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Solving the climate problem is nothing short of a global battle, a major priority on the policy agenda of countries around the world. However, significant North-South disparities persist in climate action, as developing and developed nations are still at odds over the issue of sharing emission reduction responsibilities. Disputes over who should contribute how much money and how to mobilize resources linger on. Low-income and middle-income countries argue that they bear more severe climate disasters and should not be required to foot the bill on par with major developed countries in Europe and the United States. In this regard, both China and India insist on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR)”.
The 28th UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) will take place in the United Arab Emirates from November 30 to December 12. Prioritizing life and livelihoods is a crucial topic in these negotiations. While global emission reduction measures are generally similar, workers are fundamentally essential to the success of climate action. Consequently, the climate agenda must focus on employment and social issues.
Today, a considerable amount of global investment is flowing into fields such as alternative energy, environmental protection, and climate technology. Climate solutions are inseparable from such emerging technologies. Whether it is smart irrigation technology, new building materials, intelligent transportation systems, or the application of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, numerous industries hold opportunities for green development.
According to a report jointly released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in September 2023, the global renewable energy sector provided at least 13.7 million jobs in 2022, with nearly two-thirds in Asia, and China alone accounting for 41% of the global total. Deloitte reported in June 2023 that if Asia-Pacific countries can seize the opportunities brought by decarbonization, they could create 180 million jobs by 2050. Coordinated and effective climate action could contribute USD 47 trillion to the global economy by 2070. In the process of achieving net-zero emissions, 80% of the skills required for the jobs already exist, and these skills, along with “green-collar” talent, will drive the transition.
At the same time, industries highly sensitive to climate change, such as agriculture, energy, construction and real estate, transportation, and tourism, often employ the most labor force. Large-scale unemployment in these sectors can lead to significant social unrest. When governments formulate green transition policies, caution will be needed in minimizing the drastic impact on jobs and income dependent on climate-sensitive work. This includes assisting traditional employment groups in smoothly transitioning to climate-friendly or green-intensive jobs. Otherwise, workers’ concerns about personal economic security and employment prospects may lead to dissatisfaction with the government and spark radical sentiments.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) failed to reach a labor agreement through negotiations with the three major U.S. automakers — General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. At midnight on September 15, 2023, UAW initiated a large-scale strike in multiple states in the U.S., marking one of the strongest strike waves in the country in recent years. The primary reason is that the number of workers required for electric vehicle production is significantly lower than in traditional automobile manufacturing. In this regard, ANBOUND’s founder Kung Chan warned in his podcast at the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE) in September 2021 that the manufacturing of new energy vehicles requires about half the workforce compared to traditional car manufacturing, and no country or government can withstand such an impact. This means that climate policies should not be excessively aggressive and idealistic.
When assessing the contributions of countries to the climate agenda, it is essential to recognize that “non-financial” forms also play a crucial role. Globally promoting digital technology for addressing climate issues depends on the workforce acquiring new skills. There is especially an urgent need for developing countries and climate-vulnerable nations to strengthen climate-related skills education, training, and talent development to enhance climate resilience, increase green employment opportunities, improve global economic health, and promote equitable development. As it stands, countries should actively support extensive exchange and collaboration in the field of skill education and training, as well as opinion-sharing, so as to increase the supply of climate-skilled talents. The window of climate policy should also not miss the optimal timing for professional skill development and discussions on technical regulations.During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in November 2023, member countries of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) held a two-day ministerial meeting. According to information released by the U.S. Department of Commerce, ministers from various countries signed the Supply Chain Agreement, Clean Economy Agreement, and Fair Economy Agreement. The 14 countries pledged to strengthen research and commercialization of clean energy technologies, enhance interconnectivity through collaboration on relevant infrastructure, technology, and standards, and increase investment to promote the development of clean energy infrastructure and technology. IPEF partners will take action in policy-making, labor rights, social protection, skills improvement, and retraining, supporting a just transition for labor and communities, creating quality employment and decent work, and engaging in social dialogue at multiple levels.
My analysis suggests that climate action has ample economic motivation, but the key lies in choosing the right approach. Drawing from lessons learned in past climate negotiations, the COP28 agenda need not overly stress “climate ambition”. Emphasizing the well-being and development of humanity, the focus should be on urging countries to fulfill their roles effectively in addressing climate issues. While external factors are important, they are also influenced by internal conditions. Negotiating parties across countries could benefit from exploring innovative strategies, seeking common ground, and identifying optimal solutions to overcome negotiation challenges.
Amidst escalating geopolitical competition, climate change stands out as a crucial realm for bolstering collaborative efforts to mitigate risks. Climate negotiations should not be perceived solely as anticipations of government commitments. Instead, they should be recognized as decisions influencing the destiny and future of each individual. The realization of global climate agenda goals hinges on continuous advancements and breakthroughs in climate actions, transcending any prolonged disputes between nations. It is, therefore, indispensable for both developed and developing nations to fulfill their respective responsibilities.