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COP21

Just Transition as a Worker Movement in Global North and South

By various - United Nations Research for Social Development, October 14 2020

As a grounded concept that originated in the North American labour movement, just transition places the well-being and livelihoods of workers and communities at the heart of transitions to sustainability and low-carbon futures. This second webinar in our JTRC series on justice in low-carbon transitions examines how the spread of the concept to the international climate policy arena and around the world has influenced the role of workers in just transition efforts. It highlights the role of both formal and informal workers and their organizations and explores the differences that shape just transitions as a worker movement in global North and South.

Speakers:

  • Jenny Patient, PhD Student, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield
  • Woodrajh (Woody) Aroun, former Education and Parliamentary Officer of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA)
  • Susanita Tesiorna, President, Alliance of Workers in the Informal Economy/Sector (ALLWIES) and Council Member of National Anti-Poverty Commission - Workers in the Informal Sector Council
  • Discussant: David Uzzell, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey
  • Moderator: Jo Cutter, Lecturer in Work and Employment Relations, Leeds University Business School

For more information about the series and the work of the Just Transition Research Collaborative, please visit https://www.unrisd.org/jtrc-2020

Broadening Engagement With Just Transition: Opportunities and Challenges

By Robin Webster and Dr Christopher Shaw - Climate Outreach, September 2019

The idea of just transition first emerged in the 1970s, when US union leader Tony Mazzocchi1 proposed that people whose jobs were threatened by nuclear disarmament should be compensated for the loss. In the 1990s Mazzocchi broadened the argument to refer to workers in environmentally damaging jobs, whose employment is affected by new policies aiming to reduce pollution.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) now defines just transition as reducing emissions while ensuring “decent work, social inclusion and poverty eradication.” Its basic elements, according to ITUC, include public and private investment to create green jobs, advance planning to compensate for the negative impacts of climate policies and opportunities for retraining for people whose jobs are affected.

A wide range of groups - including environmental NGOs, labour justice groups and policymakers - have since adopted the idea and it is codified in international climate policy. The preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement requires the international community to take into account “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs” and the European Commission aims to bring more focus on “social fairness” in tackling climate change.

Just transition is an important concept; a tool for facilitating dialogue between different stakeholders and challenging the discourse of ‘jobs versus climate.’ As one report puts it, it has the potential to be “at the heart of a powerful narrative of hope, tolerance and justice; a narrative that is grounded in people’s actual lived experiences and aspires to guide collective action while simultaneously giving rise to tangible alternatives.”

It is also important from a pragmatic perspective. Recent events - including the Gilets Jaunes protest against a government proposal to raise fuel prices in France and President Trump’s championing of jobs in the US coal industry as a reason for pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement - demonstrate the need to seek social consent for the low-carbon transition, or risk it being undermined.

The term itself, however, is little used outside the policy and technical literature, and hardly used at all in the global South, where it may conflict with other strong cultural narratives - for example the need for poorer countries to develop and use more energy.10 In countries where the idea is more current, only a limited amount of research has been carried out exploring what the idea of just transition means to the communities it is meant to help.

Yet the idea of ‘social dialogue’ between governments, businesses, trade unions and civil society is at the core of just transition, according to many unions.12 Social dialogue means engaging in discussions about what transition means for people’s lives and sense of identity; for jobs, communities and place.13 If just transition is to move from pages of policy reports into reality, then attention needs to be paid to how to frame the dialogue between advocates of a low-carbon economy, and those who are likely to be most fundamentally affected.

Read the report (PDF).

(Working Paper #12) The Road Lest Travelled: Reclaiming Public Transport for Climate-Ready Mobility

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 2019

This working paper examines some of the key questions at the heart of climate-related debates on transport, and around passenger road transport in particular. It also looks at some of the more important issues surrounding public transport specifically, and the failure of neoliberal transport policy to improve and expand public transport in ways that fulfill its full social and environmental potential.

