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ILO’s Role in the Energy Sector: IRENA Partners up with ILO to Promote a Just and Inclusive Transition

Abu Dhabi/Geneva, 18 October 2021 - As the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) announced, it has signed an agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO), which reemphasizes that the energy transition must coincide with the promotion of decent work for all.

Abu Dhabi/Geneva, 18 October 2021 – As the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) announced, it has signed an agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO), which reemphasizes that the energy transition must coincide with the promotion of decent work for all. In cooperation, the two organizations will work on three projects: the IRENA’s Coalition for Action’s Sustainable Energy and Jobs Platform (SEJP), ILO’s Just Transition and Green Job Initiatives and IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Just and Inclusive Energy Transition. This article will further explore these initiatives and contextualize the new partnership aiming at the promotion of a just and inclusive energy transition. 

ILO’s Just Transition and Green Job Initiatives

A Just Transition and Environmentally Sustainable Economies

As ESI Africa explains, the ILO’s Just Transition and Green Job Initiatives are directly related with the “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all”, which the ILO published after the ‘Tripartite Meeting of Experts’, which took place from 5th-9th October 2015 and led to a review of the ILO’s take on topics such as decent work and green jobs. With the meeting having been attended by experts from 19 member states such as South Africa, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda, it offered room for diversity resulting in a policy-framework and practical tool, which, as the Green Policy Platform illustrates, can “help countries at all levels of development manage the transition to low-carbon economies and can also help them achieve their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals”. Some of the normative aspects of the guidelines, respective institutional agreements and policies are listed below:

Normative Aspects 

  • Decent Work Agenda – Encompasses social dialogue, social protection, rights at work and employment.
  • Sustainable Development – Focus on future generations and economic, social and environmental dimensions.
  • Just Transition – Stresses the importance of decent work for all, social inclusion and the eradication of poverty.
  • Greening of Economies, Enterprises and Jobs – Must achieve poverty eradication alongside environmental sustainability.
  • Rights, Gender and Tailored Policies – Whereas local conditions might require diverging policy approaches, policies should respect rights at work and gender-related policies should serve to bridge gaps.

Institutional Arrangements

  • Governments – Should incorporate measures to promote a just transition into national plans and policies of line ministries, ensure the availability of labour market data, undertake impact assessments of economic and social policies etc.
  • Governments and Social Partners – Should mobilize funding, share knowledge and best practises, work together towards new policies, cooperate and promote cooperation at enterprise, industry, local, national and international levels as well as through initiatives (i.e. South-South cooperation).

Policy Areas

  • Social Dialogue and Tripartism Policies – Governments should promote social dialogue and set up dialogue mechanisms, while social partners should promote active participation at enterprise, sectoral and national levels.
  • Macroeconomic and Growth Policies – In exchange with social partners, governments should understand economic growth through environmental and social lenses, adopt respective instruments (i.e. taxes, subsidies, incentives), invest in public funds for a green economy and make sustainable development and the just transition a cornerstone of macroeconomic growth.
  • Industrial and Sectoral Policies – Together with social partners, governments should analyze and target sector-specific risks, design fitting policies to ensure social protection, establish incentives to increase demand, minimize market and price fluctuations and send clear messages to investors.
  • Enterprise Policies – In cooperation, a sustainable environment for enterprises including MSMEs should be created, where needed, through fiscal and tax reforms. Additional efforts towards adaptation to climate change and disaster awareness should be taken with the help of business associations and businesses should be supported in becoming more eco-friendly (i.e. low-carbon, green tech etc.) and knowledgeable (i.e. through trainings, funding for R&D).
  • Skills Development Policies – Governments should foster skills needed in the future through research and updates of curricula. With social partners, they should promote social dialogue on training systems and access to training, which matches a new skills policy in the green economy.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Policies – Efforts should aim at assessing OSH risks, providing OSH training for workers in the green economy, promoting change through incentives for businesses and the establishment of OSH committees composed of workers and employers. 
  • Social Protection Policies – Together, governments and social partners should promote social protection policies, which shield against the effects of climate change on workers and can be integrated, where needed, into national policies including such which target environmental objectives. 
  • Active Labour Market Policies – In collaboration with the IRENA, measures should especially target unemployed workers, who might particularly benefit from work and employment programmes and effective public employment services with a view for promoting environmental objectives and employment in the green economy.

