The Concept of Just Transition: Resolving Implications of Climate Change through International Labour Standards

By Geetashree Kurup

Climate change and its negative implications has been the crux of  discussions at many international and national forums. However, till today climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies are yet to achieve clarity and proper channelization. Nevertheless, one cannot blame the structural measures in battling against the repercussions of climate change, as the issue of climate change is cross-sectional and involves a set of its own intricacies. Besides such complexities, there is however a concurrence on how changes in the climate have been majorly a result of human activity. In fact, as per the world scientists, 100 percent of global warming is apprehended as a contribution of human activity.

In the wider spectrum of such human activity, it is evident that much of the contribution to climate change is industrial and is derived from the employment sector of the nations. For instance, if there were no usage of plastic covers in packaging products in the market, and instead there were alternative biodegradable covers in use, the disposal and environmental effects from the same could be curbed at the very onset. Such a transition to an ecologically friendly economy and the market is not only relevant for the environment but also has larger consequences. The subject matter of climate change has an oceanic focal point, the effects of which are not just on the natural flora and fauna but also on social and economic equity. It will therefore, not be wrong to say that if the issue of climate change remains unaddressed, then it will not only lead to a mass clearance of resources and species but also lead to colossal and abject poverty due to global warming and other uncertain natural calamities. This holds true for industries fiercely dependent on natural resources like the energy sector, agriculture, land and forestry on which more than 50 percent of the Indian workforce is dependent. Ironically, these are the same sectors which also contribute to major greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Therefore, to put it in concise terms – the working of labour forces and climate change are cyclically interrelated. Similarly, if working of the labour force is funnelled into introducing greener and alternative technologies in the respective sectors, not only will the employment in most of these Indian sectors flourish but also the climate will be positively mitigated to a stable and sustainable place.

This epiphany concerning the growth of Sustainable development with the Socio-economic development was first documented and established as the three pillars at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro in the year 1992. Later, in an effort to shape these three pillars as a reality, in the year 2008 the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) drafted and launched the report Green Jobs: Towards Decent work in a Sustainable, Low- Carbon World. The report has made an important contribution to understanding the challenges associated with the transition to so-called “green jobs” worldwide. The term “just transition” is explained as a shift in the process that is constant with social justice and equity. However, such a transition cannot take place unless there are other supportive factors i.e. good governance and policy coherence.

farmer, wheat, crop

Having a labour policy inclusive of safe and welfare-based work culture, with usage of alternative eco-friendly technologies, trained workers and effective public participation will lead to satisfactory results both in terms of climate change stability and flourishment of the employment sector.

So, in moulding just transition, good governance and policy coherence into one union, the states require to effectively strengthen the application of international labour standards imbibed with environmentally sound policies in their municipal legislations. Some of the relevant conventions of International labour Organisations in the context are as follows (1):

a)    Convention No.148 on the Working Environment in Industries (Air Pollution, Noise and Vibration), 1977: It lays emphasis on the issue of air pollution at workplace and adoption of alternative machineries and technologies.

b)      Chemicals Convention No.170, 1990: covers the disposal of hazardous chemicals at workplace and its handling to preserve the environment.

c)      The Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents Convention No.174, 1993: It obligates member states of the ILO to “formulate, implement and periodically review a clear national policy concerning the protection of workers, the public and the environment against the hazard of major accidents, in a way encouraging the promotion of the use of best available safe technologies.”

d)      The Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention No.184, 2001: It aims at providing workers in the agriculture sector with the right to safe workplace and lays importance on safety and health culture in the same characterized by its predominantly hazardous nature.

e)      Convention No. 142 on Human Resources Development,1975: It provides that the member states shall: “adopt and develop comprehensive and coordinated policies and programmes of vocational guidance and vocational training, closely allied with employment, in particular through public employment services.”

f)       Convention No. 144 on Tripartite Consultation,1976: Through this convention, ILO encourages tripartite cooperation between Government, employers and employees. Such that on matters related to the implementation of ILO standards it provides guidelines on how to set up consultative procedures and structures and highlight the participation of the three constituents in this work.

With reference to the Conventions mentioned above, states like India necessarily needs a strong labour policy. India is yet to ratify most of the conventions mentioned above. Currently, considering the severity of climate change’s impact on industries like agriculture (drought, soil erosion et al.), the work culture in many of the establishments are vulnerable. Because of low productivity, the workers have been left with barely any decent standards of living. Having a labour policy inclusive of safe and welfare-based work culture, with usage of alternative eco-friendly technologies, trained workers and effective public participation will lead to satisfactory results both in terms of climate change stability and flourishment of the employment sector.

In fact, in many European Countries, researchers at the European Trade Union Institute have developed a new instrument called the European Participation Index (EPI) to measure the all-round development of industries with the intention of scrutinizing the link between worker’s involvement, social unison, economic performance and sustainable development. The Index displays that establishments situated in countries that recognise a greater participation of labour-force operates more in coherence with the social and ecological objectives, and as a result has had a valuable effect on European states as a whole.

Currently, India is still at crossroads with finances and unskilled labour. If these factors are addressed sooner, the workplace environment is estimated to showcase decent growth with a positive effect on climate change. Not to mention that the route to ‘just transition’ has its own challenges, but diving down this path can lead to a set of positive outcomes. An effective labour policy with a strong enforcement mechanism, thus, can be safely equated to “precautionary principle” and can possibly be an effective means to achieve the goals of sustainable development in contemporary times.


(1) Lene Olsen, The employment effects of climate change and climate change responses: a role for International Labour Standards; International Labour Office, Geneva: ILO, 2009 (GURN discussion paper; no.12)



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