I recently had the opportunity to represent the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) at a high-level meeting about “Managing and measuring our increasingly scarce natural resources.”
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to best show the economic costs of not putting environmental policy in place and the economic benefits of doing so and achieving environmental goals.
The main suggestions to achieve this were:
- Improve economic-ecological models further: today these models can show the physical effects of the environmental impact of economic activities. But the last piece of that puzzle – how these negative environmental effects impact on the economy – needs to be further developed. And it is worth remembering that it is our roughly 200 million trade union members around the world and their families and friends who have real life experience in this matter.
- Improve the accounting procedures within firms, national budget and UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting to incorporate these negative economic effects of ecosystem degradation and resource depletion .
- Take regional differences into account between countries, and within countries. For people with low incomes who explicitly dependent on renewable natural resources, these issues can be a question of life and death. Environmental degradation can be fatal when it impacts on human health, the supply of basic-need-resources, food prices and livelihood margins.
As I have worked with these kinds of questions throughout my career, I asked to say something on behalf of TUAC early on in the discussion, and declared that:
- If it’s high economic costs that the OECD wants to find, it should focus on the effects on labour-productivity. As 60 per cent of GDP consists of compensation for work, it is the possible impact of environmental degradation on labour force participation and labour productivity that will produce big numbers in the analysis.
- Any effects that have a direct impact on human health – such as poor air quality, undrinkable water and contaminated food – should be a major priority, as this is what affects a worker’s ability to participate effectively at work.
- There are also things that can indirectly affect labour productivity, such as food, water and energy scarcity. As they become more scarce they become more expensive which means that the poorest households will not have the purchasing power to eat properly, which will certainly affect their health and work productivity.
In conclusion, I explained that the reason why trade unions always state the need for “green decent jobs, with good pay” is the same logic behind the OECD project.
It will become increasingly costly for the global economy if all jobs don’t soon become ‘green’ jobs; if working conditions don’t become more conducive to good health; and if salaries aren’t high enough to allow people to sustain themselves and their families.
My guess is that in the coming years, the OECD will come to the same conclusions as TUAC on these very issues.