World Environment Day

Raise your voice, not the sea level

Message by Guy Ryder Director-General of the ILO on the occasion of World Environment Day

Statement | 05 June 2014
Climate change is real and has begun to take a serious and rising toll on economies, well-being and human lives. Over the last decade, erratic weather patterns and extreme weather events have destroyed infrastructure, disrupted business activity, destroyed jobs and livelihoods and killed people around the world on an unprecedented scale.

The world of work has cause to worry.

Nowhere are the impacts more dramatic and more threatening than in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). They are extremely exposed through their location in regions prone to tropical storms, their topography with low-lying land and sweet water resources threatened by salt water infiltration. The sectors on which their economies rely and which employ their workforce are those most affected by climate change such as tourism, agriculture and fisheries. Many SIDS lack the resources to build the necessary defences. Even those that can are only buying time as sea levels continue to rise. For many SIDS, climate change has already become an existential threat.

What is happening in the SIDS and in a number of other exposed countries like Bangladesh and Philippines today is a harbinger of the potential damage most countries are facing with the global warming of more than 20 Centigrade by the end of the century towards which the world is currently drifting. Studies by the ILO and other authorities such as the OECD and the World Bank have unanimously concluded that unchecked – and possibly irreversible – climate change will increasingly and massively undercut economic growth and jobs.

A different future with much better prospects for development and jobs is possible. The greening of economies presents many opportunities to achieve social objectives: it has the potential to be a new engine of growth, both in advanced and developing economies, and a net generator of decent green jobs that can contribute significantly to poverty eradication and social inclusion.

The greening of enterprises and jobs and the promotion of green jobs will foster a competitive, low-carbon, environmentally sustainable economy and contribute to the fight against climate change. It can enhance the resilience of vulnerable countries and communities. Managed well, transitions to environmentally and socially sustainable economies can become a strong driver of job creation, job upgrading, social justice and poverty eradication.

The ILO and its constituents around the world have raised their voice. The message is loud and clear: Sustainable development is only possible with the active engagement of the world of work. The actors in the world of work – governments, employers and workers – are not passive bystanders, but rather agents of change, who are able to develop new ways of working that safeguard the environment for present and future generations, eradicate poverty and promote social justice by fostering sustainable enterprises and creating decent work for all.

Their voices and their engagement are needed more than ever at this crucial juncture. Over the next 18 months governments must conclude a new global agreement on climate change. The world of work needs to weigh in on policy-making and on greening and climate resilience in enterprises and workplaces. The ILO’s role in the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable development path will be the single factor which would most clearly distinguish the Organization’s second century of activity from its first.