Fifty-ninth session of the Commission for Social Development

Social protection floors for a just transition to the green and digital economy

Side Event: ILO in collaboration with the Government of Switzerland

News | 10 February 2021
The Side-Event on “Social protection floors for a just transition to the green and digital economy” at the 59th session of the Commission for Social Development, organized jointly by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN, the ILO, and partners of Universal Social Protection 2030, highlighted the essential role of social protection floors in the transition to the green and digital economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis in jobs and incomes throughout the world. Yet amidst this uncertainty, the digital economy has grown to new heights, and new opportunities have emerged to accelerate the transition to a green economy. However, these trends bring disruptions to labour markets, affecting millions of workers and their dependents. Some sectors will see job losses, others will see gains, and many workers will have to acquire new skills. In these times of rapid change, social protection floors will be essential to ensure a human-centered recovery from COVID-19 and a future of work that leaves no one behind.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen governments rely on social protection to protect public health, jobs and incomes. However, despite significant progress throughout the 20th century, social protection systems remain seriously inadequate and underfunded. Today 55 per cent of the world population – as many as 4 billion people – are unprotected. The dialogue, moderated by Ms. Shahra Razavi, Director, Social Protection Department, ILO, brought together representatives from governments, employers, workers, and development partners to discuss how social protection systems, including floors can effectively support the transition to greener economies and make societies more resilient to shocks.

Mr. Adrian Hauri, Deputy Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN, opened the session, and drew attention to the fact that overcoming the financing gap for social protection floors would be vital to ensure adequate support for people impacted by the digital and green transformation. In order to fulfil the global community’s commitments to extend coverage, developing countries would need to invest an additional US$1.2 trillion to close the annual financing gap of social protection. H.E. Ms. Valérie Berset Bircher, Ambassador, Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), State Secretariat of Economic Affairs SECO, Labour Directorate / International Labour Affairs, Switzerland, reiterated Switzerland’s support for the ILO’s Centenary Declaration, which calls for a human-centered approach to the future of work. She highlighted the important role social protection played in Switzerland and abroad in responding the COVID-19 crisis, and the need to build on these measures to create a sustainable and inclusive future of work.

H.E. Mrs. Colette Roberts Risden, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Jamaica, shared Jamaica’s experiences in responding and adapting to the changes precipitated by COVID-19. She highlighted the Government’s role in promoting social dialogue and improving delivery of social protection benefits through mainstreaming electronic payments to beneficiaries, and drew attention to the need for creative solutions to protect people in changing times, particularly given the increase in mental health issues in the age of COVID-19.
The main panel discussion explored how social protection floors can protect people and planet in a changing world. Adaptive or shock-responsive social protection floors reduce vulnerability, increase resilience, build social cohesion and stability in times of rapid change. They are also more cost effective than annual responses to humanitarian crises, as pointed out by Ms Aileen O’Donovan, Social Protection Policy Lead, Irish Aid. A concrete example of a climate linked social protection measure was provided by Mr. Sunya Orre, Director of Technical Services, National Drought Management Authority, Kenya, who presented the Hunger & Safety Net Programme, which uses early warning indicators for drought that also serve as triggers to deliver cash transfers to vulnerable households. He stressed the need for developing countries to build the requisite infrastructure and to earmark funds to address climate vulnerability.

Social protection floors protect those affected by digital transformation and the transition towards the green economy, whilst facilitating these transitions, as pointed out by Ms. Montserrat Mir Roca, Senior Advisor for the Just Transition Centre, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Former ETUC Confederal Secretary Representative. She underscored that a just transition is impossible without social protection, which must be available to all workers regardless of status. Mr. Elkebir Alaoui, Deputy Resident Representative, Programme, UNDP Senegal, shared a concrete example, explaining how UNDP had managed to combine climate adaptation, the digital economy, and social protection in a small-scale agricultural project for marginalized women in the Mbao Forest in Senegal. He underlined that such success stories laid the groundwork for scaling up efforts in collaboration with national governments.

Ms. Katharina Diekmann, Technical Advisor, Social Protection, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), pointed out the need to secure global funding for social protection, and to further strengthen and coordinate efforts with disaster risk financing mechanisms. Mr. Robert Marinkovic, Adviser for SDGs and the Green Economy, International Organisation for Employers (IOE), stressed the need for social protection systems, including floors, to develop the right incentives for informal economy workers to formalize and thus increase the funding base.

The session concluded that well-designed social protection systems, including floors, are a crucial tool to ensure a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, to support workers affected by the digital transformation, and to facilitate a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all. This will require a new level of investment, leveraging the power of partnerships, capacities and technologies, and based on the principles of social dialogue, accountability and solidarity.