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As California Burns, Teacher Pension Postpones Divestment

By Marcy Winograd - Common Dreams, September 7, 2021

As the climate crisis sent thousands fleeing wildfires in Northern California, CalSTRS, the nation's second largest public pension fund, postponed full divestment from fossil fuels for nearly 30 years.

Over objections from CTADivest, organizers within the powerhouse California Teachers Association, the retirement fund's investment committee voted unanimously September 1, 2021,to support a staff recommendation to adopt a net-zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) portfolio by 2050 or sooner. This translates into continued "engagement" or investment in Big Oil until the date the Paris Agreement set for countries to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

What is net-zero anyway? It's the point at which GHG's released by humans are "counterbalanced," in CalSTRS' words, by removing GHG's from the atmosphere, though no one is clear on how to remove these earth-warming gases through carbon capture and storage (CCS) or if it's even possible to inject them back into the ground without burning more fuels, poisoning drinking water or triggering earthquakes.

The CalSTRS vote came two months ahead of the next UN climate conference in Scotland, where the COP26 Coalition, made up of 350.org, CODEPNK and others, is expected to turn out thousands of protesters to demand the world's nations run, not walk, toward divestment from fossil fuels, as well as militarism, a key driver of the climate crisis.

The CalSTRS Board vote to continue investing in fossil fuels also came days after the California Democratic Party reaffirmed a 2015 resolution calling on the state's pension funds to divest from fossil fuels.

Their Just Transition and our Just Transition

By Dave Moxham - Scottish Left Review , September 2021

Up until relatively recently ‘Just Transition’ (JT) was a term used by a relatively narrow group of people in policy circles, unions and environmental campaigners. Over the past few years, the term has become more commonly used, if not always fully understood or understood in the same way. For example, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ECBD) described it as: ‘seek[ing] to ensure that the substantial benefits of a green economy transition are shared widely, while also supporting those who stand to lose economically – be they countries, regions, industries, communities, workers or consumers’. Meantime, the Climate Justice Alliance said it: ‘… is a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy … The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future’.

Both understand the impact will have winners and losers, and negative impacts should be mitigated. But they then diverge. The first imagines JT as being delivered by policies through existent and, presumably, unchanged institutions. The second sees JT as a more transformative process requiring a shift in the balance of economic and political power.

The Scottish Just Transition Commission, on which I sat, was conceived by the Just Transition Partnership comprising unions and environmental campaigners and adopted by the Scottish Government. The Commission’s remit, set by the Scottish Government, unsurprisingly was aligned more clearly with the ECBD. In other words, the Commission was essentially asked to consider policy recommendations based on the presumption that pre-existing institutions and political and economic relations would continue largely unchanged. This is not to say that the Commission did not consider the socio-economic elements of the issues like energy, transport, industry and housing. It also made the welcome call for empowering workers and communities in delivering JT and for Fair Work to underpin this. Crucially, it called for sector-wide Just Transition Plans, an important step towards the creation of a Scottish industrial strategy. It also called for action to create jobs in the Scottish renewables supply chain and green manufacturing; for two free bus pilots to be run in Scotland; and for as skills guarantee for workers with direct public funding provided so that retraining costs do not fall solely on those whose livelihoods will be negatively affected by the shift to net zero.

However, what the Commission did not address – and was realistically never going to – was the wider political and economic transformation required. In two of Scotland’s highest emission sectors, transport and heat, we have barely scratched the surface of the greenhouse gas reductions required. Meanwhile, in energy, where progress towards emissions reductions has been more substantial, jobs have not been created to mitigate the loss of employment in extraction and generation. The current approach, combining incentives and grants for the private sector with ‘last resort’ state interventions (as at BiFab and Ferguson Marine) lacks ambition.

Therefore, as we approach COP26, and as the SNP Scottish Government signals its intent to economically transform Scotland, the STUC will be campaigning for an approach to JT that achieves both the policy recommendations of the Just Transition Commission and the wider transformation we need.

‘Our Climate, Our Buses’, ‘Our Climate, Our Homes’, and ‘Our Climate, Our Jobs’ campaigns call for radical intervention by government both fiscally but also democratically. Central to this campaign is the need for public ownership and for re-empowering local authorities and communities to deliver change. Privatisation of our bus services has manifestly failed, in terms of fares and services for less well-connected areas. The pandemic threatens a contraction in public transport use when we need expanded public transport to reduce car use. The SNP and Scottish Greens pact creates a public transport fund that could be used by local authorities to take bus transport back under direct control but we have yet to see the how ambitious that fund will be.

Don’t Expect Real Climate Solutions From COP26: It Functions for Corporations

By Simon Pirani - Truthout, August 29, 2021

In the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in the U.K. in November — the 26th session of the talks that were launched in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 — the governments of the world’s richest countries are making ever-louder claims that they are effectively confronting global warming. Nothing could be more dangerous than for social, labor and environmental movements to take this rhetoric at face value and assume that political leaders have the situation under control.

There are three huge falsehoods running through these leaders’ narratives: that rich nations are supporting their poorer counterparts; that “net zero” targets will do what is needed; and that technology-focused “green growth” is the way to decarbonize.

First, wealthier countries claim to be supporting poorer nations — which are contributing least to global warming, and suffering most from its effects — to make the transition away from fossil fuels.

