The UN Sustainable Development Goals are an international blueprint for a future that harmonises economic growth, environmental stewardship and social justice. As the principal provider of livelihoods and security, the world of work is a key forum and crucial enabler for the SDGs. As the world looks to Glasgow and the COP26 conference, we need to take the SDGs as guiding principles to realise the opportunities and responsibilities that lie in leveraging the world of work for the fight against climate change.
In the third publication of the Adecco Group’s ongoing series on SDGs and the World of Work, we shift our focus to the inherent connections between the world of work and our common ambition and duty to fight climate change, as characterised by SDG 7 ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’, SDG 9 ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure’, and SDG 13 ‘Climate Action’.
The challenge ahead: Transforming the global economy
The IPCC’s recent Sixth Assessment Report on climate change paints a clear picture: it unequivocally names human activity as the reason for climate change and provides more details than ever before about the possible futures that lie ahead for the climate.
The report also tells us that we are not out of options yet. If we are to prevent the worse and worst-case scenarios for global temperature increase, we need to halve emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Net zero emissions mean that we remove all man-made greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, thus allowing the climate to stabilise. The IPCC concludes that we still have a chance to act, but it needs to be now, and it needs to be no less than transforming the global economy entirely.
The science is clear: the time to act is about to run out and current efforts as expressed as Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement are insufficient. COP26 needs to result in more ambitious, resolute climate action with corresponding investments. The labour markets and their skills landscape can and should be at the heart of this as they bring together those that hold the keys to a green and just transition: Governments, Employers, and Workers.
SDG 7 - How do we get back on track?
As the single largest contributor to global emissions, the energy sector in particular must be fundamentally transformed and decarbonised. SDG 7 seeks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all and as such is a centrepiece of the global framework to tackle climate change.
Regrettably, though, we are not on track to achieve SDG7. In addition, the impact of Covid-19 has caused some elements of SDG7 to be even further out of reach than before as deployment levels of renewables are far behind what is needed to reach SDG7.
But how can we get back on track? A look at the people and skills that shape the sector offers valuable pathways. The International Energy Agency (IEA) makes it clear that in order to deliver a substantial boost to the deployment of renewable energy and support clean energy transitions, comprehensive skills strategies should be developed for the energy sector.
Skilling and renewable energy deployment need to go hand-in-hand
Skills are indeed a reoccurring make-or-break factor in the energy transition. Beyond investment, industry players require highly skilled individuals to develop the actual technologies that enable a transition to clean energy. There is a pronounced need to reskill and upskill the existing workforce as the industry embraces those new technologies and phases out old, highly emission-intensive ones.
A well-functioning world of work helps unlock the many positive externalities of the green energy transition, which in turn reduces transition hurdles like legacy employment in fossil energy and lacking perspectives for workers. It is estimated that compared to fossil energy, the renewable energy sector will create 70% more employment per million USD. A labour market that enables worker mobility and holistic skilling strategies makes sure that individuals with the right skills can seize these opportunities and deliver the transition. The key is that skilling policies go hand-in-hand with measures to increase renewable energy deployment.
The energy transition can only be smooth and socially just if it is informed by a thorough understanding of emerging and disappearing jobs and a strategy that leverages existing knowledge and fosters new skills. This cannot be a one-off effort and it cannot be done without considering unique local contexts. There clearly is an intricate connection between the world of work and SDG7. However, the interactions between the world of work and climate-change related SDGs go further than that. Read on!
Resilience: Thinking beyond infrastructure to work towards SDG9
The ambitious transformation of the global energy system depends on the resilience and availability of such physical infrastructure as electrical grids and batteries or pipes and storage for hydrogen. Closely connected to SDG7 then is SDG9, which seeks to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation.
In examining the connections of the world of work with the SDGs, we want to invite you to think beyond the resilience purely of infrastructure and in turning towards sustainable industrialisation and consider the other crucial component of any energy system, company, and indeed the entire global economy: the workforce. Workers are not commodities and as we transform the economy to combat climate change employment too needs to be sustainable and renewable. Individuals need opportunities to increase their resilience to the disruptive changes ahead.
The global pandemic has illustrated this need for workforce resilience in an impressive fashion. Promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation means to think about sustainability from a workforce perspective: making the labour market more accessible and providing better means for everyone to remain in it by re- and upskilling themselves as demands change due to e.g., technological innovation and the green transition. Social protection systems too need to be adapted to the challenge ahead by making social rights more portable and less dependent on employment status.
Security of Supply (skills perspective)
In the fight against climate change, ensuring supply security goes well beyond the supply of energy – the context in which the term is most frequently used. Instead, with the world of work closely connecting to the SDGs, we need to think about the supply security of skills as we double-down on our efforts to limit climate warming to 1.5°C. To boost renewable energy and sustainable industrialisation, transformation strategies need to be accompanied by forward-looking skilling and career guidance: A recent study by the Group’s brand LHH revealed that 86% of recipients of career guidance were able to make use of skilling programs as a result of it.
Looking at the whole talent journey, it is important that education curricula are well-aligned with labour market demands to avoid a skills mismatch and allow for more seamless transitions from education into employment. Outlined by our recent white paper “Employability, not only employment,” work-based learning opportunities like apprenticeships and internships continue to be very effective means to attract new talent into companies while also boosting innovation through fresh perspectives. And skilling should continue throughout an individual’s career – lifelong learning has become imperative. This enables individuals to remain employable and relevant in the labour market and continuously equips companies with the skills they need to deliver the green transition.
Climate action has to be labour market action
The world of work is a fundamental part of climate action (SDG13). Only an adaptable labour market will ensure that the green transition occurs in a socially just and inclusive way that leaves nobody behind. Apart from the effects of the transition of the economy this crucially includes the direct impact of climate change: we already know that environmental degradation and rising temperatures and sea levels endanger the livelihoods e.g., of many million agricultural workers, fishers, and entire rural and coastal communities. Climate change is a social crisis as well and we need to work together to bring new perspectives and security to those that are most vulnerable.
As a global leader in the world of work and one of the largest employers, the Adecco Group is determined to leverage its reach for climate action by engaging labour market stakeholders and social partners on the importance of labour market accessibility and skills for a green transition. This is complemented by our commitment to reducing our emissions by 50% by 2030 in line with the requirements of the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C scenario.