Sustainable Development, Decent Work and Green Jobs

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June 2013
International Labour Organization (ILO)

This report addresses two of the defining challenges of the twenty-first century: achieving environmental sustainability and turning the vision of decent work for all into a reality. It shows that not only are both challenges urgent, but they are also intimately linked and will have to be addressed together. While it is certain that environmental degradation and climate change will increasingly require enterprises and labour markets to react and adjust, the goal of environmentally sustainable economies will not be attained without the active contribution of the world of work.

The environment and social development must no longer be treated as separate pillars of sustainable development, but rather as closely interrelated dimensions. Such an integrated approach turns the drive towards environmental sustainability into a significant avenue for development, with more and better jobs, social inclusion and poverty reduction. Positive outcomes are eminently possible; however, these require county-specific policies that seize the opportunities and address the challenges identified by integrating environmental, social and decent work elements and ensuring a smooth and just transition to sustainable economies. The opportunities for gains may in fact be greatest in developing countries and emerging economies.

It is now evident that a decisive turn away from the business as usual (BAU) policy scenario of “grow first and clean up later” is urgently needed. Most international policy institutions, among them the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have made urgent calls for a change of direction. The need for an integrated approach has been articulated further by the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 (Rio +20), which also highlighted decent work as a central goal and driver for sustainable development and a more environmentally sustainable economy.

The ILO and its constituents have a history of active engagement and support for sustainable development, and this new emphasis from the international community provides the ILO with a particularly important opportunity to advance its mission while contributing to environmentally sustainable economies. ILO constituents can leverage the momentum in the process of structural change towards sustainable production and consumption patterns for the large-scale creation of quality employment opportunities, the extension of adequate social protection, the advancement of social inclusion and the realisation of fundamental principles and rights – for current and future generations alike.

The publication contains case studies from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Hungary, India, Norway, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Uganda.