United Nations Environment Programme

Transforming Work

The SDGs open up a new path for growth, the environment and social justice.
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The transformation to a green economy represents great opportunities for job creation.
The 2030 Agenda aims to promote and protect employment, social dialogue, social protection and workers’ rights.

BThe last twelve months have seen the beginning of a profoundly significant evolution in the way economic and social policies are made.

Through adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last September – and then in December the Paris Agreement on Climate Change – heads of state and government have shown a new commitment to integrating the three essential currents of economic development. In a shift of historic significance for the well-being of people and planet, they decided that economic growth shall now be pursued in unison with both environmental protection and social justice. The transformation to a green economy represents great opportunities for job creation.

With these agreements the international community has embraced the good governance approach to policy-making for growth and sustainable development. This new intent is most clearly illustrated in Goal 8 of the 2030 Agenda, to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all. Looking closer, the deliberate proximity of targets four and five of the Goal make the relationship explicit.

Target four: “{to}improve progressively … global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation”;
Target five: “{to}achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men….”.

These targets are therefore closely related and mutually supportive. Environmentally sustainable growth requires a transformation of consumption and production patterns. Changing consumption and production implies, and will require, a transformation of the world of work.

This new reality has many profound implications. Let us consider two of them. Firstly, the transformation to a green economy represents great opportunities for job creation. While many may lose their jobs in the movement out of polluting or high greenhouse gas-emitting activities, the transition has the potential for a net gain of up to 60 million new green jobs over the next two decades, according to the ILO’s report, “Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy”. Such a positive outcome, however, will not happen without strong supportive labour market and social protection policies. The ILO’s tripartite constituents of workers, employers and governments have developed a set of Guidelines for a Just Transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all. Their main purposes are to ensure that all those affected by change will have a voice in managing the transition and to maximize the opportunities for decent work.

The Centenary Green Initiative, one of seven initiatives launched in the lead up to the ILO’s 100th anniversary in 2019, will strengthen our expertise to better to equip world policy makers, business and workers to understand the challenges and opportunities of the coming transition, and help them take up the active role they must play in managing this change and ensuring the outcome is inclusive and fair.
Secondly, Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) go beyond merely the green transition to call for a transition to more social justice as well. As world leaders declare in their vision statement of the 2030 Agenda: “We envisage a world in which every country enjoys sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all”. That is exactly the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda!

Developed through social and political dialogue over more than a decade, the Agenda aims to promote and protect employment, social dialogue, social protection and workers’ rights – in one holistic and mutually reinforcing package.
Full employment is not only an end in itself, a source of dignity and livelihoods; it is also a means of generating demand and thus stimulating investment and growth. Social dialogue – the full and equal involvement of employers’ and workers’ representatives in policy development and decision-making – not only informs the process; it also enhances the legitimacy of decisions, both at the workplace and in society at large. Social protection systems for those who fall behind or outside the labour market not only protect against poverty and misery; they also facilitate workers’ mobility and adaptation to changing circumstances. Fundamental principles and rights at work, as established in ILO conventions, are not only a question of dignity and human rights; they also promote empowerment and real democracy. The 2030 Agenda aims to promote and protect employment, social dialogue, social protection and workers’ rights.

The ILO is committed to supporting Member States in the achievement of Goal 8, and a number of other decent work goals. We are firm supporters of the integrated approach of the 2030 Agenda. The Goals to reduce poverty, promote equality, protect vulnerable and migrant workers, improve education, and promote peace, justice and the rule of law are very much in the domain of the ILO’s mandate. A case in point: our expertise in employment and social policy initiatives will be vital to tackle target one of Goal 13 on Climate Action, “to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate related hazards and natural disasters in all countries”.

Our almost hundred years of broad experience in skills development, fighting discrimination, strengthening social safety nets and supporting fragile economies will help us serve the overarching ambitions of the 2030 Agenda. In short – with the SDGs and the Paris Agreement in hand, and the Decent Work Agenda at our disposal – we can now jointly pursue Agenda 2030’s “Plan of Action for people, planet and prosperity”, where economic growth, environmental protection and social justice are mutually supportive and pursued together.

This model is not only a win-win-win approach to sustainable development. It is a precondition for peace – and a liveable planet.