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Chomsky and Pollin: Protests Outside of COP26 Offered More Hope Than the Summit

By C.J. Polychroniou, Noam Chomsky, and Robert Pollin - Truthout, November 22, 2021

The legacy of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this fall was perhaps best encapsulated by its president, who bowed his head and — close to tears — actually apologized for the process, which ended with a last-minute watering-down of participants’ pledges on coal.

“May I just say to all delegates I apologize for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry,” said Alok Sharma, the British politician who served as president for COP26. The conference ended on November 13 with a disheartening “compromise” deal on the climate after two weeks of negotiations with diplomats from more than 190 nations.

In the interview that follows, leading public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin offer their assessments of what transpired at COP26 and share their views about ways to go forward with the fight against the climate crisis. Chomsky — one of the most cited scholars in history and long considered one of the U.S.’s voices of conscience — is Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently Laureate Professor of Linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. He is joined by one of the world’s leading economists of the left, Robert Pollin, who is Distinguished Professor and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Chomsky and Pollin are co-authors of the recently published book, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy to Save the Planet.

C.J. Polychroniou: COP26, touted as our “last best hope” to avert a climatic catastrophe, has produced an outcome that was a “compromise,” according to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, while activists conducted a funeral ceremony at the Glasgow Necropolis to symbolize the failure of the summit. Noam, can you give us your analysis of the COP26 climate agreement?

Noam Chomsky: There were two events at Glasgow: within the stately halls, and in the streets. They may have not been quite at war, but the conflict was sharp. Within, the dominant voice mostly echoed the concerns of the largest contingent, corporate lobbyists; rather like the U.S. Congress, where the impact of lobbyists, always significant, has exploded since the 1970s as the corporate-run neoliberal assault against the general population gained force. The voice within had some nice words but little substance. In the streets, tens of thousands of protesters, mostly young, were desperately calling for real steps to save the world from looming catastrophe.

Flooding in British Columbia is an unfolding, man-made climate disaster

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 17, 2021

After the disastrous summer heat wave which killed 595 people in British Columbia in June 2021, along comes the worst natural weather disaster in Canada’s history so far : torrential rains and flooding which began on November 15 in southern British Columbia, centred on Abbotsford and the agricultural Fraser River Valley, including First Nations lands. One person so far has been pronounced dead; mudslides, rockslides and water have destroyed roads, bridges and rail lines; motorists have been stranded, and supply chains from the port of Vancouver to the rest of Canada are disrupted. Thousands of people and animals have been evacuated and rescued from homes under water. The culprit? As reported by the National Observer, “Lethal mix of cascading climate impacts hammers B.C.” (Nov. 17). But human fingerprints are all over this climate catastrophe, as explained in “‘A tipping point’: how poor forestry fuels floods and fires in western Canada” (The Guardian, Nov. 16). The Guardian article cites a February 2021 report, Intact Forests: Safe Communities, in which author Peter Wood warned of the potential catastrophe around the corner unless the province’s forest management practices were changed.

Responding to over a year of intense pressure, the government of B.C. DID announce new plans in November, to defer logging on 2.6 million hectares of at-risk old growth forests for two years or so, pending the approval of First Nations – a compromise policy which satisfied no one. “BC Paused a Lot of Old-Growth Logging. Now What?” (The Tyee, Nov. 8 ) explains background to the decision and the opposition from the United Steelworkers, whose members work in the forestry sector . The USW press release accuses the government of selling out the workers. “Protecting some old growth isn’t enough. B.C. needs a Forest Revolution” and “Counting the Job Costs of halting old growth logging” expand on the economic arguments for the clearcutting of B.C.’s forests. (The Tyee, Nov. 10). B.C. now needs new research, to count the dollars required to re-build lives and infrastructure after this disaster.

Want to Know How We Can Win a Just Transition? States Hold a Key

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, November 16, 2021

The climate justice movement has undoubtedly picked up steam in the last three years as talk of a Green New Deal has made its way into the mainstream. But even after uphill and innovative organizing, our federal government has not adequately responded to the serious and existential threat of climate change: The Build Back Better bill, touted by the Biden administration as our generation’s great hope for action on climate change, has been almost completely gutted in Congress, where it still awaits passage. And after the ultra-wealthy took private jets to and from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, it does not appear that the urgent action we need will come any time soon. As temperatures increase and storms become worse, the environmental situation is even more dire: Humans can expect ​“untold suffering,” scientists warn, including mass extinction and death, if we don’t act fast.

