The transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 is a massive challenge, but also a huge opportunity – a chance to design a socially inclusive, clean future, argue Sharan Burrow, Paul Polman and Laurence Tubiana.
Sharan Burrow is the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
Paul Polman is the former CEO of Unilever and co-founder and chair of IMAGINE.
Laurence Tubiana is the CEO of the European Climate Foundation.
In the year 2020, nobody can ignore our common responsibility in front of the climate emergency. This is the year when all actors – businesses, labour unions, civil society, local authorities and governments – have to join forces to increase action if they do not want to be silently complicit in climate catstrophy.
2020 marks the year when we must bend the curve of global emissions to a pathway to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. It also marks the year when countries committed to the Paris Agreement are due to step up the ambition of their national targets. In Europe, it means making the Green Deal a powerful transformative project for the common good.
The transition to net-zero by 2050 or soon after will mean a reimagining of our economies and our societies. This is a massive challenge, but also a huge opportunity – a chance to design a socially inclusive, clean future.
This is a future that our citizens, particularly the youth, are demanding. This is particularly evident in the European Union – the latest EU elections saw the highest voter turnout over the last 20 years with a strong mandate for the newly elected Parliament from this cohort: to protect Europeans from the impact of the climate crisis and pave the way for a net-zero economy.
And Europe is responding. The EU has taken a major step with its ambitious and groundbreaking Green Deal, led by a German centre-right politician, Ursula Von der Leyen, and Dutch social democrat, Frans Timmermans.
These cross-party efforts outline a central goal, in Von der Leyen’s words, “for a growth that gives back more than it takes away.” This was accompanied just two days later by the European Council’s backing of the EU’s proposed net-zero by 2050 target.
This move is more than a string of policy changes, but a renewal of a Europe that stands for a just transition and inclusive economic growth. All actors will need to participate in designing this future – from national governments, to regional and local governments, to businesses, to unions, to citizens groups, and beyond.
The Green Deal provides a framework for the holistic action and radical collaboration needed to unify businesses, governments and civil society around a just path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
We’re already seeing cross-sector dialogues emerging with nine major energy companies committing to social dialogue with their workers for a just transition, citizen assemblies forming in Ireland and France, just transition pacts operationalised in Spain and Germany, the creation of a just transition commission in Scotland and collaborative conversations with youth, unions and business in Denmark.
Business and civil society recognise both the urgency and the opportunity of this moment. During COP25, we saw business and unions come together – more than 75 CEOs and the AFL-CIO calling on the US to stay in the Paris Agreement, over 770 companies committing to net zero by 2050, 631 investors urging governments to step up their ambition on climate and more.
Activists and civil society sounded the alarm bell on the need for governments to step up throughout discussions. By taking bold action, they’re helping keep the promise of a new social contract and a world that works for everyone—and meeting evolving societal expectations.
Unprecedented new partnerships are emerging as the importance of measures that keep people at their core intensifies—and as our children demand better. Workers, students and consumers want to see and be a part of the action. To build solutions together. Siloed leadership doesn’t work for the employees and citizens of the future.
Now is the time to scale up these efforts to ensure we reduce global emissions while delivering a just transition. Doing so will require us to transcend traditional divides and come together to realise the greatest growth opportunity of a generation. We’re moving in the right direction, but we have no time to waste.
For the sake of providing our grandchildren a just and thriving future, we’re standing for ambitious climate action. It’s time for the world to stand with us.