So What: Decent Work (SDG 8) & Climate Action (SDG 13)

The effects of the global climate crisis are widely examined across the three dimensions of sustainable development, providing ample evidence and scenarios on the current and future impacts of climate change in broader economic, environmental and social terms. But what about the aspect of how a warming planet will impact the global workforce and, subsequently, the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

To answer this, and other questions, the SDG Lab deployed its “So What?” format to take a deep dive into the interconnected nature of the world of work and climate change.


The Lab’s sixth SDG “So What?” series crossed SDG 8 – Decent Work – and SDG 13 – Climate Action – to focus on what organizations and countries are doing—both in policy and practice—to incentivize joint action between these two Goals of the 2030 Agenda.  

Held at the Palais des Nations on September 3, the “So What?” discussion heard from a diverse panel of practitioners who shared insights from their respective institutions and areas of expertise.

Reflecting the rich diversity of International Geneva, and the modus operandi of the Lab, the panel featured representatives from a UN Member State (Costa Rica), a UN organization (International Labour Organization, ILO), an international organization (International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN), a non-governmental organization (International Institute for Sustainable Development, IISD) and the private sector (International Organisation of Employers, IOE).

Newly-appointed UN Geneva Director-General Tatiana Valovaya opened the “So What?” by underscoring the importance of the Goals.

“The SDGs are indivisible, and it is through platforms like “So What?” that we better understand the integrated and interconnected nature of the 17 Goals,” said Ms. Valovaya. “Without looking deeper into the correlations between the different SDGs, the Goals can come across as one big puzzle. The SDG Lab is helping to shed light on the challenges and opportunities of an integrated 2030 Agenda.”

Speaking on the panel were: Ms. Mito Tsukamoto, Chief, Development and Investments Branch, ILO; Ms. Radhika Murti, Director, Global Ecosystem Management Programme, IUCN; H.E. Elayne Whyte Gómez, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva; Mr. Philip Gass, Senior Policy Advisor, IISD; and Mr. Robert Marinkovic, Advisor, IOE.

Main impressions and themes

  • Many organizations like ILO and IUCN have been addressing employment and environmental sustainability for decades, such as nature-based solutions in the case of IUCN and ILO’s Employment-intensive investment Programme. What has changed in recent years is the drive to have more integrated solutions that look at job creation and economic viability within nature conservation and restoration efforts. At the government level, Costa Rica has spearheaded economic growth through a model based on social inclusion, growth and environmental protection and sustainability.

  • The recently-adopted ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work approaches climate change through the angle of social justice and tackling inherent inequalities in the regions of the world that will bear the greatest impact of climate change.

  • Building a ‘future-proof’ labour force must start in schools: children and adults alike need to develop new skills that correspond to the jobs of the future, in occupations that do not yet exist or are just coming online.

  • IISD encourages governments, policy-makers, employers and employee unions to step-up engagement with communities that face potential job losses because of energy transitions. Early action on a ‘just transition’ from a fossil fuel-based economy to one driven by renewables is paramount to minimize the negative impacts and maximize positive opportunities.

  • The informal economy is largely missing from the discussion on the future of work and the effects of climate change. This is a crucial aspect when considering an estimated 60 percent of the world’s employed population are in the informal economy, as noted by IOE.

  • Thinking and acting in sectoral silos and structures remains a significant hurdle for all partners, regardless of organization type, mandate, sector and size. Despite valiant outreach efforts, the 2030 Agenda constitutes a challenging framework for many actors. At the same time, it was noted that thanks to the Agenda, a positive shift in narrative is underway, from a ‘What we should do’ approach to ‘What we have to do’.



“At the global level, whether it’s climate change, infrastructure, peace or any of the other SDGs, the Goals have to be interlinked and addressed in an integrated manner. This also has to happen at the local level where communities have to be involved in designing programmes and decision-making processes.”
 – Ms. Mito Tsukamoto, Chief, Development and Investments Branch, ILO

“We are strong in talking about the loss of biodiversity, but we almost forgot to talk about how nature is part of the solution. Investing in nature-based solutions can help us address the climate-based issues we face”.
– Ms. Radhika Murti, Director, Global Ecosystem Management Programme, IUCN

“Costa Rica sees itself as a lab for trying new policies for the SDGs. The government is working on issues to tackle employment challenges because we need a labour force that can service the new demand for an emissions-free economy”.
– H.E. Elayne Whyte Gómez, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva

“If we are talking about energy transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, we must also talk about an evolution of work. Some jobs will be created, some will change, and some will unfortunately disappear. That is why ‘just transition’ must be at the centre”.
– Mr. Philip Gass, Senior Policy Advisor, IISD

“The 2030 Agenda is complex, and as an organization representing the private sector, a priority for us is spreading information to help companies understand how they can contribute to the achievement of the Global Goals”.
 – Mr. Robert Marinkovic, Adviser, IOE

“We are here to better understand the incentives between linking decent work and climate action. A big driver is figuring out what the new jobs of the future will look like, and what does it mean for young people who will occupy those jobs.”
– Ms. Nadia Isler, Director, SDG Lab at UN Geneva