Amid our elected leaders’ monumental failures, the climate justice movement has smartly moved its focus away from pet projects, like small-scale lawsuits, and towards organizing to build a movement with enough popular support to change our political system. To get the numbers we need — of workers in the many millions — it is necessary to ensure that climate solutions, whether it’s stopping coal extraction or halting fossil fuel digging, don’t abandon workers in those industries. This is the idea behind a ​“just transition,” which aims to move to an environmentally sustainable economy while making sure all workers have safe and dignified work. 

State by state, organizers are working hard to make a just transition a reality and, fortunately, there are a few wins to point to. Unions and environmental groups won a joint victory this June, when the Climate and Community Investment Act, SB 999, passed in Connecticut. The legislation will do three important things: require prevailing wages for construction workers on renewable energy projects, ensure renewable energy projects create good, union jobs for Connecticut residents from disadvantaged communities, and negotiate community benefits agreements, which are agreements that describe a developer’s obligations to the broader community.

This state-level legislation is a step toward an urgent — and existential — need. Kimberly Glassman is the director of the Foundation for Fair Contracting of Connecticut, a non-profit organization that represents both building trades unions and union contractors to monitor public works’ projects for compliance with wage and other labor laws. She told In These Times, ​“As we transition away from fossil fuel dependent energy into green energy, [we have to make sure] that the workforce that has built their livelihoods in the fossil fuel industry has a way to transition and has access to good paying jobs in the green energy sector.” 

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”.

Protecting Some Old Growth Isn’t Enough. BC Needs a Forest Revolution

By Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Arnold Bercov, Torrance Coste and Ben Parfitt - The Tyee, November 12, 2021

Governments have mismanaged the sector for decades. Now communities and First Nations should lead.

No one should be surprised that the British Columbia government’s plan to consider deferring logging in 26,000 square kilometres of old-growth forest angered many and pleased few.

First Nations’ leaders were highly critical of the incredibly short 30-day period the government imposed on them to respond to the deferral proposals, the paltry funding provided by the province to offset consultation costs, and the economic implications for their members.

The Council of Forest Industries, representing the province’s biggest logging, lumber and pulp and paper operations, warned of an impending economic apocalypse in which 18,000 workers would lose their jobs, while skirting around the tens of thousands of industry jobs already lost.

And environmental leaders noted that many tracts of old growth remained unprotected and would likely be logged even more intensely as the government took the next couple of years to decide whether or not the proposed deferral areas would actually receive formal protection.

All of this was predictable, and all of it largely ignored the elephant in the room.

What the deferral decision underscored is the abominable point to which this government and governments before it have brought us.

Successive provincial governments actively encouraged the logging industry, which is dominated by a few very powerful companies, to cut down more and more forest without any coherent plan for how healthy, resilient ecosystems — which are the bedrock of healthy communities — were to be maintained.

Perpetuating logging rates that anyone with an iota of common sense knew could not go on was guaranteed to have brutal consequences, including old-growth forests so fragmented from logging that they are no longer capable of supporting caribou and vibrant songbird populations; community watersheds where once-clean drinking water has turned to mud; drastically reduced or eradicated salmon stocks; and 41,000 direct jobs lost in the forest industry in just 20 years.

Counting the Job Cost of Halting Old-Growth Logging

By Andrew MacLeod - The Tyee, November 10, 2021

The province says 4,500, industry says 18,000. Critics say government has left too many unanswered questions.

The BC Council of Forest Industries and the United Steelworkers union say protecting old-growth forests could cost four times as many jobs as the government is predicting.

But whatever the actual number, any decline in employment will be part of a long-term trend that has seen fewer people working in the sector even as the volume of trees logged each year remained steady.

Last week Katrine Conroy, the minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, announced the B.C. government plans to defer logging 2.6 million hectares of the most at-risk old-growth forests in the province for two years while it discusses possible permanent protection with the Indigenous nations whose territories the forests are on.

