Economic Growth

Green jobs for a growing world

Sharan Burrow
Visiting Professor in Practice, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment
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Economic Progress

We are facing an economic and social time bomb. About 210 million people are unemployed, including 75 million young people, and 1.52 billion workers are in precarious employment, many of them women.

Meanwhile, 40 million people a year are expected to enter the labour forces of economies that cannot accommodate them.

About 910 million workers earn less than US$ 2 a day. Between 2008 and 2011, 55 million more people became “working poor”. Almost 60% of the world’s workers have no secure employment contracts. And three quarters of the world’s population has no social protection. Where laws recognize rights to collective bargaining, the truth is that employee rights to negotiate with employers are denied in many countries.

Never has the world generated so much wealth while inequality between the richest and the poorest is at its widest. And when countries emerge from poverty, national and regional inequalities tend to increase within them.

Migration poses another challenge. The estimated 220 million migrants (50% women) are often excluded from protection of labour laws and denied legal and workplace entitlements. Additional migration caused by climate change will only exacerbate the problem, yet planning for this hasn’t even begun.

Stark inequality, poverty and unemployment are driving increased social unrest and, consequently, social and economic risk. Environmental deterioration may well intensify social inequality.

We need economic growth, yes, but growth can be jobless, so a sustainable development framework for employment must include a job creation strategy. Investing 2% of the GDP of 12 countries each year for five years in the green economy could create 48 million jobs.

There are several examples of successful green and sustainable employment strategies in Brazil, Germany and South Africa (for details see a longer version of this article here) where green technologies, such as solar panels and retrofitted carbon-reduction equipment, are helping to create tens of thousands of jobs over the coming decades.

As well as green jobs we also need a Social Protection Floor – a set of basic social security rights that support decent living standards worldwide. These include healthcare, child benefits, basic retirement pensions and income support for the working poor, the unemployed and pregnant women.

We could help to fund programmes to alleviate poverty and inequality, and support green, sustainable development, with a global Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) on the sector that caused the global financial crisis in the first place.

We all need to work together because there are no jobs on a dead planet; there is no equity without rights to decent work and social protection; no social justice without a shift in governance and ambition; and, ultimately, no peace for the peoples of the world without the guarantees of sustainability.

Author: Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation; Member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Employment & Social Protection.

You can read a longer version of this article and join in the debate at Rio+20 Dialogues (registration required).

For more about the Rio+20 Summit click here.

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