International Mother Earth Day 2022

Jobs and a just transition for all in a healthy planet

On the occasion of the International Mother Earth Day of 22 April, the ILO, together with the Geneva Environment Network, hosted an event to highlight the nexus between environment sustainability and decent work, which was co-sponsored by Sweden.

News | 26 April 2022
The event “Jobs and a just transition for all in a healthy planet”, taking place virtually on the morning (10:00–11:30 CEST) of 22 April, brought together about 80 participants. Experts from UN agencies, workers’ and employer’s organizations and private sectors shared and exchanged insights on the employment implications of a wide range of pressing global environmental challenges, from a global regulation on plastics to the development of circular economies, changing food systems, land and biodiversity, and the ocean and blue economy.

This is the first Mother Earth Day celebrated within the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet and its people. Our jobs and businesses depend on a healthy planet. Our future depends on a just transition to a carbon and resource efficient economy.

As part of the Geneva Stockholm+50 Dialogues, the event represents a milestone in the engagement of actors in the world of work towards Stockholm+50, a crucial international environmental meeting taking place in June this year to commemorate the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.

In line with the theme of Stockholm+50 – “a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity”, experts considered the current and future global environmental challenges and their impact on the world of work, and how to promote environmental actions with decent work and just transition for all.

The Ambassador of Stockholm+50, H.E. Johanna LISSINGER PEITZ from Ministry of the Environment of Sweden opened the event. Amb. LISSINGER PEITZ stated that jobs and a just transition will be at the heart of the conversation at Stockholm+50. “Investing in the planet is investing in people. Stockholm+50 is about a healthy planet for the prosperity of all. It’s about seizing the opportunity and taking responsibility on the issue of jobs and a just transition,” said the Ambassador.

Mr Moustapha Kamal GUEYE, Global Coordinator of ILO Green Jobs Programme and moderator of the event kicked off the panel discussion noting that “the responsibility towards the natural environment goes with the challenges and opportunities to improve human wellbeing, advance social justice and promote a decent work for all. Preserving and restoring the natural assets that underpin economic activity and human livelihoods can lead to more and better jobs, with a just transition for all.”

Ms Brenda KOEKKOEK, Programme Manager of Circle of Excellence on Plastic Pollution of UN Environment Programme, started the discussion with a reference to the recent landmark UN Environment Assembly Resolution on End Plastic Pollution and its link to the world of work. She said that “the inclusion of the informal sector is a key feature of this resolution, signalling the importance to consider the sector’s role and contributions. We need the informal sector to be influencers in the plastic process, to deliver their voices from the frontline.” She noted that the global momentum around the plastics treaty can generate solutions that are not only good for the planet but also benefit local communities through creating jobs and improving health and livelihoods.

In the discussion regarding the sustainability of food systems, Ms Helena WRIGHT, Policy Director of FAIRR Initiative, identified the main challenges currently facing food systems, particularly the meat industry’s climate risk, automation, and food security. These challenges can become opportunities for creating decent jobs if managed well. She referred to an ILO study which argued that zero emission economy could lead to 15 million new jobs by 2030 in Latin America and Caribbean. She stressed that “agricultural policy must enable a ‘just transition’ towards net zero - which will build a more robust, resilient, and healthier global food system.”

Mr Arab HOBALLAH, Executive Director of SEED - Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development, further elaborated on this area by explaining circularity in food systems and the critical importance of responsible production and consumption, as one third of the world's food is wasted or lost. He emphasized the role of SMEs in tackling environmental and social problems at the local level. “A just transition for all in a healthy planet cannot be achieved without the active involvement of the SMEs; however, their potential is largely untapped and their capacity as drivers of innovations that secure local jobs, protect ecosystems and enhance local resilience, needs to be seriously enabled and empowered,” he said.

The maritime sector is among those that are most affected by climate change. A just transition maritime task force has been recently set up with the UN Global Compact. Ms Martha SELWYN, Manager for Ocean and Climate at the UN Global Compact, outlined the main environmental issues the sector is facing and how they are affecting workers and businesses. She mentioned that the sector is working towards the future of green fuels, net-zero emission vessels and resilient ports with climate mitigation and adaptation. The reskilling and upskilling of the workers affected are crucial in this process to ensure a just transition. She said that “decarbonizing the global economy to reach net-zero emissions will fundamentally change the way the sector operates. It will be key that those affected by the change are involved in shaping it, whether in the workplace, their local communities or in national policy.”

Social dialogue is at the heart of just transition principles. The event also looked at the environmental challenges and their employment implications from the workers’ and employers’ perspectives. Mr Bert DE WEL, Climate Policy Officer at International Trade Union Confederation, highlighted the crisis of inequality worsened by the climate crisis. “We need Just Transition policies based on social dialogue that invest in decent jobs, social protection and skills development to tackle both issues,” he said.

Mr Robert MARINKOVIC, Adviser for Climate and Green Economy of International Organisation of Employers, reflected on the challenges of businesses in balancing economic and environmental responsibilities and called for systemic change to support and incentivise sustainable and responsible conduct. He underlined the reality that “the drive to make products accessible and cheap leads to unsustainable cost-cutting options. Companies grapple with the issue of producing high quality products sustainably, as economic system does not allow to do so. We need to modify the system so that the private sector can adapt.”

The event concluded with a common view that multilateralism is indispensable to resolve current global environmental problems, and that the resolution adopted recently at the UN Environment Assembly to initiate global negotiations for a binding agreement to end plastic pollution demonstrates that multilateralism can work. However, processes must be inclusive, enabling the full and effective engagement of governments, social partners, and all relevant actors, including those in the informal economy, and be based on social dialogue.

More action is needed at the local level to achieve transformative impact at speed and scale through local value chains, community engagement and the critical role of SMEs. Systemic solutions are required in the following areas: repurposing support to agriculture which includes addressing the question of inefficient subsidies for sustainable food systems, aligning finance and increasing accessibility for small companies, transforming the shipping and maritime industry for the emergence of a blue economy, harnessing the creative disruption offered by the digital and technological age, and transitioning to a circular economy that produces smarter and better with lower environmental footprint. Systemic change on all these fronts is essential to tackle the environmental challenges associated with growing inequality, poverty and exclusion, such that in the lead up to and at Stochkholm+50, the world can better connect the agenda for decent work and social justice with a healthy planet. Sotckholm+50 can build upon a range of emerging initiatives including the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for a Just Transition to accelerate the pace of implementation.

The recording of the event is availabe here.