The world of work in light of the challenges of climate change: a question for the social dialogue in times of environmental change

The European Workers' Pastoral Group met in Luxembourg from February 4 to 5, 2021 for its annual colloquium. Participation in the conference was mixed: face-to-face and by teleconference. Initially this conference was scheduled for the month of September (24-26 2020), but had to be postponed due to restrictions linked to the pandemic. The theme of the conference was "The world of work in light of the challenges of climate change: a question for the social dialogue in times of environmental change".

The seminar was organized with the support of EZA and the European Union. 72 representatives of workers' organizations from Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Portugal, England, North Macedonia, the Czech Republic and Switzerland attended the seminar

The most important aspect of the seminar

The issue of climate change and the loss of biodiversity is considered the major challenge of our time. The whole of humanity is facing a colossal challenge of limiting global warming to two degrees without which there is a real risk that a runaway warming jeopardizes the survival of humanity or less the survival of our social world such as us. have known him until now.

But it is not only a question of climate management, greenhouse gases, technological adaptation, bringing our production tools and resource management up to standard, but above all social issue. The climate issue should lead us to reflect on our way of making society, to raise the question of social justice both at country level and in our international relations. The changes that the actors of society will bring about in order to respond to these challenges will impact the production of goods and services. The modes of production will also change. Social dialogue is therefore at the heart of this dynamic of change that we must make to truly place our societies in a dynamic of sustainable development and social progress.

The conference was able to highlight this link between the challenge of climate change and the social question.

The conference participants reflected, based on an analysis of the global situation and their national realities, how, together, to transform the world and therefore also the world of work in order to meet this challenge of a new magnitude.

Why was the seminar important at this time

There is a very broad scientific consensus on the absolute urgency of the matter. This question is also on the political agendas of almost all nations. As soon as she was elected head of the European Commission in 2019, the European President of the Executive, Ursula von der Leyen, made ecology one of the major projects of her mandate. Funded to the tune of 1000 billion euros over 10 years, the Green Pact should make the European Union a major player on the international scene. The global dimension of the challenges makes the European Union the right link to initiate this transition. We also observe at the same time that the citizens of our countries are more and more sensitive to this question. For the first time, we get the impression that the effects of climate change are no longer just theoretical speculation, but that these effects are felt through concrete weather phenomena that directly affect our daily lives. We cannot wait any longer, we must drastically reduce our emissions and our resource requirements and become more resilient to the effects already noticeable. It involves a profound process of our societal functioning. 

Topics discussed

Belgian climatologist Jean-Pascal van Yperselen (UCLouvain) exposed the state of the world in terms of climate change while proposing a number of avenues to avoid a global catastrophe. Frédérique Landas, CGT unionist, gave an overview of the reflections carried out by unions and the world of work. Professor Olivier DE Schutter linked the ecological question to questions of social justice, both at European and international level. These reflections on economic models made the connection between our growth models and the issue of great poverty. The climate issue and the social issue are the two sides of the coin which must lead us to reform this fundamentally unfair globalization that destroys our biosphere.

The second day began with a contextualization of the social doctrine of the Church in the analysis of solidarity and environmental issues by Jean-Claude Brau. From the encyclicals Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti, we have been able to pose the terms that allow us to glimpse another way of thinking about questions of solidarity, individualism, common good, social dialogue and to draw up perspectives for our commitment.

The afternoon was reserved for workshops. From the statements of their respective national situations, the working groups discussed the possible solutions to reform our economic and social functioning as well as the question of a just transition.

Results of the seminar

There is a broad consensus on the fact that we cannot continue as before with an economy and a consumption which risks in the long term completely destroying the biosphere and the climate as we have known it. The question of a just transition is raised. Towards which society should we move forward? Towards what way of life? How to make ecology not only affordable for the richest, but that all humanity can benefit from it. Decarbonization and the New Green Deal will have a huge impact on the world of work and solidarity mechanisms are needed to support employees in this transition. In the short term, the phenomenon of pauperization and injustice must be curbed so that all humans have access to the resources necessary to live a life of dignity. Our economies and our lifestyles must change profoundly, some sectors must decrease, others must grow, but the pressure we exert on the planet’s limited resources must be compatible with the good living of future generations.

Outcome of discussions

    1. From the discussions in the working groups, the assembly agreed
    2. at. Putting the priority on people and not on the economy, the economy has no   meaning in itself and must allow everyone to live with dignity. Today that also   means taking environmental issues into account. Therefore we can neither continue with globalization nor with the financialization of activities as we have      known it and which has not resolved the issue of the great poverty of part of        humanity.
    3. Labor organizations must support the transition to a green economy so that this transition does not lead to more inequalities. We must influence policies on   these issues of social justice-
    4. vs. Questions of international justice must be addressed by all authorities so       that those who are not responsible for emissions (especially poor countries and         who often suffer more from the consequences of climate change are not harmed even more.
    5. We need to upgrade a whole category of jobs that are often poorly paid, but        which are essential as we have seen with the Covid 19 pandemic. We must   reflect on why so many jobs that do not make much sense (for example in          finance) are remunerated so well without contributing anything to the common     good (bullshit jobs).
    6. The centrality of the concept of coherence. We all need to move towards more   consistency between our thoughts and our practices. The typical example is       consumption where we know that we must strive for a new sobriety. But this must also     be reflected at the level of society, because even if I want to change my mobility needs,           I am dependent on an offer organized by the community. We cannot change the world             on our own, we need a societal dynamic and we must set up places of exchange and    permanent training. We must succeed in making as many people as possible aware of         the new issues. Especially since things are often complex and ambiguous: for example          teleworking reduces mobility needs, but raises the question of the social dimension of          work and the costs that must be borne by employees who stay at home.
    7. The requirement to think about others (dimension of solidarity) and especially the           excluded who often work at the bottom of the social ladder and who allow our society    to experience and even experience the transition (eg: agricultural worker in the Third    World who produce our organic vegetables, or agro-fuels). This proximity raises the        question of the fair sharing of resources. We must use this time of crisis and upheaval         as a time of learning. Faced with this immense task of transitioning to another society    and economy, we are obliged to associate ourselves with as many other actors as    possible. New networks have to be set up.

h.        We must reconsider the link between the salary scale and societal recognition    (essential work). This relationship no longer works today and raises the question     of the very meaning that we give to the concept of what is essential in a society          to live it together.


    • Jointly lead a fight for a new economy that is more respectful of environmental issues and a radical fight against social injustice, both in our countries and internationally.
    • Make all our organizations and members aware that the issue of the ecological crisis requires a coherent approach, both individually and politically. All the questions are interdependent and we are aware that we must rebuild another economy which puts people back at the center of their approach.