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Phased down and out at COP26

By Stephen Smellie - Unison, November 15, 2021

As proceedings ended at COP26 late on Saturday night, the Glasgow Climate Pact joined a long list of previous agreements, arrived at by world leaders, that have failed to ensure global temperatures stop rising.

The sum of all the commitments given before and during the two-week jamboree is that the Earth is heading for a 2.4 degree increase rather than being held back to 1.5 degrees. This, according to the prime minister of Barbados, will be a death sentence for many small island communities.

COP president Alok Sharma claims that the 1.5 target is still alive; but as many people have said, it is on life support and slipping away.

The hopes for COP26 were high. The stakes were even higher. The science is clear – if we do not cut the emission of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane by significant amounts by 2030 we will not meet the target of being net zero by 2050 and the planet will overshoot 1.5 by some way.

As an official observer at COP26 with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), I was privileged to spend the second week in the COP26 blue zone, working with a team of trade unionists from across the globe.

The ITUC’s aims were to lobby the government representatives to ensure that the historic commitment in the Paris Agreement to “ensure Just Transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs” was retained in the final Glasgow agreement. That was achieved.

However, the lobbying of the ITUC, along with other NGOs and many Global South countries, to secure the $100 billion for mitigation and adaptation in the developing countries by 2020, a mechanism for paying for loss and damage for the impact of climate change that is already happening, and a clear intention to reduce emissions, was not successful.

It is true that the Glasgow Climate Pact recognises, for the first time, the need to address the use of fossil fuels, but it does not set any targets, relying on countries to improve on their existing plans to reduce the burning of climate changing fossil fuels. However, in the final hours, even the limited commitment to “phase-out the use of unabated coal” was watered down by an amendment from China and India to change “phase out” to “phase down”.

Climate talks are leaving workers ‘out in the cold’ warn unions

By staff - Unison, November 10, 2021

UNISON adds its voice to concerns that the UK’s own COP president is ignoring ‘just transition’ in the COP26 negotiations.

UNISON has joined the TUC and others in warning COP26 president Alok Sharma that he is “putting progress at risk” during this month’s climate talks by neglecting international commitments to a just transition in the move towards low-carbon economies.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 committed nations to taking account of “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”.

However, trade union delegates within the climate conference, including UNISON’s Stephen Smellie, fear that just transition is being sidelined in the negotiations.

Reflecting their concerns, the TUC, Scottish TUC and Wales TUC, with support from affiliated unions, have made a joint statement calling on the UK Presidency to build on the commitment made in Paris.

Their statement says: “The UK COP pPresident Alok Sharma MP has repeatedly committed to just transition as an essential component in rapidly moving the world away from fossil fuels.

“But so far, the UK presidency has invested little political capital in including just transition in the climate agreement negotiations – leaving workers around the globe out in the cold.”

The statement applauded the presidency’s role in preparing last week’s conference declaration supporting just transition, but added that this was separate to any binding agreements currently being discussed.

“Similar efforts need to be made to incorporate just transition and labour rights into the official COP26 negotiations,” it says.

Refuse workers take strike action during COP26 climate talks

Getting to Net Zero in UK Public Services: The Road to Decarbonisation

By Dr. Vera Weghmann, et. al. - Unison, November 2021

Public services as a whole (excluding transport) represent about 8% of the UK’s direct greenhouse gas emissions. The NHS alone represents about 4% of the UK’s emissions. When procurement, construction, and social housing are taken into account, public services’ impacts are much greater.

Different sectors within the overall framework of public services have declared their decarbonisation plans. Some are ahead of the national targets. The NHS has declared that it will reach net zero by 2040, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2028 to 2032. More than one-third of local authorities (single- and upper-tier) committed themselves to decarbonise their local area by or before 2030.

The government aims to reduce direct emissions from public sector buildings by 75% against a 2017 baseline by the end of the Sixth Carbon Budget.

This report identified 21 different measures that should be taken across buildings, transport, electricity generation, waste, procurement and land use along with costed measures for each of nine different public services.

In our analysis, the UK’s public services need a capital investment injection of over £140 billion to 2035 to meet their Net Zero obligations. This will set the public sector on track to meet their climate targets and contribute to the UK’s overall carbon reduction aims. The analysis also identified measures that required annual operational expenditures of £1 billion to hit net zero targets. UNISON fully advocates that quality public services are best delivered by public ownership of public services and utilities rather than privatisation, outsourcing or PFI contracting of public services.

As well as improving the quality of life for service users, workers and the wider community, a number of the measures will also result in significant savings to public services’ budgets, through lower energy bills, cheaper to run fleets, and procurement savings. UNISON fully advocates that quality public services are best delivered by public ownership of public services and utilities rather than privatisation, outsourcing or PFI contracting of public services.

Read the text (PDF).

