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A Just Post-Pandemic Transition

Just as unbridled climate change will do serious damage to the economy and its workers – not least by exacerbating natural disasters and contributing to pandemics – so, too, will failure to improve human-capital management and safeguard workers’ wellbeing. That is why both climate action and social protections must be embedded in COVID-19 recovery strategies.

LONDON – It will take time for the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic consequences to come into full view. But some of the costs are already becoming apparent, beginning with the devastation the crisis will wreak on the global workforce. With climate change also threatening to hurt the world’s most vulnerable workers, the need for a holistic crisis response that emphasizes both justice and sustainability could not be greater.

The numbers paint a grim picture. The International Labor Organization warns that 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy – almost half the global workforce – are in “immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.” The African Union reports that, in Africa alone, nearly 20 million jobs, in both the formal and informal sectors, are at risk. In the United States, the New York Times estimates that, despite a headline unemployment rate of 13.3% – already higher than in any previous postwar recession – actual unemployment is closer to 27%.

Clearly, governments must act to protect workers from the COVID-19 shock. But if such efforts are to put economies – and their workers – on a stronger footing beyond the current crisis, they must also advance the goals encompassed in the 2015 Paris climate agreement – including the vision of a “just transition” that it articulates. This means not only shifting to sustainable patterns of development, but also safeguarding workers’ rights and livelihoods in the process.

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