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Unions Are Inadvertently Propping Up Fossil Fuels

By Julia Rock - Jacobin, November 15, 2021

In early October, an oil pipeline owned by Amplify Energy spilled into the ocean in Southern California. Roughly 25,000 gallons of crude oil leaked into the ocean off the coast of Orange County, according to the US Coast Guard, prompting local, state, and federal criminal investigations. The pipeline may have been damaged by a ship dragging its anchor in January.

Complicating matters is that Amplify, the product of a merger and vulture capital restructuring of another bankrupt oil company, may not have enough cash to pay for cleanup or decommission the pipeline. That means taxpayers could end up bearing the costs.

This ecological and financial nightmare was in part funded by the retirement savings of schoolteachers in Pennsylvania.

That’s because the largest shareholder in Amplify is a hedge fund called Avenue Capital Group. The hedge fund is led by Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry, the short-lived chair of the scandal-plagued media company Ozy and the father of Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Alex Lasry.

According to an Avenue spokesperson, one of the firm’s funds invested in the debt of an oil company in 2015 that would later merge with Amplify. Avenue currently holds a 6.7 percent ownership stake in Amplify, making it the company’s largest shareholder and giving the firm a seat on Amplify’s board.

That fund is financed with money from public employees’ retirement funds — spotlighting how millions of workers’ savings are now being used to prop up the fossil fuel industry amid the climate crisis.

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”.

Activism is working to move pension funds away from stranded fossil assets

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 11, 2021

 “Canadian pensions are retiring fossil fuel investments” (Corporate Knights magazine, November 9) strikes a hopeful note about the state of Canada’s pension funds, stating: “Canadian pension portfolio exposures to fossil fuel stocks are down to a 10th of what they were 10 years ago, notwithstanding some controversial private equity investments.” The article summarizes analysis from the Canadian Pensions Dashboard for Responsible Investing, a new project of The Natural Step Canada, Smart Prosperity Institute, and Corporate Knights. That full report is a unique overview of sustainability performance, and employs measures such carbon footprint of the portfolio, presence of net-zero targets, the pay link to Environmental Standards (ESG), support for shareholder environmental resolutions, and more.

Another related Corporate Knights article describes youth-driven campaigns which have challenged pension plans to acknowledge and adjust to climate risk. “How young people are using climate litigation to fight for their future” focuses on youth activism targeting pension funds. It describes a years-long challenge to the Retail Employees Superannuation Trust (REST) in Australia, which ultimately ended in the pension fund settling a lawsuit out of court by acknowledging that “climate change is a material, direct and current financial risk” that could “lead to catastrophic economic and social consequences.” The fund also agreed to be more proactive and “ensure that investment managers take active steps to consider, measure and manage financial risks posed by climate change and other relevant ESG risks.” A second example describes the current activist campaign calling for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) to phase out all current fossil fuel investments by 2025 and completely decarbonize its portfolio by 2030. Retired teachers and high school students have mobilized in Toronto, under the leadership of Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health (Shift), which is organizing similar campaigns at the ten largest Canadian pension funds. In September 2021, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board announced  “industry-leading targets to reduce portfolio carbon emissions intensity by 45% by 2025 and two-thirds (67%) by 2030, compared to its 2019 baseline. These emission reduction targets cover all the Fund’s real assets, private natural resources, equity and corporate credit holdings across public and private markets, including external managers.” The WCR has more detail here .

Relevant to all pension management: new research published in Nature Energy and summarized in The Guardian with this headline: “Half world’s fossil fuel assets could become worthless by 2036 in net zero transition” .

Scotland's Rail Unions at COP 26

Rail Unions call for action on climate change

By staff - Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, November 10, 2021

TSSA, ASLEF, RMT, and Unite unions today united with Jeremy Corbyn and the STUC at COP26 to call on the Scottish Government to invest in Scotland’s Railways in order to fight climate change.

The unions held an event in Websters Theatre to promote their report “A Vision for Scotland’s Railways” which calls for better investment in railway infrastructure and staffing in order to encourage passengers back onto the railway. The report argues that staffed stations are safer at night and more accessible for passengers with disabilities.

Jeremy Corbyn said, “The land taken up by railways compared to roads is utterly minimal… For environmental considerations railways are the right way forward and this document indicates all of that.”

TSSA Organiser Gary Kelly said, “It’s not just the climate which is code red, it’s the railway itself. We're in the middle of a climate catastrophe when rainfall puts the railway at risk and the government's answer is to cut Network Rail staff. We're facing a real Code Red here. The question is what are we going to do about it?

ASLEF Organiser Kevin Lindsey said, “We want to see our vision become the template…. It’s crucial that passengers have an input, whether that’s people representing women, people representing young people or people representing disabled passengers, or just general passengers we want all voices to be heard. It’s so crucial to have a railway for all of Scotland.”

RMT Organiser Mick Hadley said “If we are serious about addressing the concerns about Scotland by giving the most vulnerable people access to trains, we need to give them access to staff - we need station staff to ensure it's safe to use Scotland's trains”

The unions criticised privatisation for failing both ScotRail and the people of Scotland.

Unite the Union Organiser Pat McIlvogue said, “All Abellio are concerned about is the profit, not concerned about the service, not concerned about the people, not concerned about the country. We've got a chance for a change now.”

Chairing the event, STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said, “The current rail model fails services users and employees. We have a real opportunity when Scottish Government takes over ScotRail in April… There's an absolute need for us to mobilise people to demand that it stays a public service”

The tragic events at Stonehaven show climate change is real - it's here we're living with the effects. We need change. The rail unions are committed to working together to make that change happen.