COP26: Trade Unions Must Fight for a Socialist Transition to Renewables

By Chris Baugh - The Bullet, October 26, 2021

The UK government is hosting the 26th United Nations Climate Change “Conference of the Parties” (COP26) in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988. Its latest report to the UN in August of this year contains even starker warnings for the Earth’s climate than previously, unless decisive action is taken to cut greenhouse emissions. Without this, there is little prospect of keeping an average global temperature increase below the 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius target in the 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement.

This was the first time an agreement had been reached on target reductions but it excluded major polluting industries like aviation and shipping and was devoid of any mechanism for implementing the targets. This reflects the global capitalist consensus that it is market mechanisms that will make the adjustment from fossil fuels to a zero carbon economy. This is despite the warning of Lord Stern who famously described climate change as “the biggest market failure in human history.”

Articles in the pages of The Socialist and Socialism Today have pointed out that it is capitalism’s insatiable pursuit of profit that has led us to this situation. Capitalism has shown itself unwilling and an actual impediment to the action on the timescale and scope required. An article published by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) gives recent evidence of how renewable energy companies are “party to a race to the bottom, capitalist dynamic.”

It cites the use of forced Uyghur labour in China-based solar companies and the ‘off-shoring’ of manufacturing for the Scottish wind industry. The large wind and solar companies prop up a market architecture that is sucking in huge amounts of public money to guarantee profit margins. The report is quoted as saying “these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.”

While richer governments of US and Europe talk up their climate commitments, the solutions proposed will not fix the climate crisis. UK plans to transition to renewable energy are reliant upon an unprecedented wave of resource extraction from ‘Global South’ countries. Intensifying the mining of so-called transition metals and minerals used to produce green technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicle batteries, is devastating communities from Chile to China.

Just Transition Partnership 2021 Manifesto: Action to Turn Just Transition Rhetoric into Reality

By Matthew Crighton - Just Transition Partnership, September 2021

The Just Transition Partnership was formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Trade Union Congress in 2016. Membership includes Unite Scotland, UNISON Scotland, UCU Scotland, CWU Scotland, PCS Scotland, and WWF Scotland. We advocate for action to protect workers’ livelihoods, create new jobs, and deliver a fairer Scotland as part of the move to a low-carbon economy.

Ahead of the Holyrood 2021 elections, and in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are calling for all parties to commit to policies which move beyond warm words and can deliver decent green jobs now while laying foundations for a sustainable, inclusive economy in the future.

The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership

By John Treat, Sean Sweeney, and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 15, 2019

On September 28, 2019, more than 150 trade union representatives, activists and policy allies from more than a dozen countries came together in New York City for a one-day international conference on “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership.”

The conference took place against the backdrop of the massive “Global Climate Strike” actions led by young people in numerous countries around the world, coinciding with the UN “Climate Week” of talks in New York City. In the weeks before those actions, TUED organized a “Global Web Forum” on the #Strike4Climate, and subsequently compiled a list of union statements and actions in support of the strikes.

Framing and Meeting Highlights

The conference program was framed around a number of issues and concerns that have emerged out of recent union-led struggles to both defend and extend public ownership of energy in key countries and regions. Over the course of the day’s proceedings, a number of key themes and broadly shared conclusions emerged, including:

  • Investor-focused climate policy is not delivering the energy transition
  • Privatization of state-owned electricity utilities has failed—but alternatives exist
  • Defending public ownership of energy requires a reform agenda that can drive “de- marketization”
  • Confidence is rising to reverse electricity privatization where it has happened
  • Defending and reclaiming public energy requires building union power
  • The transition must take into account the real development needs of the global South, while contesting carbon- intensive “development as usual”
  • There is an urgent need for technical, programmatic work to make achieving the ambitious goals of the Green New Deal possible

Read the report (PDF).

From Ambition to Action: UK Unions and Allies Work to Develop Energy Transition Vision, Promote Public Ownership

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 23, 2019

On July 9-10, 2019, unions and allies in the UK came together in Manchester for a two-day working meeting. Titled Energy Transition and Economy-Wide Decarbonisation, the meeting carried forward recent discussions on how unions and close allies can work with the Labour Party to shape its commitments on extending public control over the power sector, and the Party’s strategy for decarbonisation. The event built on discussions at the previous year’s TUED meeting in Sheffield, England.

The Manchester meeting took place against a backdrop of mass student demonstrations for climate action as well as “climate emergency” declarations by the UK parliament and scores of city councils. Participants in the meeting included representatives from 15 UK trade union bodies, Labour Party staff and advisors working around energy, transport, and community organizing, and more than 20 close allies from research, policy advocacy and campaigning organizations in the UK and beyond. The full program is available here, and the list of attendees is here.

