No ‘green jobs’ without just transformation

October 18, 2018

AER-Industrial Policy Team

By Rene Ofreneo – October 18, 2018

The Philippines is probably the first Asian country to enact a law on “green jobs” based on the definition given in a study conducted by academics from the Cornell University. The said study was endorsed in 2008 by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Organization of Employers (IOE) and the International Trade Union Council (ITUC).  The Cornell study defines green jobs as follows:

“Positions in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, installation, and maintainance, as well as scientific and technical, administrative, and service-related activities, that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environment quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, these include jobs that help to protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high-efficiency and avoidance strategies; decarbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of water and pollution.”

The above definition is overwhelmingly focused on “mitigation”, which, in the vocabulary of UNEP supporters, means action that limits global climate change through the reduction of green house gas or carbon emissions such as the renewal of forests and shift to clean and renewable energy (e.g., wind, solar), away from fossil fuel. On the other hand, there is also the concept of “adaptation”, which means the ability to adjust an economic system to the effects of climate change or to respond to its impacts such as the fortification of vulnerable coastal communities to be able to weather storm surges. Adaptation also means transforming existing brown industries to become less reliant on fossil fuel and nudging them to reduce their carbon footprint.

In short, the twins – mitigation and adaptation – should go together. Policy-wise, the ideal is to have a combined or holistic approach in building up the capacity of a country to undertake both mitigation and adaptation programs in a synergistic and mutually-reinforcing manner. Together, the two should boost Philippine “resilience” against climate change threats and arrest the unchecked degradation of the environment. Ompong is the latest reminder on how weak is the country’s readiness program to climate change risks. The advocacy for the development of a holistic resiliency program should be unrelenting.

In this regard, the greening of industry and jobs becomes truly crucial. The 2016 Green Jobs Act tries to broaden the concepts of green economy and green jobs. The former is referred to as “one which is low-carbon and resource-efficient”, while the latter is given a more all-encompassing definition: “employment that contributes to preserving or restoring the quality of the environment, be it in the agriculture, industry or services sector.” This means green jobs are not only those jobs created by the “green segments” of the economy such as the renewable and recycling industries or those occupied by green professionals such as pollution abatement officers. Green jobs are jobs that help de-carbonize a brown Philippine economy. In the process, jobs can be either green or made greener.

This is why greening the economy is a massive undertaking, for it means efforts to build new green industries as well as transform all existing industries to become greener. In this connection, the provision of the Green Jobs law on the formulation of a “National Green Jobs Human Resource Development Plan” is critically important. This task requires a review of whether existing economic policies are coherent with the mitigation-adaptation environmental requirements.  In turn, this review should lead to an overall review of the entire Philippine Development Plan (PDP) and an analysis of what are the mitigation-adaptation doables in each sector of the economy – industry, agriculture, services, habitat and infrastructures.

As it is, there is a big disconnect between environmental policy and the implementation or observance of such policy. A good example that is often cited by environmental advocates is the proliferation of coal plants when under the Renewable Energy Act, these plants, steadily being consigned to history in many countries, are supposed to be phased out. We also have a large number of environmental laws that are considered the most comprehensive in Asia. And yet, the country continues to face varied and mounting environmental problems — deforestation, loss of biodiversity, poor management of solid wastes, decimation of mangroves and coral reefs, urban congestion, deteriorating air and water quality, soil erosion, and so on. Additionally, we have unresolved policy contestation on the issue of mining.

But one policy dilemma is raised: How can the government make the economy green or greener when the need of the hour is sustaining the growth momentum of the economy?  How can jobs be made green or greener when such greening processes pose threats to the job holders in brown industries?

The answer of the environmentalists: greening need not be job-displacing. It should be job-creating and job-augmenting. This is where another UNEP concept – “Just Transition” – becomes critical. As pointed out in an earlier article, just transition programs are aimed at the preservation and/or creation of jobs for the affected while the greening process is taking place. Thus, in the case of the PUV modernization program, the forcible system of asking jeepney drivers and operators to abandon their old polluting vehicles and buy the expensive e-vehicles costing P1.6 million each without any assistance or subsidy given to these drivers and operators is unjust transition.

This is why a just transition program – and the related “transformation” measures embedded or inherent in the program – should be developed for each sector or industry to be made green or greener. As mentioned in the earlier article, the 2010 Organic Farming Act has not made any headway because the needed transition/transformation programs are missing – capacity building for farmers to adopt modern organic farming methods, land reform to enable farmers to make independent decisions on farming, assistance in developing markets for organic products and so on.  The same transitioning formulation can be applied to the plastics and other brown labor-intensive  industries.

The word “just” is not there for nothing.  And just transition requires programs for  just transformation in each sector of the economy.

(NOTE: The writer is the author of the book Green Jobs and Green Skills in a Brown Philippine Economy.The book was published as an e-book by ILO Geneva in 2010. Subsequently, the UP Press, with the permission of ILO Manila, came up with a printed version in 2012. The book was used as a reference material by the Office of Senator Sonny Angara, the principal author of the Green Jobs law.)

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