Better public transport is the only way to cut carbon emissions, unions and campaigners urge

By Niall Christie - Morning Star, November 10, 2021

Cop26 summit ignores rail, buses, ferries and bicycles and puts its focus on cars and planes instead.

CREATING universal and comprehensive public transport is the only way to effectively cut carbon emissions from travel at home and abroad, unions and campaigners have said during Cop26.

Campaigners and politicians condemned the lack of consideration of rail, bus, ferry and cycle transport during proceedings at the summit today, where the focus was put on cars and planes instead.

Officials and delegates at the gathering in Glasgow made a number of announcements on transport, including on zero-emissions vehicles, so-called green shipping corridors, and on decarbonising air travel.

Tory Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that travel, including aviation, should be “guilt-free.” He also said that the government did not see flying as “the ultimate evil,” after officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were condemned for using planes for short journeys during Cop26.

But unions and campaign groups highlighted the need for stronger rail and bus services throughout Britain, and backed public ownership to ensure that services work for all.

Before talks began at the conference hall on the River Clyde, a large demonstration took place in George Square with demands for equal access to transport systems in the summit’s host city.

Delegates at the summit have been given a travel pass which grants free travel on buses, trains and the subway system.

But no integrated travel system exists in Scotland, and the cost of the largely privatised sector has been on the rise in recent years.

Friends of the Earth Scotland transport campaigner Gavin Thomson told the Morning Star that only a radical overhaul of the transport system can deliver a just transition to a greener planet.

“We need to start thinking about transport like we do about health and education: as so important to public life that it’s paid for out of general taxation and free at the point of use,” he said.

“Not just because we drastically need to reduce emissions from transport, but because it is so important to things like education, employment and reducing social isolation.”

Trade union leaders joined the call for focus on public transport, with STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham asserting that the free market has no place in the sector.

The alternative is to run our own bus and rail networks, he said, adding that now is the time to act.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said the government “is taking forward a comprehensive suite of measures to promote more sustainable, affordable public transport journeys and deprioritise car use.”

At an event organised by the Peace and Justice Project, rail unions set out their vision for the railways.

Kevin Lindsay, Aslef’s organiser in Scotland, said that rail in Scotland will largely remain privatised even after Scotrail returns to public hands next year.

In a move towards providing a railway for all, he said that everybody under the age of 24 should be given free transport on rail services.

RMT organiser Mick Hogg said he was increasingly concerned about suggested cuts to services, and called for passengers, vulnerable communities and railway infrastructure to be put first.

We Own It director Cat Hobbs said that Britain must bring buses and trains back into public ownership and control.

“We can’t tackle the climate crisis unless we give people a real alternative to cars and planes, instead of just trying to make them greener,” she said.

“We need a decent, affordable, high-quality public transport network that we can all rely on, to make the best use of shared resources.

“The privatisation money-grab of the last 30 years hasn’t served passengers or the planet.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there must be an increase in rail capacity from north to south, and called for urgent action to protect the future of the railways in Scotland and beyond.

The transfer of Scotrail to public hands must be the beginning of full public ownership of public transport in Britain, he said, adding: “Get the leeches off the railway, get the staff into the trains, and get the public back onto the railway.”

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.

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.

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).

Report on Canada’s low carbon future makes recommendations for community and worker transitions

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 1, 2021

 A new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices analyzes the trends in the global transition to a low carbon economy, and warns that 800,000 Canadian jobs could be at risk if we fail to support strategic industries. The report states that Canada is particularly vulnerable to market disruptions because over 70 per cent of our goods exports and over 60 per cent of foreign direct investment in Canada are in vulnerable sectors – not only fossil fuels, but also such as auto parts and vehicles, minerals, and energy intensive industries such as steel and aluminum.

The report, Sink or Swim: : Transforming Canada’s economy for a global low-carbon future is a business analysis with the overall message that transition offers opportunity, and Canada needs to act more quickly to “catch the wave”. Besides examining the benefits and sectors of opportunity in the low carbon transition, the the report includes a recommendation to: “Develop local and people-focused transition plans that drive new areas of job creation, improve the resilience of the workforce and empower Indigenous economic leadership.” More specifically, the report concludes with : “ Federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments should work together to develop detailed transition plans to support workers and communities and improve overall well-being. Transition plans should aim to attract new sources of growth and jobs, support worker transition and skill development, improve youth education outcomes and readiness, ensure alignment with Sustainable Development Goals, and empower Indigenous economic leadership.”

The Sink or Swim discussion starts from a fundamental statement that “achieving success is also about more than supporting affected workers in transition-vulnerable companies or sectors. Success will come from generating strong and inclusive economic growth that improves the wellbeing of all Canadians.” The ensuing discussion recognizes that multinational companies have weak connections and relationships to local communities, making them more likely to relocate than to re-invest. Using census data, it identifies 55 communities of 10,000 people or more that have more than 3% of their workforce employed in transition-vulnerable sectors, highlighting the Wood Buffalo area in the oil sands of Alberta, and Thompson Manitoba, a nickel-mining community. The report offers recommendations for communities, focusing on the critical areas of infrastructure investment, financing, and the need for local capacity to analyze labour markets and financial opportunities– using the examples of the InvestEU advisory hub and the Colorado Office of Just Transition.

Regarding workers, the report documents the increased vulnerability of youth, minorities, and especially Indigenous workers. It sees the solution for all as improved education and training opportunities – describing programs in B.C. , the North, and for Indigenous workers. The report also states: “all post-secondary education programs—including trades, engineering, science, economics, and business—can support transition success by incorporating future skills and knowledge needs into their curricula and programming.” 

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