Climate Change and Labour: Interview with Lene Olsen

The Bureau for workers’ activities (ACTRAV) has published the issue of its International Journal of Labour Research, devoted to sustainable development. At this occasion, the Specialist on Workers’ Activities, Lene Olsen gave somes explanations...

Press release | 24 March 2011

ACTRAV INFO: You are ACTRAV’s focal point for the work on sustainable development and environment and involved in the International Journal of Labour Research’s issue on Climate change and labour: The need for a “just transition”. Why did you choose this theme?

Lene OLSEN: Research on the impact and consequences of climate change has exploded in recent years. However, not all aspects have been covered equally. More research is needed to be carried out under the social dimension of climate change, especially in relation to how this dimension is linked to the economic and environmental issues. Climate change is one of the most challenging issues facing trade unions today and they have been working very hard to put the issue of employment and the role of workers at the centre of climate change policy debates at both national and international levels. Together with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Bureau for Workers’ Activities in the ILO (ACTRAV) organized a workshop in the framework of the Global Union Research Network (GURN) in March 2010 on this issue. Researchers both from trade unions and academia gathered to discuss employment aspects of climate change, and the papers in this issue of the International Journal of Labour Research are based on articles presented and discussed in that workshop.

ACTRAV INFO: Why is the issue of “just transition” so important for trade unions?

Lene OLSEN: The issue of “just transition” is at the heart of the engagement of trade unions in dealing with climate change. It is a precondition for a sustainable transition towards a low carbon future and not only for trade unions. As Anabella Rosemberg says it in her article: “The Just Transition framework is a package of policy proposals which addresses the different aspects related to the vulnerability of workers and their communities: uncertainties regarding job impacts, risks of job losses, risks of undemocratic decision-making processes, risks of regional or local economic downturn, among others.” At the COP16 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun, December 2010, the commitment to workers' rights, just transition and decent work was confirmed for the first time in the UNFCCC process -- much because of trade unions work related to inclusion of these issues.

ACTRAV INFO: So, what does the publication tell us about “just transition”?

Lene OLSEN: First of all, it gives an historical overview of the concept, its definition and evolution. Secondly, it provides some tools to help make it a reality. I am especially thinking of the work of the ILO and the use of its International Labour Standards which I believe are crucial for the social dimension of the transition to a low carbon society. Finally, it provides several examples on what is being done in different countries and sectors to address the transition to a greener economy. The article on greening the offshore energy sector in the North Sea addresses for instance the transfer of skills from the offshore oil sector to renewable sectors such as wind, waves and tides. In safeguarding already existing skills and competences that have been acquired in the oil sector, transition policies would help maintain jobs and social cohesion. Examples of positive transition measures are important and can provide ideas for implementation elsewhere.

ACTRAV INFO: Some of the articles in the publication address several research gaps in relation to climate change and employment. Have you made any thoughts about how to fill these gaps?

Lene OLSEN: Yes, as the workshop we organized last year did also aim at identifying these gaps and discuss how we could go about them, we have planned to organize a similar research workshop through GURN also this year. Some of the gaps that have already been identified can be found in the article “Building a Just Transition: The linkages between climate change and employment”. We have found gaps both in relation to geography, sectors, working conditions and vulnerable groups. We are currently having discussions with the international trade union movement on the issues to deal with and will soon send out another call for papers in this regard.

For more information, contact:


Specialist on Workers’ Activities

Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV)

Phone: +41 22 799 65 37

E-mail: olsen[at]ilo[dot]org