Part One: Mobility Rising: Transport, Energy and Emissions Trends

In Part One of this paper, we survey the current trends in energy, transportation and emissions. Although emissions continue to rise across the global economy, transport-related emissions are growing faster than those of other major sectors. Transport is now responsible for almost one-third of final energy demand and nearly two-thirds of oil demand. It is also responsible for nearly one-quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the use of fuel. This means that controlling and reducing CO2 emissions from cars, trucks, and motorcycles must become a policy priority.

Part Two: Neoliberal Transport and Climate Policy at the Crossroads

In this part, we review the policy landscape, including how transport-related emissions from the transport sector are addressed in the Paris Climate Agreement—which is hardly at all. We show that neoliberal climate policy has failed to make any real progress in addressing transport-related emissions, while at the same time preventing public transport from realizing its potential, mainly due to the insistence on a “public-private partnership” model in a futile effort to “unlock” private investment.

Part Three: The Electric Car—Myths and Realities

We summarize the myths and realities surrounding electric cars, and highlight some of the major issues associated with their possible mass deployment. We show that common assumptions about the role of private EVs in the future of sustainable mobility are not at all consistent with what is actually happening, what is likely to happen in the future, or with what is even possible or desirable from a trade union perspective.

Part Four: Taming the Transport Network Companies (TNCs): From Uberization to Enhanced Public Mobility for All

In Part Four, we look at the rise of TNCs and other recent developments and trends in urban transport. This has triggered a global debate on “new mobility services.” In this part of the paper we argue that TNCs currently undercut public transport systems and contribute to traffic congestion and often increase emissions. But the same “platform technologies” that gave us Uber and similar companies can become integrated into public transport systems in ways that complement traditional public transport modes and reduce dependence on private vehicles.

Part Five: Shifting Gears: A Trade Union Agenda for Low-Carbon Public Mobility

Finally, we summarize some of the climate-related arguments that unions can use in their fight to defend, expand and improve public transport. We believe these arguments are consistent with the values and priorities of many transport unions and progressive trade unionism in general.

The authors hope this paper will encourage unions representing workers in all sectors to deepen their discussions around the future of transport—to join the conversation about what public transport can and should look like in future, and what needs to happen in order to bring that vision to reality.

Read the report (PDF).

Which way after Paris Agreement?

By Marienna Pope-Weidemann - New Internationalist, December 13, 2015

In 2007, a man named Keno was killed with two bullets to the chest at point blank range near the Iguagu National Park in Brazil. He was one of many farmers peacefully occupying a GMO research plant to protest the imposition of an industrial agricultural system that had no place for them. The men who murdered him were part of a private militia working for the Syngenta biotech corporation. They perpetrated what the courts would later describe as an attempted ‘massacre’ to, in Syngenta’s chilling words: ‘propagate the idea that every action results in a reaction.’

As any physicist (or farmer) can tell you, this is a basic law of the universe. But it also applies the actions of big agribusiness, whose land grabs, pollution and exploitation have reaped their own reactions from peasant farmers across the world. They are organizing, across communities, sectors and borders, and now they made themselves heard here in Paris.

‘They are destroying our homes, our livelihoods and poisoning the food in people’s mouths.’ Maria, another Brazilian farmer and spokesperson for La Via Campesina, had tears in her eyes as she finished telling me about the relentless destruction of indigenous and farming communities back home. But she held her microphone tight like a weapon. ‘This pollution is worse than death. If we have to give our lives to fight these transnationals, then that is what we should do.’

An International Farmers Alliance Links Climate Change to Industrial Agriculture

By La Via Campesina - In These Times, November 17, 2015

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agriculture is responsible for a major portion of the increase of greenhouse gases. Not all agriculture has the same impact, however—the vast majority of the effect comes from the post WWII industrial agricultural system.

This system—an agricultural model based on capital concentration, high fossil energy consumption, overproduction, consumerism and trade liberalization—has put our planet’s ecosystems at risk and pushed human communities toward disaster. 

Industrialized countries and the industrialization of agriculture are the biggest contributors to global warming, but it is farmers and rural communities—especially in developing countries—that are among the first to suffer from climate change. Changing weather patterns bring unknown pests along with unusual droughts, floods and storms, destroying crops, farmlands, farmstock and farmer’s houses. Moreover, plants, animal species and marine life are threatened or disappearing at an unprecedented pace due to the combined effects of warming and industrial exploitation. It is estimated that by 2080, Latin America will likely see a 24.3 percent decline agricultural yields, Asia 19.3 percent and Africa 27.5 percent. Life at large is endangered by the decreasing availability of fresh water resources. By 2050 an estimated 4 billion people will live in highly water-stressed environments.

