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The Sustainable Economy and Decent Work for All

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Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from the new book, "Decent Work, Green Jobs and the Sustainable Economy," Greenleaf Publishing, available in stores now and online.

By Peter Poschen

We face two defining challenges in the 21st century: ensuring environmental sustainability and turning the vision of decent work for all into a reality.

Environmental degradation and resource depletion have become ever more visible and pressing challenges, as the human population keeps expanding and material demands increase, pushing against the limits of what the planet can provide sustainably.

The overuse of natural resources, such as forests, fish and clean water, is increasingly exceeding planetary boundaries. The biggest environmental challenge by far, and one that threatens to undermine the very basis of human civilization if allowed to continue unchecked, is climate change. The climate crisis also connects in powerful ways with many other environmental concerns such as water availability or biodiversity.

At the same time as environmental concerns have risen to unprecedented prominence, there are also urgent social and economic challenges. Even as the size of the world economic product has more than tripled since 1990, securing adequate and decent employment for all jobseekers remains one of the biggest problems policy-makers face, especially in the wake of the global financial crisis, which expanded the ranks of the unemployed and those in vulnerable employment conditions.

The number of unemployed people rose from 170 million before the onset of the world financial crisis in 2007, to a projected 206 million in 2014, and may further rise to 215 million by 2018. macy mk bags Youth unemployment was pegged at 74.5 million in 2013 and is not expected to fall significantly over the next five years.

It should be noted that the unemployment rate has significant shortcomings in indicating the true degree of workforce underutilization, in the form of disguised and unrecorded unemployment and of underemployment. Furthermore, the same rate of unemployment can create highly different degrees of social damage, depending on a country’s social protection systems.

Over the past two decades, there has been a vigorous debate over the precise nature of the relationship between the environment and the economy. As climate action grows urgent, some observers warn that economies will suffer as a result of moving toward sustainability.macy's mk purse sale But it has become clear that economic prosperity and employment depend in fundamental ways on a stable climate and healthy ecosystems. This book shows that both the environmental and the socio-economic challenges are urgent and that they are intimately linked. They can and must be addressed together.

Not only is the situation environmentally unsustainable, it has substantial economic and social costs. The natural processes and systems which are vital to the enterprise and the livelihoods of people are being disrupted, and the damage to economies and to society caused by environmental degradation and climate change threatens to undo many of the gains in development and poverty reduction achieved over the past decades, including progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The longer we wait to address this, the worse it will get: with global unemployment levels exceeding 200 million, almost one in three workers living in working poverty and 5.1 billion people without access to essential social security, the addition of rising costs and disruption associated with environmental damage could further weaken social cohesion and increase the instability already present in a number of countries.

Employment that contributes to protecting the environment and reducing humanity’s heavy environmental footprint offers people a tangible stake in a green economy. The pursuit of so-called green jobs will be a key economic driver as the world steps into the still relatively uncharted territory of building a low-carbon global economy. “Climate-proofing” the economy will involve large-scale investments in new technologies, equipment, buildings and infrastructure, which will provide a major stimulus for much needed new employment and an opportunity for protecting and transforming existing jobs.

Environmental constraints, climate change and the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy will have profound impacts on production and consumption patterns, and on enterprises and workers. The necessary shift will be impossible without a pervasive effort towards the greening of enterprises across the economy.

In addition, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions implies shifts within and between economic sectors as well as between regions. Output and employment in low-carbon industries and services, in waste management and recycling, and in the restoration of natural capital will grow. Energy and resource-intensive sectors, on the other hand, are likely to stagnate or even contract. With well-designed adaptation measures, climate resilience can go hand in hand with job creation and poverty reduction.

Green jobs can serve as a bridge between the United Nations' first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger), seventh MDG (ensure environmental sustainability) and future U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (end poverty in all its forms everywhere) and eighth MDG (promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all).

The multiple economic, social and environmental crises besetting the world in recent years have led to a new sense of urgency. The U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 (Rio+20) discussed the green economy in the context of poverty reduction, sustainable development and environmental governance.

The outcome document of this largest U.N. conference ever stresses the urgency of sustainable development and the fundamental role of decent work in achieving it. This is the culmination of a remarkable evolution in the way the relationships between the environment, the world of work and social development are considered in policy statements, both at the U.N. and at the International Labor Organization.

For more on how a low-carbon economy can help pave the way for decent work for all, pick up a copy of "Decent Work, Green Jobs and the Sustainable Economy."

Peter Poschen is the Director of Job Creation and Enterprise Development at the International Labor Organization (ILO). He has over 25 years' experience in international sustainable development, with a focus on the social dimensions of the use of natural resources.

His book provides a comprehensive overview of climate change, sustainable development and decent work. It addresses the challenges of achieving environmental sustainability and turning the vision of decent work for all into a reality. It also demonstrates that green jobs can be a key economic driver, as the world steps into the largely uncharted territory of building a sustainable and low-carbon global economy. Author Peter Poschen shows that positive outcomes are possible but require a clear understanding of the opportunities and challenges, as well as country-specific policies that integrate environmental, social and decent work elements. The opportunities for gains may in fact be greatest in developing countries and emerging economies.

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