Conroy said the ministry estimates up to 4,500 jobs could be affected and promised a suite of programs aimed at helping workers and their families transition to other work.

The Council of Forest Industries, however, believed the government’s estimate is far too low.

“Our initial analysis indicates that these deferrals would result in the closure of between 14 and 20 sawmills in B.C., along with two pulp mills and an undetermined number of value-added manufacturing facilities,” Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the council, said in a statement released Nov. 2.

That translates to about 18,000 “good, family-supporting jobs lost” and about a $400-million reduction in government revenue each year, she said.

A day later the United Steelworkers, the union representing about 12,000 of B.C.’s forestry workers, put out a statement backing COFI’s figures over the government’s.

“If even half of the 2.6 million hectares identified by the government are removed, jobs will be lost as multiple sawmills, value-added operations and pulp mills close permanently,” it quoted USW Wood Council Chair Jeff Bromley.

“In the past three years, eight operations with USW workers across B.C. closed and 1,000 good-paying, family-supporting jobs were lost,” he continued. “The impact from this process will almost certainly multiply across the province.”

For comparison, there were nearly 2.7 million people employed in all sectors in B.C. in October. B.C. added 10,400 jobs in October according to the Labour Force Survey numbers StatsCan released last week.

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.

Some oil and gas workers worry about a 'just transition.' Others think it won't come in their working lives

By Padraig Moran - CBC Radio, November 9, 2021

Kirk Olsen says transitioning away from fossil fuels "is probably a good thing," but as an oil and gas worker, the uncertainty around how that will happen makes him nervous.

"If there was a sure thing around the corner and you knew, I'm just going to slide into this other job, everything's going to be great ... it would make a guy feel a lot better," said Olsen, a heavy equipment mechanic working on the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in Kitimat, B.C.

Olsen has worked on and off in the sector for 12 years. Four years ago, he started his own company supplying and maintaining machinery. He works 20 days on-site, then has 10 days off to travel home to Campbell River, B.C., almost 1,000 kilometres away — a sacrifice he says he's willing to make to provide for his young family.

For him, a "just transition" means the federal government provides training in a new field and makes a commitment that wages won't drop.

Until he has that clarity, Olsen feels "like you worked so hard for something and then it kind of gets taken away," as he told CBC Radio's What on Earth. "I guess that's life, but it's no less frustrating."

Trade Union Program for a Public, Low-Carbon Energy Future

By various unions - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 9, 2021

The following “Trade Union Program for a Public, Low-Carbon, Energy Future” (“Program”) is the result of the work of a Trade Union Task Force consisting of more than 30 unions. Focusing mainly on the power sector, the Program is an attempt to rally the international trade union movement behind an ambitious political effort to bring about a fundamental shift in climate and energy policy. This shift is needed both to correct the failures of the market model and to ensure that the energy transition is socially just, economically viable, and effective in terms of reaching climate goals.

Recognising That:

  • Access to a healthy environment has been declared a human right by the UN Human Rights Council, in recognition of the interconnected human rights crises of environmental degradation and climate change.
  • Lack of adequate access to energy remains a major source of poverty, inequality and insecurity, in violation of human rights and contrary to the aims of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Widespread electrification of many energy-dependent processes will be necessary to meet agreed, science-based decarbonisation targets.
  • Ensuring access to affordable, safe, secure, reliable, low-carbon electricity will therefore be essential to meeting most future energy needs.
  • All known methods of capturing, transforming, and distributing energy for use involve some degree of environmental disruption.
  • Neoliberal climate and energy policies – which are tied to privatisation and commodification – have failed to halt the rise of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Privatisation, marketisation, and liberalisation of electrical power systems have led to price increases, falling levels of service quality, and inadequate investment.
  • The transition required to meet decarbonisation targets will entail substantial changes affecting workers, especially in many energy-related areas of employment, and many of these changes may be very disruptive if their impacts are not addressed.
  • Many countries in the global south continue to face a crippling legacy of colonialism and debt, constraining their ability to procure the technologies and resources needed to ensure universal access to electricity.

Refuse workers take strike action during COP26 climate talks

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