ILO’s Green Job Initiative

Next to the above guidelines, the Green Job Initiative builds on the ILO’s Green Jobs Programme from 2007. As the ILO explains, at a global level the green job initiative intends to make the organization a key stakeholder in promoting knowledge exchange about the future of work, climate change and the transition to a green economy. At a national level, the Green Initiative seeks to support national governments in their ability to align employment and social policies with their aims to combat climate change and foster a just transition. With the above guidelines serving to make this possible, their integration into national policies in Ghana, the Phillipines and Uruguay has already started

Furthermore, the recent partnership with the IRENA might achieve that afore-mentioned normative aspects and policy recommendations will shape the energy sector of the future. As the ILO emphasizes, a core element of its initiative are strategic engagement and partnerships. Next to establishing a cooperation with the IRENA, the ILO has already set up partnerships with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), the NDC Partnership etc. Apart from engaging in social dialogue and fostering global partnerships, the ILO also engages in research activities. 

In 2020, it published a joint report with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) about “Jobs in a net-zero emissions future in Latin America and the Caribbean”, in 2021, it published a “Global Framework on core skills for life and work in the 21st Century” and other 2021 reports deal with assessments of green jobs in Zimbabwe; labour migration, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic in South Asian countries etc. In other words, the ILO’s topic portal on green jobs can be regarded as a huge pool of knowledge about a just transition, which should be supported by business associations, stakeholders from the industry, development banks, think tanks, universities, NGOs and governmental organizations around the globe. 

Sustainable Energy and Jobs Platform

As it states itself, IRENA’s SEJP “calls for more ambitious action from governments, donors and multilateral stakeholders to achieve [a] just energy transition for all”. The SEJP was established in response to a 2018 review by the Technical Advisory Group on Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7-TAG) in 2020. The SDG7-TAG meeting was arranged by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), which is also the organizer of the annual United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). Among others, the SEJP provides research and policy analyses, engages itself through advocacy, assesses analytical methodologies and contributes to knowledge sharing and capacity building. Thereby, its role as observer and advisor is all-encompassing.

Next to its most recent partnership with the ILO, the SEJP has already partnered up with organizations such as Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), Global Off-Grid Lighting AssociationTechnology (GOGLA), the Global Women’s Network For The Energy Transition (GWNET), the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Power for All, the SELCO Foundation and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Beyond that, Renewables Now is an affiliated partner of the SEJP. The working areas of the SEJP encompass employment and job creation, skills and occupational groups, gender equality and vulnerable groups, decent work, energy access and productive use, just transition strategies, sustainable economic development and COVID-10 and jobs. 

Especially, because past reports focus on the broader perspective or are very comprehensive, the ILO’s cooperation with the IRENA could aim at building up regional working groups with ties to local businesses and organizations. Next to the SEJP, the ‘Collaborative Framework on Just and Inclusive Energy Transition’ marks an effort by the IRENA to address “equity and justice elements of the energy transition”. The framework sets an occasion for various countries and stakeholders to keep track of new developments in relation to a just transition, which could inspire novel partnerships and an expanded international cooperation across various sectors and areas. With the first meeting of the framework having taken place in May 2021, there is still much room for change and innovation. 

Overall, one thing remains clear, both the IRENA and the ILO are multinational organizations with a wide reach. What should not be forgotten is that they nevertheless need to incorporate small-and medium sized businesses (SMEs) as well as civil society into their efforts to promote a just transition. While the ILO’s guidelines talk about governments’ cooperation with ‘social partners’, it seems that the latter term mostly refers to businesses and only encourages contributions of workers indirectly through workers’ organizations. Whereas the latter is not wrong, the ILO and the IRENA could arguably make their efforts more inclusive by incorporating workers’ and civil society’s voices in research and policy-making. 

Feel free to contact the Energy Transition Centre today for questions.

·  Julius Moerder, Head of Energy Transition Centre

·  Oneyka Ojogbo, Head of Energy Transition Centre, Nigeria & West Africa·  Leon van Der Merwe, Head of Energy Transition Centre, South Africa