Investing in climate action is an imperative to secure jobs

Corporate greed from a small number of self-interested companies has again won out, with the decision by US President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Marginalising a nation, placing risk on responsible companies and constraining sustainable jobs for American workers is a high price to pay.

For unions as representatives of workers the consequences are obvious. There are no jobs on a dead planet and we are already witnessing the loss of lives and livelihoods due to climate impact. Hence, investment in climate action is an imperative to secure jobs and a sustainable future.

And the world’s people understand. The ITUC Global Poll this year reveals that 85 percent of the world’s people say the world would be a better place if their government were more committed to action on climate change.

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO has made it clear that pulling out of the Paris climate agreement is a decision to abandon a cleaner future powered by good jobs.

And I agree with Richard that the deteriorating environment is not the only thing at stake here. When America is isolated from the rest of the world, it hurts their ability to raise incomes for working families and achieve fairness in the global economy.

The U.S. labor movement will continue to urge the United States to stay in the agreement so we can achieve the best outcomes for America’s workers and they have our support.

The global momentum is unstoppable. At the start of 2016, there was US$22.89 trillion of assets being professionally managed under responsible investment strategies, an increase of 25 percent since 2014 according to the Global Sustainable Investment Review (2016).

And between 2000 and 2014 employment and value added in the environmental economy in Europe grew faster than employment in the economy overall.

Even in the US, the solar and wind sectors created jobs 12 times faster than in the rest of the economy.

The EU and China move forward

And now we see the strong commitment of the EU and China as they underline their highest political commitment to the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement in all its aspects. They say that stepping up action will provide both sides with significant opportunities for modernising their economies, enhancing competitiveness, and ensuring the socio-economic benefits of increased clean energy access.

The EU fully stands behind the collective mobilisation goal for developed countries to jointly provide USD 100 billion annually by 2020, and urges other developed country Parties to stand behind this collective goal. Some US companies are now pledging to help fill the fund the gap caused by a US withdrawal.

Speaking of climate denial within the Australian government, Jim Barry, the head of Blackrock’s global infrastructure investment group told the Australian Financial Review:

“It’s been amusing sitting back and watching Australia from afar because in effect it’s been denying gravity. Coal is dead.That’s not to say all the coal plants are going to shut tomorrow. But anyone who’s looking to take beyond a 10-year view on coal is gambling very significantly.”

This is no different in the US or elsewhere, and oil and gas will follow on a slightly slower time frame than coal. The tragedy for workers and their families in coal communities is that the investment is shifting, and the US government along with almost all governments including Australia have not invested in sustainable industrial futures for them.

Unions around the world demand transparent plans for just transition for these workers. Their clear commitment by governments in the Paris Agreement to give workers, including those depending on the fossil fuel economy, a key role in developing a Just Transition strategy, must not be undermined by the US announcement.

The industries of today are the foundations for the industries of tomorrow but the next 15 years will be critical. And while the opportunities for jobs are significant so too are the challenges.

In order to have a chance to stay as far below the 2°C limit as possible, emissions must be reduced to zero as soon as can be achieved. Entire economic sectors must transform their carbon footprint to reach that goal. If we are to live within planetary boundaries, all economic activity has to contribute to realising a circular economy – one that reduces waste, reuses and recycles.

Energy, transport, construction, industry, agriculture, services – all sectors hold opportunities. But we cannot afford or allow stranded workers and stranded communities. The Paris Agreement recognises this and further requires that just transition, jobs and rights be embedded in planning and realised in implementation.

Unions and sensible business will stand together in the interests of a sustainable future. Meeting climate targets and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) opens up enormous employment opportunities and ensures health and wellbeing. It is not therefore about choosing between jobs and environmental and climate protection, but managing a Just Transition towards a new sustainable economy, guaranteeing that it is not workers and their communities who pay for the change.

The US administration’s decision is simply wrong.