In tropical regions, global warming is likely to lead to a serious decline in agricultural production and to the acceleration of the desertification of farmland. On the other hand, vast regions of Russia and Canada will turn into cropland for the first time in human history. Yet it is still unknown how these regions will be able to grow crops. Farmers have to adjust to these changes by adapting their seeds and usual production systems to an unpredictable situation.

What is expected is that millions of farmers will be displaced from the land. Such shifting is regarded by industry as a business opportunity to increase food exports and imports, when the reality is that hunger and dependency will only increase around the world.

Via Campesina, a transcontinental movement bringing together of small farmers and producers, asserts that it is time to radically change the industrial way to produce, transform, trade and consume food and agricultural products. We believe that sustainable small-scale farming and local food consumption will help reverse the devastation and support millions of farming families. Agriculture can also cool down the earth by using farming practices that store CO2 and reduce the use of energy on farms.

5.7-Million-Member TUC Supports Labour Party’s Manifesto Commitments on Public Ownership of Energy and Climate Change

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 25, 2017

The annual congress of the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) has passed a historic composite resolution (also below) on climate change that supports the energy sector being returned to public ownership and democratic control.

The resolution—carried unanimously by hundreds of delegates—calls upon the national center to work with the Labour Party to achieve this goal, as well as to: implement a mass program for energy conservation and efficiency; lobby for the establishment of a “just transition” strategy for affected workers; and, investigate the long-term risks to pension funds from investments in fossil fuels.

The Labour Party’s 2017 election manifesto, For the Many, Not the Few,pointed to the failures of electricity privatization, energy poverty, the need the honor the UK’s climate commitments, and to put the UK on course for 60% of its energy to be met by zero carbon or renewable sources by 2030.

The Manifesto also committed to “take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control.” It calls for the creation of “publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers.”

Moved by Sarah Woolley, Organising Regional Secretary for the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), the resolution refers to the “irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment,” as well as the risks to meeting the climate challenge posed by Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and by the chaotic approach to both Brexit and broader policy by the current Conservative government.

The resolution affirmed that combating climate change and moving towards a low-carbon economy cannot be left to markets, but requires a strong role for the public sector in driving the transition. In supporting the resolution, several speakers referred to the devastation unleashed across the Caribbean over the previous several days by Hurricane Irma—the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm in recorded history—and across southern Texas only days before that by Hurricane Harvey.

Climate Action in a Climate of Job Insecurity

By Hazel Graham and Stephen Graham - The Ecologist, November 19, 2018

The seriousness of our environmental plight comes more clearly into view with each passing news cycle. The Canadian glaciers are melting faster than we forecast. Humanity has wiped out 60 percent of animal populations since 1970.

Only 12 years remain to act if we are to keep the global average temperature rise below 1.5C as required – yet global action on climate change consistently falls far short of what is needed. The ecological rifts opening up are legion.

From climate change to biodiversity loss, nitrogen cycle disruption to ocean acidification, the realisation that we are at – or will soon be reaching – points of no return has dominated headlines in recent months.

Leave No Worker Behind

By Samantha M. Harvey - Earth Island Journal, Summer 2018; image by Brooke Anderson

There is a right way to do ‘just transition.’”

The statement echoes through the humid halls of the historic Stringer Grand Lodge Masonic Temple in Jackson, Mississippi, on an unseasonably scorching day in late February, 2018. Mingling with the ghosts of Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 150 labor leaders, environmental justice activists, philanthropists, and national environmental organization staffers move from one side of the room to the other – far right for “strongly agree,” and far left for “strongly disagree.”

