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Building a Just Transition for a Resilient Future: A Climate Jobs Program for Rhode Island

By Lara Skinner, J. Mijin Cha, Avalon Hoek Spaans, Hunter Moskowitz, and Anita Raman - The Worker Institute and The ILR School, January 2022

A new report released today by climate and labor experts at Cornell University in collaboration with the Climate Jobs Rhode Island Coalition outlines a comprehensive climate jobs action plan to put Rhode Island on the path to building an equitable and resilient clean-energy economy.

The report lays out a series of wide-ranging policy recommendations to transition the Ocean State’s building, school, energy, transportation, and adaptation sectors to renewable energy with the strongest labor and equity standards. Core provisions of the plan include decarbonizing the state’s K-12 public school buildings, installing 900 MW of solar energy statewide, 1,300 MW of offshore wind energy, and modernizing the state’s electrical grid by 2030. 

“Rhode Island is in a unique position as a state, in 2019 it had the lowest energy consumption per capita across all the United States. Rhode Island can use climate change as an opportunity to eliminate carbon emissions, increase equity, and create high-quality jobs that support working families and frontline communities,” says Avalon Hoek Spaans, Research and Policy Development Extension Associate for the Labor Leading on Climate Initiative at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

The Worker Institute’s Labor Leading on Climate Initiative in partnership with the Climate Jobs National Resource Center, and Climate Jobs Rhode Island, began a comprehensive research, educational, and policy process in early 2021 to develop an implementation framework to drastically reduce emissions in the state while creating high-quality union family sustaining jobs.

Over the past year, the Labor Leading on Climate team has conducted outreach to numerous leaders of the labor and environmental movements as well as policymakers and experts in the climate, energy, and labor fields to better understand the challenges and opportunities that climate change and climate mitigation and adaptation presents to Rhode Island workers and unions.

“With Rhode Island on the frontlines of the climate crisis, it will take bold, ambitious action to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution to the levels that science demands. Fortunately, tackling climate change is also an opportunity to address the other crises Rhode Island is facing: inequality and pandemic recovery,” says Lara Skinner, Director, Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

“As a small state with one of the lowest emissions in the country, Rhode Island can be innovative and efficient, employing cutting-edge approaches to reverse climate change and inequality. Rhode Island has the potential to be the first state in the country to fully decarbonize and build out a net zero economy with high-quality union jobs. This would make Rhode Island's economy stronger, fairer, and more inclusive,” says Lara Skinner, Director, Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

Read the text (PDF).

Surveys of oil and gas workers show their willingness to retrain and move to clean energy jobs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 9, 2021

International recruitment firm Brunel International and Oilandgasjobsearch.com released the latest version of their annual survey on November 30, showing key employment trends such as recruitment challenges, compensation, energy transition, job engagement, and retention in the global energy sector. Energy Outlook Report 2021-2022 is summarized with key highlights here , including that more than half of the oil and gas workers surveyed want to work in the renewable energy sector – a sentiment stronger amongst workers ages 25 – 29 years old. The survey also highlights a high degree of “job volatility” in the wider energy and extraction sector, with 44% of workers in oil and gas, 42% each in mining, power, and renewables, and 39% in nuclear saying they were looking for a career change in the next five years. The full survey is available for download here.

Although not as widely reported, a Canadian survey in the summer of 2021 showed a similar appetite for career change. Iron and Earth, the Canadian organization of fossil fuel workers whose mission is “to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions” , commissioned Abacus Data to conduct a survey of 300 Canadians working in the oil, gas or coal industry. The survey report probed general attitudes to a net zero economy, but more particularly asked about attitudes and motivations to skills training and retraining, with breakdowns by age, gender, Indigenous/minority status, and region. The top level finding: 69% of all the workers surveyed were very interested or somewhat interested in “making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy”. These findings are consistent with an anecdotal report “Workers Pick Job Stability Over Higher Wages as Oil Rig Operator Scrambles for Crews” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 14), which reports on the recruitment difficulties of the oil and gas industry. The article quotes the head of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors, who speaks of shift in the industry, “citing the premium many younger workers place on work-life balance, along with the federal government’s talk about just transition legislation.”

That same Canadian Association of Energy Contractors released their industry forecast for 2022 in November. It reports that drilling activity for oil and gas wells has “bounced back” from an all-time low in June 2020, and “total jobs in 2021 were up 54 per cent year-over-year from 2020, with an increase of 9,734 jobs. In 2022, CAOEC expects another increase of approximately 7,280 total jobs to 34,925, a 26 per cent increase year-over-year.” However, clearly oil and gas workers are right to be concerned about job stability, as the CAOEC continues: “In comparison to 2014, we anticipate total jobs will still be a loss of 56 per cent from the peak of 78,793 total jobs in 2014.”

