-19 presents a high-risk/high-opportunity environment to rethink development models toward growth that is low-carbon, resilient and inclusive. Amidst the challenges lie opportunities. Prices of renewable energy have plummeted in recent years. Even before the pandemic hit, the International Labour Organization (ILO) had stressed the potential of climate action to create green jobs: decarbonizing the energy sector could help generate 24 million jobs by 2030. Green investments aligned with Paris’ 1.5°C goal that create jobs and have high economic multiplier effects and climate impact need to be scaled up, including through green financing instruments such as green bonds, which have skyrocketed, reaching $465 billion globally in 2019, up 78% from 2018. However, markets will not follow a green pathway by themselves. Governments, many under tight fiscal space conditions, will need to intervene with counter-cyclical policy measures1 that contribute to boost GDP growth and create more and better jobs that protect communities. Furthermore, ensuring that women can benefit from diverse opportunities along the value chain in an energy transition, and more broadly in greening the economy, requires supporting them in using their skill sets and talents. A key pillar of the green recovery is ensuring that the opportunities it creates are equally accessible, and the benefits it bestows, equitably distributed.
Decision-makers will thus need to manage a just transition away from fossil fuels, leaving no one behind, to avoid future negative shocks on jobs and assets. Policy makers have the challenge of designing a policy mix for job-creating, resilient, and low-carbon economic growth. Implementing integrated policies to address environmental challenges and foster a transition to a green economy will generate the creation of more and better jobs.
Recovery plans in response to the COVID-19 crisis are an opportunity to leverage these trends. The Secretary-General has proposed six climate-positive actions to shape the recovery. Among them, he has emphasized that investments in the recovery must deliver green jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition. Furthermore, where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it must be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth. For instance, recovery plans from the Republic of Korea ($35 billion) and the European Union, (€750 billion) with green investments and climate programmes at their core, demonstrate the possibility of linking responses to the short-term exigencies of the health and economic crisis to medium-term recuperation anchored in sustainability. However, more needs to be done to ensure we limit global warming to 1.5 °C by the end of this century to avoid irreversible and catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis.
The Secretary-General is pleased to announce the second in a series of roundtables with renowned women economists and innovative new thinkers to generate bold ideas and solutions to address these pressing issues. The participants in this second roundtable will be exceptional young women economists - practitioners, policy makers and academics - who are emerging as leaders in their field.
The discussion will seek to identify innovative solutions and investments and address actions that can be taken today in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis that can shape the world for future generations in a new normal. The exchange will elicit ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas and solutions to overcome the massive unemployment caused by the crisis and lay the basis for long-term, quality, sustainable development models.
The discussion will address policy solutions that can remedy some of the gaps that have emerged in new forms of work and risks to job security and afford young people the professional flexibility they desire while ensuring rights and protections. The impacts of new technologies on the future of work, and how they can be leveraged will be raised. In addition, participants will discuss the ingredients of recovery strategies that can create jobs while ensuring climate resilience to ensure that progress in achieving the SDGs and targets of the Paris Agreement is not reversed.
1 Such as such as promoting sustainable infrastructure, renewables, and the de-carbonization of transport, buildings, industrial supply chains, and food systems