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Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy (ILO)

International Labor Organization Press Release - May 31, 2012

GENEVA (ILO News) – The transformation to a greener economy could generate 15 to 60 million additional jobs globally over the next two decades and lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty, according to a new report led by the Green Jobs Initiative.

The study “Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy ” says that these gains will depend on whether the right set of policies are put in place.

“The current development model has proven to be inefficient and unsustainable, not only for the environment, but for economies and societies as well”, said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “We urgently need to move to a sustainable development path with a coherent set of policies with people and the planet at the centre”.

“The forthcoming “Rio+20” United Nations conference will be a crucial moment to make sure decent work and social inclusion are integral parts of any future development strategy”, he added.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “This report comes on the eve of World Environment Day on 5 June under the theme Green Economy: Does it Include You?”.

“The findings underline that it can include millions more people in terms of overcoming poverty and delivering improved livelihoods for this and future generations. It is a positive message of opportunity in a troubled world of challenges that we are relaying to capital cities across the globe as leaders prepare and plan for the Rio+20 Summit,” he added.

The report – published almost four years after the first study by the Green Jobs Initiative – looks at the impact that the greening of the economy can have on employment, incomes and sustainable development in general.

Tar Sands: Rejecting False Conflict Between Trade Unions and Environment

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 23, 2011

Sometimes a decision forces you to think deeply about what you believe in and how you act on those beliefs. It was like that when the climate protection leader Bill McKibben asked me to sign a letter calling for civil disobedience to block the building of a pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Opposing the pipeline might strain ties with unions that I’ve worked with and been part of for my whole adult life. And yet the pipeline might be a tipping point that could hurtle us into ever more desperate acceleration of climate change.  Amid these conflicting pulls, what should I do? Having lived at the confluence of trade unionism and environmentalism, what’s the right course of action – what has my life’s work meant?

I was born into a union family. My dad worked in the steel mills in Lorain, Ohio and was a founder of the Steelworkers Union. My mom had been an organizer in the Clothing Workers Union in Cincinnati. I grew up near Cleveland and I walked the picket line with my dad during the 1959 steel strike.

My own trade union life began the day I walked through the factory doors at Capital Products Aluminum Corporation in Mechanicsburg, PA. I was 17 years old, and I joined the United Steelworkers of America. That summer I engaged in my first strike. The following year Hurricane Agnes pounded the mid-Atlantic states; Central Pennsylvania was devastated, and the mill was flooded out. So I joined the Laborer’s Union and went to work on construction.

That’s where I first learned something about working on pipelines. I worked building the Texas-Eastern pipeline as it wound its way through the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania. Small teams of operating engineers, pipefitters, and laborers traveled across the state doing work we enjoyed and that we understood to be useful and important. (We didn’t know then what we know now.) It was a great job and I was a member of a great union, Laborer’s Local 158. We formed friendships and shared a solidarity that touched us all deeply.

On another job building a railroad bridge across the Susquehanna river, a buddy of mine got fired by a hubris-filled college kid. (The kid’s dad owned the construction company so the kid had been made chief foreman over all laborers.) We struck and shut the job down. The operating engineers, carpenters and ironworkers supported us. Without that support we would have lost, but we won and my brother laborer was hired back.

These jobs helped me pay my way through college. They also taught me a lot about solidarity and trade unionism, and helped launch me on a life-long pursuit of workers rights and jobs with justice, first as a local leader and eventually as an official with the AFL-CIO.

I grew up along the banks of Lake Erie and I learned at a tender age about the possibility of human threats to the environment. I was there when they posted the signs telling us to stop swimming in the lake and stop eating the fish. I’d already eaten hundreds of Lake Erie Yellow Perch and swallowed more of that lake water than I care to think about.

I also learned early about the potential conflict between protecting labor and protecting the environment. In the 1970s I worked on the concrete crew during the construction of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, and my local union put out a bumper sticker that read “Hungry and Out of Work? Eat an Environmentalist.”

Since then I’ve devoted much of my life trying to bridge the gap between labor and environmental movements. I’ve argued that both share a common interest in combining economic and social sustainability with environmental sustainability. I’ve argued that “jobs vs. the environment” is a false choice.

Transport Workers and Climate Change: Towards Sustainable, Low-Carbon Mobility

By ITF Climate Change Working Group - International Transport Workers’ Federation, August 4, 2010

This report, now more than a decade old, was remarkably forward-thinking for its time (except for the uncritically positive assessment of Carbon Capture and Storage and Cap-and-Trade, positions the authors would likely now no longer hold. It also, interestingly, includes in an appendix, the delegate of one union affiliate, Robert Scardelletti, President of the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU), an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), from the US, who dissented from this report's conclusions, because it's green unionist orientation would "destroy jobs", a position held by the most conservative unions in the AFL-CIO.

From the introduction:

Climate change is the biggest single challenge ever faced by human civilization. Human economic activity has put so much carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) into the atmosphere that serious global warming is already happening. As a society, we have no choice but to reduce these emissions drastically in order to stand a good chance of avoiding potentially catastrophic changes in our climate. Moreover, emissions from transport are rising faster than emissions from any other sector and in some cases the increase in transport emissions is counteracting emissions reductions achieved in other sectors. Lowering transport emissions presents a series of unique and formidable challenges.

The good news for transport workers is that a serious approach to emissions reductions will create new opportunities for quality employment, particularly in public transport, railways (both passenger and freight), transport infrastructure, road repair, and in developing clean transport technologies. But failure to act on climate change will have the opposite effect.

Read the text (PDF).

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