Climate Ventures Conversations: Bruce Wilson from Iron & Earth

The Quiet Culprit: Pension Funds Bankrolling the Climate Crisis

By staff - Climate Safe Pensions, December 2021

A first-of-its-kind report ... from Climate Safe Pensions Network and Stand.earth reveals that just 14 pension and permanent funds finance fossil fuels to the tune of $81.6 billion.The report shows a comprehensive accounting of the fossil fuel exposure of 14 pension funds in one report from Climate Safe Pensions Network and Stand.earth reveals that just 14 U.S. public pension funds are the quiet culprits of climate chaos: with $81.6 billion invested in coal, oil, and gas.

With over $46 trillion in assets worldwide, pension funds are among the largest institutional investors in fossil fuels. These investments have dangerously underperformed the rest of the market, making public pensions’ fossil fuels investments inherently risky.

Pension funds’ financial influence make them a force to reckon with in the battle to confront, slow and mitigate climate change. Pension fund decision-makers must take climate protection seriously — not only for their financial well-being, but also for the well-being of their millions members.

With 10 years of data, there’s hard evidence that divestment is a winning financial strategy. The fastest way for pensions to address climate change is to divest fossil fuel holdings and invest in just and equitable climate solutions.

Read the text (PDF).

Public and Commercial Services Union: Action is Needed Now on Climate Change

By Staff - Public and Commercial Services Union, November 26, 2021

Addressing climate change and environmental damage should be used as an opportunity to improve the lives of all workers and communities.

The government still lacks a plan for how it will implement its net zero carbon targets, including ensuring we have a fully resourced civil service that is set up to deliver on this. PCS members are critical to a Just Transition, for example in DWP ensuring the temporary work coaches hired to deal with the Covid crisis are made permanent to deal with the climate crisis and help workers transition into jobs in the so called green economy.

PCS ‘s climate change sub committee has written the following statement:

COP26 – no time for tears, we need action

PCS stands with the chorus of voices angry at the outcome of the COP26 climate negotiations but determined to ensure that the era of injustice is over. As UK COP President Alok Sharmer’s banged his gavel to signal agreement on the Glasgow Climate Pact his call for unity rang hollow, just as his tears.

There can be no question this is a pact for elite nations and the powerful fossil fuel lobby against workers and peoples across the world. The shameless disregard for the nations and peoples on the frontline of climate change pleading to be listened to, was paralleled by the voices of workers outside the negotiating rooms on strike in Glasgow throughout the COP. A recognition that climate justice is workers justice, and workers justice is climate justice.

As part of the COP26 coalition, PCS has been proud to be part of mobilising our movement around the COP alongside the wider climate justice movement. But this mobilisation does not stop here. As we set out in our briefing to members ahead of the COP, market forces won’t save our jobs and what we have been witnessing is a reconfiguring of the economy to ensure the greening of profits.

Whilst financiers at the COP set out the new net zero finance architecture, the business-as -usual tax avoidance and evasion remains in place. We need a new pro-public architecture for a decarbonised economy with assets such as energy, water, transport and communications returned to full public ownership with democratic controls.

There will be no just transition if left to the bankers, and we cannot be fooled by our politicians greenwashing their so called climate ambition in the language of the climate movement. Alok Sharmer and Mark Carney are not part of our movement, they are against our class and we need to ensure we build a wall of solidarity against their next onslaught.

For example, telling us that the transition is too expensive, when not doing the things we urgently need to do now is an irreversible cost. This includes ensuring we have a fully resourced and well paid civil service that can help deliver a whole economy decarbonisation plan for workers and their communities. As we learnt from the Covid crisis, there is money, and will not be able to deliver on climate action with a pared down civil service as proposed in the last budget announcement.

PCS members are at the heart of the Just Transition. Our members have a vital role to play in the work of collecting taxes, delivering social protections such as real living wage benefits, and supporting workers into new green jobs; looking after green spaces and public facilities such as in the Royal Parks or getting fossil fuel funders out of our museums and galleries; growing the trees for reforestation.

With the UK a signatory to the Just Transition statement announced at the COP, PCS will be seeking a discussion on how this will be taken forward within the UK Civil Service, and other of our employers. We will also be stepping up our efforts across the union to put demands for action on climate.

Climate change is already here, impacting our sisters and brothers at home and around the world. There is no time to waste. We need to build on the alliances we have made mobilising for the COP, strengthening our power to win on climate and to win for workers.

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.

Noam Chomsky: Ending Climate Change “Has to Come From Mass Popular Action,” Not Politicians

By Poyâ Pâkzâd, Benjamin Magnussen, and Noam Chomsky - Jacobin, November 19, 2021

Benjamin Magnussen: To change subjects: What do you see as the greatest obstacle in solving the climate crisis?

