Ensuring a just transition

There are no jobs on a dead planet. Workers are committed to seeing through the urgent action that is needed. That is why the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), representing 207 million workers in 163 countries and territories, has established climate justice and industrial transformation as one of its three frontline priorities.

Societies cannot continue to sweep environmental and social violations under the carpet of economic growth. The options on the table are clear: continue with siloed efforts, or deepen collaboration among different sectors of society to find common and lasting solutions. When governments signed the 2030 Agenda, it was clear that they voiced support for a holistic approach. The upcoming High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development will be an important marker of which path we are truly taking.

Nothing less than transformation is needed on the environmental, the social and the economic front.

There are promising signs. Examples of just transition, which have brought employers and workers together in a joint effort to switch to more sustainable practices, are yielding results.

The energy sector has been the laboratory for consolidating a scalable approach. One example comes from Port Augusta, a remote part of Australia. Anticipating its closure, the workers in coal-fired power stations, took their plan for jobs and solar thermal power to the state and federal governments, and to global energy giants in France and the United States. It was not an easy undertaking but workers are now able to retain jobs, produce sustainable energy on which their whole community relies and have a say in the planning for retraining, relocation and redeployment.

A colossal industrial transformation

Working people are the interface for much of society’s relationships with the environment. The wealth of experience around how to effectively and sustainably determine methods of production must be put to use. The scale of the industrial transformation needed is colossal but feasible. We will need to fight for investment in new and redesigned jobs, skills training, redeployment, income guarantees and secure pensions. That is why social dialogue and collective bargaining are central components of the just transition, delivering socio-economic results that work better for everyone, building consensus and easing policy implementation.

By backing the Just Transition Centre, the ITUC has built bridges with business and governments. It has provided a platform to build alliances, share best practice and, crucially, to launch new initiatives from the local to the national level.

However, examples of just transition remain the exception rather than the rule. If we are to realise the full potential of its contribution, this approach needs to urgently be scaled up.

Governments, with their convening power, have a leading role to play in ensuring that the losses from past transitions, that have left people behind, often with intergenerational unemployment and the breakdown in social and political trust, are not repeated.

In the build up to the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, trade unions undertake yearly country reports on SDG implementation, with a focus on transparency, consultation and social dialogue. The findings paint a contrasting picture on genuine inclusivity that is yielding steady results. As highlighted in the ITUC Global Rights’ Index, democratic space for workers is shrinking. The transformation that we seek must address these structural issues concerning how decision-making takes place.