A just transition to an economy based on sustainable energy

Decent employment is the only reliable route to human security for millions of the world's poor. Unfortunately, most mitigation and adaptation measures, including a change to a sustainable energy economy, will have human security effects, decreasing vulnerability for some but increasing it for others who lack access to financial resources and technology, education and the key institutions - particularly political representation and access to power (O'Brien et al, 2007). As the 2006 Nairobi conference noted, however, 'Creating decent and secure jobs is possible only if environmental sustainability is attained; hence the need to embrace the poverty reduction and sustainable development goals contained in the Millennium Declaration and Johannesburg Plan of Implementation through the promotion of decent employment and environmental responsibility' (Global Unions, 2006b).

Such issues relate to the 'biofuel solution' to energy demand as large-scale investments are already taking land out of food production and diverting food grains, raising food prices and eroding biodiversity (McNeely, 2006).

They may also apply to some Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) under Kyoto that increase dislocation and exclude marginal sections of host communities, particularly large-scale water management and forestry projects (World Commission on Dams, 2000).

Since the earliest conferences and meetings of subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC, trade unions have consistently lobbied for 'just employment transition policies' so that workers would not have to suffer economic hardship or insecurity as a result of climate change or other environmental measures.

The ETUC renewed the call for adequate funding, negotiated with social partners to ensure that workers are both able to adapt and offered security, to include, as a minimum, adequate job forecast and skills management, a reconversion programme for workers from affected industries, and an income-support programme for periods of unemployment (ETUC, 2006, p14). Governments, it said, must take the lead, beginning with ratification of such ILO Conventions as C-122, the Employment Policy Convention or the 1974 ILO Resolution on the Social and Economic Consequences of Preventive Action, which calls for special arrangements for socio-economic consequences affecting workers.

The call for a 'just transition' has been taken up wherever trade unions joined the debate on climate change. Not only would such policies ensure an element of justice, they would build confidence and support for national efforts to address climate change (Global Unions, 2006b). As noted in their Nairobi Action Plan for Africa, action to engage workers and their communities in the development of climate change adaptation strategies is urgently required on that continent (Global Unions, 2006b).

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