Just transition must take workers on board and demand accountability from businesses

The general secretary of the ITUC, Sharan Burrow, called for serious commitment from governments as well as industry and investors to deliver on transition plans that put people at the centre. This call was issued during her discussion in the session “Sustainable and Just Transition” held on Thursday 28 April in the frame of the 2022 ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development.

Ms Burrow participated as a panel discussant along with Egypt’s minister of finance, Mohamed Maait; the secretary-general of the International Organisation of Employers, Roberto Suárez; and the vice chair of the Supervisory Board of the European Central Bank, Frank Elderson. The session was moderated by Guy Ryder, the director-general of the International Labour Organization.

The reality of the convergence of simultaneous crises framed Burrow’s discussion: “Even before the pandemic, we were facing stark levels of inequality and a climate emergency. The pandemic showed us that those ‘fractures’ actually are ‘craters’ in a world where division is extraordinarily wide between those who are at risk and those who have security.”

Burrow insisted that putting people and the planet at the centre of crisis response means prioritising the world of work and ensuring that all jobs are climate-friendly. She underlined that responding to the climate emergency is at the front of the trade union call for a New Social Contract, whose first demand is the creation of decent, climate-friendly jobs with just transition.

On this, Burrow reminded participants that the Paris Agreement is very clear about “the imperative of a just transition for the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs”. These three points are fundamental to building the trust of security that people want to see in order to support the necessary transition towards more sustainable patterns of work and production. This also requires that all the industries commit to transitioning to a net-zero future as well as to fostering social dialogue, since it “has been proven to be a powerful tool in those industries that are making the transition”.

Against the risk that climate instability could trigger as many as one billion refugees for every percentage rise in temperature, Ms Burrow underlined the importance of investing in resilience, which implies investing in care, sustainable infrastructure and social protection.

Regarding the world’s capacity to finance a successful sustainable transition, Ms Burrow called for improving existing instruments for fiscal space, debt management and increased development cooperation.

These actions, however, must be underpinned by transparency and accountability from all stakeholders, particularly governments, businesses and investors.

Ms Burrow concluded by explaining that it was important not to repeat the damage done by vaccine nationalism during the fight against Covid-19. She urged governments to strengthen multilateralism around knowledge and technology sharing, or “we will put our very existence as human beings at risk to the extent where we face an existential crisis,” she said, pointing out clearly that “it is in our hands to act.”