ILO: Green jobs conference

The impact of environmental change on jobs, sustainable economic growth and poverty was discussed at an International Labour Organization (ILO) research conference held in Niigata, Japan from 21 to 22 April.The conference, “Green Jobs for Asia and the Pacific” is the product of the Green Jobs Initiative launched at the ILO’s November 2007 Governing Body session, in partnership with, among others, the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Trade Union Confederation.

Green jobs as defined by the ILO-UNDP initiatives are decent work created in economic sectors and activities that reduce the environmental impact of production and consumption, ultimately to levels leading to sustainable enterprises and economies. It includes jobs that help reduce energy and raw material consumption, de-carbonize economies, protect and restore ecosystems, and minimize waste and pollution. A wide range of economic sectors are potentially involved, including energy supply, transport, manufacturing, construction, retail, agriculture, materials management and recycling.

In the last 30 years Asia Pacific has experienced unprecedented economic growth, lifting tens of millions out of poverty (although almost a billion people are still living on less than US$2 per day and 300 million face extreme poverty – less than US$1 per day). But this growth has come at a price; according to a conference background paper demand for water, energy and raw materials in the region increased by 50 per cent between 1995 and 2002. The paper cautions the region now faces a second great transformation as the paradigm of “grow now, clean up later” becomes unviable.

On the basis of current trend projections, the paper says, in the medium-to-long-term climate change will lead to serious disruption of economic and social activities in many sectors and major transformations of production and consumption patterns are expected. Areas that are particularly vulnerable include the heavily populated Asian river deltas, small island states and industries sited in coastal and river flood plains. By the middle of this century more than one billion Asians are expected to face fresh water shortages, and farmers in dry areas of Asia are already feeling the effects.

But while this second transformation will cause profound shifts and transitions in labour markets and the way people learn a living, it will also bring major opportunities for the creation of green jobs.

“Green lives and green jobs are inseparable,” said Ms Sachiko Yamamoto, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “It’s clear that adapting to and mitigating environmental changes will require millions of people to adopt new patterns of work. We may need to consider new models of local businesses or community-based non-profit institutions.”

“We must not forget the systemic issues of jobless growth, inequality and income disparity. The developing countries need to create more than 50 million new jobs a year. A new generation of green jobs, or sustainable livelihoods, could play a role in this, although they won’t solve the problem alone”.

“We must also prepare for job losses and be ready to support workers and enterprises as they shift to new ways of working through just transitions. This is where dialogue between governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations will play a vital role in giving leadership; and the ILO’s unique expertise can help by supporting such dialogue”.

The meeting was attended by about 40 participants from 19 countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, PR of China, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Sir Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the USA. The Conference runs from 21 -23 April at the Hotel Okura, Niigata. More details can be found at www.ilo.org/public/english/region/asro/bangkok/events/greenjobs/index.htm

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