The group has come together to find alignment around the concept of just transition, so laughter erupts at the almost 50-50 split. But the mood soon settles. With the backdrop of a president who has filled his cabinet with oil executives, brutishly dismissed climate change, and denounced the Paris Accord, it’s hard to shake off what’s happening outside for too long: Puerto Ricans are fleeing the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria with no end in sight, #MeToo is a household term, and activists are railing against the assault on unions in the historic Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME. Those in the temple are steeped in these threats and more. But they also understand that while climate change, racism, patriarchy, and plutocracy are terrifying, they are not impenetrable, and dismantling one may lead to the unraveling of others.

Global activists share this systemic view, and around the world, locally based, integrated models are being built to support people working and living together in community. This decarbonized vision connects jobs and environment rather than pitting them against one another; breaks down patriarchy and systems of oppression; honors caring, culture, and community leadership; and reshuffles the paradigm that hails profit as the sole pinnacle of goodness. They call it “buen vivir” (good living) in South America, “commons” and “degrowth” in Europe, “agroecology,” “ecofeminisms,” and “rights of Mother Earth” in Indigenous communities, and in the United States, incorporating principles of all these concepts, “just transition.”

After much debate across the temple, a woman raises her hand from a spot dead center between the two poles. “Just transition will look different in different places, because it’s place-based,” she says. “But the principles behind it have to be the same. So there is a right way, but the right way is many ways.” She doesn’t mention that some “right ways” are more “right” than others. All seem to agree just transition fundamentally requires a shift off of fossil fuels, and in a radically climate-changing world, nothing could be more urgent. But grassroots movements also demand economic, racial, and gender justice underpin that shift. In fact, they assert decarbonizing simply cannot happen exclusive of justice.

Trade Unions For Energy Democracy: Asia-Pacific Regional meeting

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, August 29, 2017

Agenda:

Chair: Lance McCallum (National Campaign Coordinator, Australian Council of Trade Unions)

1. Sean Sweeney (Director, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy) :
A. Keystone USA: Calling from Nebraska: testifying against jobs claims for Keystone pipeline, strong movement in republican state also from first nations and environment groups
B. USA: Positive TUED presence at recent People’s Summit in Chicago – good traction in USA and support from Bernie Sanders supporting unions for TUED – this is against the spilt over energy in unions in the USA
C. UK: Labour party has adopted platform of energy democracy – Corbyn’s excellent result is encouraging–the platform is not straightforward nationalisation rather focused on initiatives like municipal control and procurement. Further movement from the Trade Union Council (UK) through recent motion to split up big power utility companies
D. Europe: Successful first meeting in Geneva that brought together cross section of European unions including – France, UK and Basque region. Resolved to produce framing statement for COP 23 when in Bonn.
E. South Africa: NUMSA and new national centre (SAFTU) undertaking strike action against the closure of coal and adoption of privatised renewable energy. Potential to strike at 6 power stations currently. Potential for NUMSA and SAFTU to embark on campaign for nationwide just transition campaigns (which would be first of such scale)
F. Australia: impressed by latest video on social media by ACTU starting a conversation about nationalising electricity system.
Questions

Colin Long: TUED presence at COP 23: Yes TUED is applying to host side event, have presence as part of union contingent, potential street protests. ITUC contact is Annabel Rosenberg – organising ITUC event.

2. Kate Lee ( Executive Officer: Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA)
a. India trip: End of November, 2017
TNI India is organising conference for unions, academics and state governments to explore climate impacts and energy democracy opportunities in India. Sean Sweeney will attend and speak with good opportunities for more discussion regarding the TUED analysis. There will also be an opportunity to link with a global unions meeting in the region. Following this Sean will be able to visit Nepal to visit TUED unions there for further discussions. Interested unions are welcome to participate – contact Kate for further details
b. Tom Reddington’s position
Tom has recently started working at Union Aid Abroad –APHEDA as the climate justice and energy democracy organiser. He has capacity to support the TUED Asia-Pacific network. He is progressing the mapping exercise from the recent New York meeting and will be distributing a short survey for members to complete soon.
Questions:
Greg Mclean will send Kate Lee contacts re. Energy democracy and unions in India (Prayas and Raman Khan)
Colin Long: interested in bringing Bangladeshi unionist to Australia to discuss new coal projects (e.g. Adani) from their perspective and worker exploitation

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