Past Events

Climate Change: The Challenges to Labor

September 21, 2018

“On a dead planet, there are no jobs.”

Labor leader Reiner Hoffmann, who represents over 6 million workers in Germany and is quoted above, succinctly summarized why we came together to discuss the intersection of climate change and labor on September 21st as part of SCEPA’s Economics of Climate Change seminar series.

As our climate changes, so must our economy. Hoffmann, chairman of the German Trade Union Confederation DGB, shared his experiences advocating for a “just transition” in Germany, a country taking a lead in the effort to shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. (View his presentation here.)  

What has Hoffmann learned? In short, he believes that ensuring a “just transition” takes commitment. It requires active support and cooperation from governments, companies, and trade unions, which must work to strengthen participation in the transition and ensure lifelong education for workers.

According to Hoffman, collective bargaining agreements, which have been vital to workers in the industrial sector, are lacking in the renewable sector, leaving employees without protections necessary to ensure adequate wages and working conditions. However, he also stressed the need for “responsible investing and training, which will only be successful if workers are involved.”  

Following his remarks, Hoffmann joined a panel discussion with Satya Tripathi, Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the UN Environment New York Office. Though the speakers came from different professional backgrounds and experiences, both agreed on the need for an equitable, people-centered solution.

Tripathi stressed the need to put “money where it matters" to help people who live on the margins of the economy. He stated, “this conversation must be about lives and the livelihoods of people." He described small-scale U.N. initiatives in India and Indonesia that invested in people by partnering with private enterprises and small organizations.

Both Hoffmann and Tripathi concluded with messages of action and hope. Hoffmann stressed that Germany’s experiences managing a just transition can inform and motivate the global effort that’s needed. Tripathi ended with, “It doesn't require a lot of money, but you need to invest in the right ideas. That can change the world.”

The event was hosted by SCEPA's Economics of Climate Change project, headed by economist Willi Semmler and generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the German Consulate General New York and the German Embassy, Washington, DC. Introductory remarks were made by German Consul General in New York David Gill and NSSR Dean William Milberg.