Linking Ambition to Ownership

In opening the meeting, TUED Coordinator Sean Sweeney noted that many UK unions and the TUC formally support public ownership of energy. They also generally support the need for rapid decarbonization of the economy. However, he noted that unions—and key environmental organisations—could do a better job in showing that public ownership and decarbonisation are in fact inseparable. “Climate targets,” said Sweeney, “simply will not be met if energy systems are not comprehensively reclaimed to public control.” Sweeney emphasized as goals for the meeting the need for: moving from calls for ever-greater “ambition” to developing concrete plans and programs; embracing public ownership as essential to achieving decarbonization goals; establishing and maintaining consistent engagement with these issues across the labour movement; and consolidating and strengthening our collective capacity to tackle the immense technical challenges that must be faced.

Unions representing 4.6 million workers have joined TUED

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 3, 2016

Note: The IWW is not an affiliate of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, or any of its affiliate unions, and this article is posted here for information purposes only:

The final months of 2015 saw a large growth in support for TUED in the US and UK

In the final months of 2015, seven unions representing approximately 4.6 million workers have joined Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.  Five of the unions are from the US and two are from the UK.

Screenshot 2015-10-11 13.39.10In a letter dated October 1, 2015, the General Secretary of the UK union Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, Manuel Cortes, informed TUED that the decision to participate in TUED had been made by the union’s Executive Committee. TSSA is a 22,000 member union representing drivers working for railway companies, shipping companies, bus companies, travel agencies, airlines, call centers, and IT companies in the UK and Ireland.

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On October 7th, the policy committee of the UK’s second largest union, UNISON (1.3 million members) also agreed to participate in TUED. UNISON represents workers in a range of public services and hosted a TUED meeting in London on November 27 prior to COP 21 in Paris.  UNISON’s 2014 Warm Homes Into the Future report has drawn attention to the important role of energy conservation in the residential sector both for reducing energy use and for creating jobs. In a statement on the report, UNISON national officer Matt Lay said, “We need to lead the energy agenda and we are in a key position to achieve this.”

Screenshot 2015-10-11 13.42.22In the United States, the United Electrical Workers (UE) has also joined TUED, by way of a resolution passed at its 74th national convention in August 2015. The UE represents roughly 35,000 workers in companies like General Electric, and also newly-formed worker cooperatives, such as the Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago.

The resolution, “Protect our Planet for Future Generations”, endorsed TUED and other “worker-oriented efforts to address climate change.” The resolution called for “public ownership of the energy industry and for massive investments in renewable energy.”

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Also in October, the US’ largest union, the National Education Association (2.9 million members) joined TUED. The union has been supporting teachers with lesson guides on climate change. Another education union, the Professional Staff Congress, which represents 25,000 faculty and research staff working for the City University of New York, joined TUED in November.

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Education unions from Australia, Romania, the US and the UK are now part of TUED, as is their global union federation, Education International (EI.) At its quadrennial world congress in July 2015, resolutions were passed to make sustainable development and climate change one of EI’s priorities in the coming years.

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In late November 2015, District Council 57 AFSCME joined TUED. The union represents 25,000 workers in schools and community colleges, transit agencies, public works and services, clinics and hospitals, and water and wastewater facilities throughout Northern California and the Central Valley.

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Finally, in early December the 270,000 member union UNITE-HERE joined TUED.  The union represents workers in the US and Canada in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries. At the global level,UNITE-HERE has played a leading role in major campaigns around domestic workers and textile workers’ struggles in countries like Bangladesh. Ashwini Sukthankar,  Director of the Global Campaigns Department, will represent UNITE-HERE on TUED’s Global Advisory Group.

Trade unions in the UK engagement with climate change

By Catherine Hookes - Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, August 15, 2017

Despite being faced with many immediate battles to fight, it is to the credit of many trade unions that they are also addressing the long term wellbeing of their members, and of future generations, by introducing policies to tackle climate change. A new report providing the first ever overview of the climate change policies of 17 major UK trade unions could help raise wider awareness of this important work.

The author, Catherine Hookes, is studying for a masters degree at Lund University, Sweden, and her research drew on a comprehensive web review of policies in these unions, going into more depth for many of the unions, interviewing key figures and activists. The research was facilitated by the Campaign against Climate Change.

For anyone within the trade union movement concerned about climate change (or for campaigners wishing to engage with trade unions on these issues) this report is of practical use in understanding the context, the diversity of different trade unions' approaches, and the progress that has been made in the campaign for a just transition to a low carbon economy.

While every attempt was made to ensure the report is comprehensive, and accurately reflects union positions, there are clearly controversies and different viewpoints over issues such as fracking and aviation. Trade unions with members in carbon intensive industries will always have a challenging task in addressing climate change, but their engagement in this issue is vital. And, of course, this is a rapidly changing field. It is very encouraging that since the report was written, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment. This is an important step in making local authority pension funds secure from the risk (both financial and moral) of fossil fuel investment.

Anyone attending TUC congress this September is welcome to join us at our fringe meeting, 'Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate', to take part in the ongoing discussion on the role of trade unions in tackling climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

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