Sharan Burrow’s speech to the UN Climate Summit thematic session: "Climate, health and jobs".

photo: Photo: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Unions are committed to a zero carbon future. We know that climate action is the imperative of our age. Unions know that there are no jobs on a dead planet.

This is more than a rallying call for action. It describes the impact of climate change, a reality today for working people and their families.

In the words of a worker from Peru: Javier Castro says “El Niño cycles are impacting our fishing livelihoods. At the end of the fishing season of 2014 we caught only 50% of our fish quotas. We do not have enough income today and we cannot contribute enough for our tomorrow’s pensions.

What will happen when effects will exacerbate year after year due to climate change?

Working people, their families and their unions are increasing on the frontlines of fear with both historic levels of unemployment due to the devastation of the financial crisis and stagnant growth and now the increasing devastation of extreme weather events, changing seasons and other climate impacts.

The ITUC wants the world’s governments to agree on climate action and give us a fighting chance to limit the temperature rise to 2 degrees or less. Without political will we know WE are out of time.

Beyond a global agreement WE demand industrial transformation. Science tells us we need to urgently stabilise carbon emissions at 44 GigaTonnes. Business as usual gets us to 59 GigaTonnes by 2020. It doesn’t add up.

All our economic sectors must change. Workers and their unions demand to be part of a structured dialogue that ensures industrial transformation. All nations, alleople must have universal access to breakthrough technologies that will make our industries and our jobs sustainable for workers everywhere.

Our own research is 2010 showed us that climate action and jobs are possible - in just 12 countries in traditional industry sectors 2% investment for five years can generate 48 million new jobs, decent jobs, jobs with social protection.

In just one sector - worldwide, an estimated 5.7 million people were employed directly or indirectly in the global renewable-energy industry in 2012 – a figure that could triple by 2030.

And WE demand a just transition. We will not leave anyone behind. won commitments to ‘Just Transition’. Now we want to see the transition happen on the ground, including through investment in measure to drive new green jobs, to enhance skills and green existing jobs, in essential R&D and innovation, in income protection and community support measures and more. Emerging economies including Brazil, India, China and South Africa are taking direct social protection measures but we need universality. There must be adequate funding for the poorest and most vulnerable of nations.

This is critical as there will be some job losses and redeployment gaps as carbon-intensive industries give way to more sustainable businesses. Managing these losses is integral to ensuring a “just transition” to a climate-neutral economy.

The good news is that the seven most highly polluting industries, which account for 80% of CO2 emissions, employ just 10% of the labor force. Job growth in the low-carbon economy can easily compensate for these losses.

I was pleased to be a Commissioner for The New Climate Economy Report launched this week. It reinforces the imperative for action and it lays out the possibilities for a zero carbon future.

A price on carbon,

Enabling green infrastructure

Scaling up renewable energy - it is now affordable

An end to fossil fuel subsidies

Energy efficiency and low carbon plans essential for construction and industry

Agricultural productivity and reducing food wastage

New financial arrangements

Pooled technologies for universal access, and

Just transition measures.

It’s possible, it’s affordable; it means Jobs and healthier workplaces. It means pollution free cities and community renewal, it means a fighting chance for the planet. Now that’s worth fighting for!

Sharan Burrow
ITUC General Secretary