Cornell University

Cornell Global Labor Institute

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International Climate Jobs Conference

December 4

Climate Jobs Sign

Demand for Climate Jobs Grows at UN Climate Meetings in Durban, South Africa

Trade Unions, Civil Society Organizations and Social Movements Support Creation of Public Sector Climate Jobs Programs to Address the Economic and Environmental Crises

In response to the global economic and jobs crisis and the need to drastically reduce emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change, an International Climate Jobs Conference was held Sunday, December 4 in Durban, South Africa.  More than 500 people gathered for the conference, “Cool it with Peoples Power:  1 Million Climate Jobs Now!  The conference coincided with the UN climate negotiations (COP 17) and was sponsored by the One Million Climate Jobs coalitions of the UK and South Africa, the Public and Services Union (UK), the University and College Union (UK) and the Cornell Global Labor Institute (US).

The conference highlighted the 1 Million Climate Jobs campaigns recently launched in the UK and South Africa, and discussed the need to create millions of good, union jobs in sustainable transportation, residential and commercial building retrofitting, renewable energy, energy efficiency and local food, waste and composting systems to address the climate crisis.

Drawing on speakers from the North America, Europe and Latin America, the conference explored the potential to implement and advance Climate Jobs programs in other countries.  A number of trade union and social movement organizations participated in the conference, including the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), National Union of Mine Workers (NUM), South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU), Trade Union Congress (TUC, UK), International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Transport Workers Union (TWU, US), LAN – ITF (Argentina – Aviation), Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (NUME, Norway), La Via Campesina (LVC), Jobs with Justice (US), groundWork and Bus Riders Union (US). 

A major theme that emerged from the conference is that public, direct-hire jobs programs, similar to the U.S. New Deal approach of the 1930s, are needed to address the current climate and jobs crises.  The pace and scale of work needed to transition to a low-carbon economy is massive, as is the number of jobs that need to be created to address the current jobs crisis.  A public, direct-hire jobs program would initiate a “jobs-led” economic recovery rather than the “jobless recovery” that most countries have been experiencing since the financial crisis of 2008. 

In contrast to private-sector, market-driven approaches to job creation and climate change, public direct-hire programs have proven to be a very effective and affordable method for governments to put unemployed people back to work in ways that meet important social and environmental priorities.  Many conference participants argued that, on their own, private sector, market-driven approaches to job creation and climate change, like tax breaks and other fiscal stimulus strategies, are not nearly ambitious enough in terms of their scope and speed of job creation and emissions reductions.

Facing unemployment levels approaching 40%, 40 South African trade unions and civil society organizations launched a Climate Jobs campaign in 2011.  Initial research by the South African One Million Jobs campaign shows that more than 3 million new climate jobs can be created in South Africa.  The campaign has called on the South African government to create or oversee the creation of at least 1 million climate jobs. 

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) has taken a lead role in campaigning for a climate jobs program for the South African transport sector.  Jane Barrett, Policy Officer at SATAWU, articulated SATAWU’s plan to create 460,000 new transport jobs at the conference.  SATAWU’s plans for climate job creation include:  shifting 10% of car commuters to public transport to create 70,000 jobs and reduce pollution by 24 Mt per year; expanding rail freight by 18% to create 8,208 jobs; and expanding South African owned and controlled ships to create 30,000 jobs, as well as a number of indirect jobs in construction and manufacturing activities. 

In addition to job creation and greenhouse gas reductions, Barrett pointed out that SATAWU’s climate jobs plan has a number of other benefits, including improving working conditions, increasing access to affordable and convenient transport for working people, less congestion, and decreasing road crashes and related fatalities.

Speakers from the U.S. included Roger Toussaint (Transport Workers’ Union), Francisca Porchas (Bus Riders’ Union), and Sean Sweeney (Cornell Global Labor Institute).

In the U.S., during the 1930s, government programs like the Works Progress Administration and Civic Works Administration created 11.4 million jobs that helped pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression.  These jobs were focused on socially-necessary work, like building schools, hospitals and parks, advancing communications, energy and waste systems, and initiating art and music projects in disadvantaged communities.  Speakers at the conference emphasized that millions of jobs are needed to transition the world to a low-carbon economy with massive expansion of renewable energy, public transportation, energy grid advancements, energy efficient industry, buildings and vehicles, zero waste systems, and much more.

A recent analysis of President Obama’s $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) found that it saved or created 3 to 4 million jobs.  However, it has been estimated that a public, direct hire program could create 1 million direct and 414,000 indirect jobs with an investment of only $46.4 billion.  Furthermore, having 1 million people working instead of being unemployed would generate additional government revenue and savings that would reduce the total cost of the program to $28.6 billion per million jobs. 

One Million Climate Jobs Pamphlet

One Million Climate Jobs - South Africa

Million Climate Jobs Campaign- South Africa (SATAWU presentation)

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