Noam Chomsky: There are two major obstacles. One is, of course, the fossil fuel companies. Second is the governments of the world, including Europe and the United States. We have just seen that very dramatically over the summer. On August 9, 2021, the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] issued its last analysis of the climate situation. It was a very dire warning — much more than before.

The message basically was, “We have two choices.” We can either start right now cutting back on fossil fuel use, [and] do it systematically every year, until we phase them out by mid-century. That’s one choice. The other choice is cataclysm. The end of organized human life on earth. Not immediately — we’ll just reach irreversible tipping points, and it goes on to disaster. Those are the options.

How did the great powers react? The day after the IPCC report, Joe Biden issued an appeal to the OPEC cartel [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] to increase production. Europe chimed in by calling on all producers, including Russia, to increase production. Increase production. This is a response to the IPPC warning that we have to start reducing right now.

That’s for political reasons, for profit for the oil companies. [The] political reason is that they want the price reduced. It’s better for them. [For] Joe Biden, if the gas prices are high, it harms his electoral prospects. [If] you read the major business press right now, [there’s] a big discussion going on: What’s the best way to increase production? Is it through the American shale oil — the fracking industry — or is it through OPEC? But how do we increase production best? That’s the business press. Turn to the petroleum journals. [They are] euphoric: “We just found new fields to exploit. Demand is going up. It’s great.”

Let’s go to the US Congress. The Biden program — under pressure from young activists, the Bernie Sanders movements, and so on — is actually a big improvement on any previous ones, on paper. It’s not wonderful, but it’s much better than anything else. Well, the [previous] negotiations in Congress over the “reconciliation bill,” initiated by Bernie Sanders, cut back very sharply from Sanders’s proposals. It’s a very valuable bill. It somewhat reverses the huge assault on the population during the neoliberal era.

The Republicans are 100 percent opposed. Nothing. [They] won’t accept anything. The Democrats do have a swing vote. The so-called moderate Democrats, who should be called “ultra-reactionaries,” are the swing vote. One of them is the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, [who] also happens to be the champion in Congress of receiving funding from the fossil fuel industry — which is quite an achievement, because they pay off everyone — but he’s the champion. His name is Joe Manchin. He has a policy — he’s made it explicit — that’s taken from the playbook of the oil companies. He made it very clear; he said: “No elimination, only innovation.” So, no cutbacks on the use of fossil fuel. If you can make up something new, it’s okay. So, he’s blocking it. There are climate change provisions in it. They’re already out. Blocked.

In Europe, it varies. There are some countries, like Denmark, for example, that are moving toward renewable energy pretty significantly. Others vary. But when it comes to the crunch, telling the oil companies and the producers right now what to do, Europe is, as far as I know, unified in saying, “Increase production” — right after the warning that we have to decrease production. That’s the world we live in.

COP26: workers must focus on solutions, not empty promises

By staff - Canadian Union of Public Employees, November 17, 2021

World leaders – including Canada’s Justin Trudeau – have again sadly under-performed with their feeble response to the climate emergency at COP26. There is little doubt that leadership from our governments is too weak, and that the influence of polluters on them is too strong. But despite the disappointing results of these international discussions, we must not lose hope. Unions and workers must now focus their energies on real solutions and centre our efforts on creating better ways of working that cut greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

COP26 wrapped up in Glasgow, Scotland, with a mild new agreement that will not hold global temperatures from rising more than 1.5℃. The planet is currently on track to warm 2.7℃ by the end of this century.

We now need to focus even more, and concretely, on job creation that results from greening our economy. For example, CUPE is partnered with the Green Economy Network that calls for job growth in low-carbon, public energy and transportation. Jobs can also be created that will help communities adapt to climate change through reforesting urban spaces and re-naturalizing waterfronts and coastlines. Cutting waste, bolstering recycling, and composting programs all grow good jobs. Plus, all CUPE jobs can be altered to cut emissions. Just Transition programs are necessary to protect workers and communities in these important and necessary changes.

Before COP26, CUPE participated in a Trade Union Task Force. The Trade Union Program for a Public Low-Carbon Energy Future was launched in Glasgow at the start of the COP26 to rally the international trade union movement to support a fundamental shift in climate and energy policy centred on a socially-just energy transition.

A people’s summit was also organized by environmental and development NGOs, trade unions, grassroots community campaigners, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks and others. That summit convened a diverse and impressive series of discussions outlining solutions working people can advocate for and pressure governments to support. The strengthening of broad social justice coalitions calling for real climate change solutions is a positive outcome of the COP process.

While COP26 under-delivered in stemming the phase-out of coal and fossil fuels that are at the root of the climate crisis, it has again inspired workers and other social justice and climate activists to invest their energy toward real solutions.

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.” 

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