Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation: “There are no jobs on a dead planet”

17 December 2015

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation

LONDON: The positive economic benefits of climate action make a compelling business case for many corporations. But it is the effects on the world’s workforce from a changing climate that is also difficult to ignore for forward-looking businesses. Climate TV speaks to Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, to explore what impact global emission reduction targets and extreme weather will have on jobs, and how industries will readjust to the fast-growing low carbon economy.

With the Paris Agreement coming out of COP21 last weekend signalling the end of the fossil fuel era, what will the low carbon energy transition mean for national employment and trade around the world?

Stating simply that "there are no jobs on a dead planet" and that "workers are on the front line of climate change", Sharan Burrow believes the move from fossil-based energy sources to renewables is an imperative that will continue to evolve over the coming years.

Pinpointing that there are "hundreds of thousands of jobs" already in renewables and that low carbon investment is "outstripping" fossil fuels, she said to Climate TV before COP21: "The industries of 2015 will be the industries of the next decade, and the decade after that until the end of the century.

"They’ll change, the energy mix will change. The use and reuse of materials, so our workplaces become green waste centers: that’s an imperative. So, yes there are challenges, and we want a just transition."

For those already working within the fossil fuel energy sector though, it is about making sure they are "given security on the timeframe" of which they can be reassured by businesses, national and local governments that they will have jobs, whether it is after deployment or via training.

"Energy companies face a choice. They can actually set themselves up for the transition. They can have a plan with 2020, 2030, 2050 targets to get to that zero carbon future. As they transition to renewables and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, then they’ve actually got a natural capacity to transition their workforce."

She adds: "There’s no doubt that many of our children will work in energy, but it won’t be in fossil fuels."

Sharan Burrow explains what the Trade Union Confederation wanted the climate negotiations in Paris to entail in order for a strong employment force to continue, in particular in the energy sector: "We want to see increased ambition from governments, and we want to see action before 2020. We want to see that they agree to the mechanism of review.

"If it’s not mandatory in the agreement that there will be a review of ambition or a review of progression, then the INDCs or national pledges that governments are making will lead us at this point, to a 3-4°C world; and that’s devastating."

Talking about financing this global renewable energy transition, Sharan Burrow advises: "This is a matter of trust, as well as a matter of imperative. The poorer countries need to see that this is a shared ambition."

She concludes by underlining how all jobs should be part of the unfolding low carbon energy transition: "We have the new workers, the workers who are in new forms of renewable energy or enterprises, that are indeed carbon neutral.

"And we are organizing those and we have the workers in the fossil fuel industry who deserve our respect, they deserve absolute recognition that they have brought us the prosperity of today and we want all of those workers to be part of a just transition."

  • You can watch more of our exclusive video interviews with climate leaders and experts by following the hashtag #ClimateTV on social media.

Text by Gabriella Romano, video by Ilario D'Amato

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