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Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign

By Chrislain Eric Kenfack - University of Alberta, 2019

In the current context of climate change and its accompanying adverse effects on natural, human and social systems, the imperative of transitioning to low- and preferably post-carbon societies has become a non-negotiable reality if we want to avoid reaching the point of no return in terms of environmental and climate catastrophe. Such a transition requires that the interests and needs of workers and their communities be taken into consideration to make sure they do not bear the heaviest part of the burden in terms of loss of jobs and means of survival, and that they are prepared to face the new, post-carbon labour environment.

The concept of Just Transition was coined to describe both the socio-political project put forward by trade unions in response to climate change, and the recognition by climate activists that the livelihoods and security of workers and their communities must be ensured during the transition to a post-carbon society. However, just transition movements are divided between two quite different orientations, which are labelled “affirmative” and “transformative.” On the one hand, affirmative just transition advocates envisage a transition within the current political-economic system. Transformative just transition activists, on the other hand, envisage a post-capitalist transition.

This article, drawing upon an extensive case study of the Portuguese climate jobs campaign, goes beyond showing how these orientations shape the positions taken by union and climate activists. The article also analyses how the conflicts and cooperation between these key actors can shed light on the possibilities and/or limitations of just transition as a framework for the collective action needed to achieve rapid, deep decarbonisation of economies in the Global North context.

Read the report (PDF).

Climáximo: Climate Jobs Campaign

By Yaz Brien - Transition Network, May 1, 2019

In our ongoing series of blogs from Kevin Buckland, our final Guest Editor, we hear about collaborating with unions and workers to reduce emissions and create dignified and sustainable jobs.

At the 4th Eco-socialist Conference in an aging high school in central Lisbon, I sat down with Joao Comargo, one of the conference organizers and member of the Portuguese climate group Climáximo, to talk about the exciting work underway around Climáximo’s Climate Jobs Campaign.

As autumn leaves fell from the ancient trees around us, we talked about the role of labor and unions in ecological transitions, how movements can engage with them, and what such collaborations could mean for making deep emissions cuts a reality.

Kevin: Hello Joao, first of all. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about Climáximo’s Climate Jobs Campaign, how it started and why you think it’s strategic?

Joao: No problem. We started this climate jobs campaign about 3 years ago. At that time we had some people coming over from the UK, where they were running a campaign there, they were based more on unions but we approached them not from a unions standpoint but as a Climate Justice Movement. We thought this could be strategically and politically very relevant because it opened up a series of new possibilities for strategic alliances around a very clear political program in which climate change can be framed not only as potential catastrophe apocalypse, but as a huge opportunity. This is partially how capitalism is framing climate change anyway, as a huge new opportunity to make profits on the collapse, anywhere from the lowering of standards on oil extraction or agricultural production, lowering the value of land for land grabs, and so on. But we want to use [this narrative] the other way around, saying: “This is the greatest challenge civilization has ever faced.” So when they say “If you want to save the climate it will destroy millions or billions of jobs!” we call bullshit and say “It means more jobs than ever!”.

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