But at the G7 summit in June, the rich countries again failed to keep their own promise, made more than a decade ago, to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance for developing countries. Of the $60 billion per year they have actually come up with, more than half is bogus: analysis by Oxfam has shown that it is mostly loans and non-concessional finance, and that the amounts are often overstated.

Compare this degrading treatment of the Global South with the mobilization of many hundreds of billions for the post-pandemic recovery. Of $657 billion (public money alone) pledged by G20 nations to energy-producing or energy-consuming projects, $296 billion supports fossil fuels, nearly a third greater than the amount supporting clean energy ($228 billion).

Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change are magnified by poverty. This year’s floods, wildfires and record temperatures in Europe and North America have been frightful enough. The same phenomena cause far greater devastation outside the Global North.

In 2020, “very extensive” flooding caused deaths, significant displacement of populations and further impacts from disease in 16 African countries, the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO’s) annual climate report recorded. India, China and parts of Southeast Asia suffered from record-breaking rainfall and flooding, too.

COP26: What Do Unions Want?

IPCC Report is Reality Check; But False Solutions Must be Rejected

By Anne Petermann - Global Justice Ecology Project, August 9, 2021

9 August 2021–Today, on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the UN Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change (IPCC) released a press release announcing the publication of their new Sixth Assessment Report. The document is the scientific consensus on the state of climate change, created by 234 authors from 66 countries. The need for consensus means that while the report is predictably dire, it is also conservative in its findings.

Previously, the IPCC declared that a fundamental systemic transformation was crucial if we were to address climate change and have a liveable future.

This report echoes these sentiments. “This report is a reality check,” said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte. “We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done, and how we can prepare.”

Unfortunately, the report was written under the baseless premise that our so-called world leaders will solve the problem for us–specifically referencing the upcoming UN Climate Conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow.

Climate jobs and the Unite General Secretary election campaign

By Wendy Smith - The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group, July 25, 2021

People have been shocked at the recent news of deaths from extreme heat and flooding across the globe. Three of the world’s wealthiest men have been racing into space in an effort to find new sources of profit. Meanwhile our government here seems determined to rush the UK into a return to pre-pandemic business as usual. There has never been a more urgent need to fight for effective action in the face of climate catastrophe. The COP26 talks in Glasgow in November present our world leaders with a vital and timely opportunity to deliver more than vague targets and future promises.

The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group (CaCCTU) will be launching this autumn the eagerly-awaited update to their groundbreaking pamphlet, “One Million Climate Jobs”, first published in 2004. At the heart of this new report is a core model for a new public service – a National Climate Service – that can get the job done by seeing to the integration of training, redeployment, planning and the interface between sectors (e.g., between industries and energy, or the complex planning needed to integrate and balance public transport).

The Climate Jobs campaign argues we need a sustainable transformation of construction, transport and power among other sectors. Several unions organise workers in these industries and, in order to win the changes we need, these unions should get behind these demands, building support for a transition of the economy and for massive investment in well paid jobs which tackle the climate emergency. In particular, Unite, one of the biggest unions in the Britain, can play a crucial role. Unite is in the process of electing a new General Secretary.

Up to now there has been a tendency amongst many within the Unite leadership to take a defensive position regarding climate change activism. Instead of embracing the possibilities for millions of new jobs in the public transport, buildings retrofitting and renewable energy trades, Unite leaders have opted to present the need to defend the status quo of existing jobs in the aviation, nuclear and private vehicle industries.

Many in the climate movement see some of the proposals put forward by various members of the Unite hierarchy as false solutions. Carbon capture and storage (CCS), nuclear power generation, electric vehicles without addressing car dependency, maintaining current levels of aviation: these are all contributing to the problems of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases. Many climate activists are also Unite members and feel that their voices are not being heard in the higher echelons of the union.

We need to see a greater involvement by rank and file trade unionists and non-unionised workers in shaping their own futures. We recognize that workers have the skills and expertise to play a role in their own just transition to green jobs. Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change to see the leadership candidates putting forward the sort of radical ideas that could make that happen? Whoever wins the election, will the next Unite General Secretary embrace and promote the ideas presented in the new CaCCTU report?

U.K. Green Jobs Taskforce recommendations address green skills, Just Transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 21, 2021

On July 14, the Independent Green Jobs Taskforce delivered its report to the government of the United Kingdom, making fifteen recommendations on how best to deliver the green jobs and skills of the future. A summary of the report and steps taken to date appear in the government’s press release. The full Report is here, with an Annex called Sectoral Transitions to Net Zero, profiling specific sectors and occupations.

The U.K. Trades Union Congress (TUC), which participated in the Taskforce, reacted with a blog post titled, A greener economy can be positive for workers too, highlighting key recommendations – and pointing out real-world examples of best practice, including the example of collaboration between EDF and Unite, Prospect and GMB in the successful creation of transition pathways for workers at Cottam coal power station before it closed. The Senior Deputy General Secretary of the Prospect union was also member of the Green Jobs Taskforce, and summarized her thoughts in this blog: “It’s time the government moved from lofty climate change ambitions to action”, saying “ I am pleased that the Green Jobs Taskforce not only uses the language of Just Transition, but recommends the establishment of a new national body to help shape this change and ensure that no worker or community is left behind in the race for net zero. That recommendation is one of many that we on the task force have made to the government, including establishing a ‘green careers launchpad’, making sure that the curriculum reflects the green skills we will need in the future, and publishing a comprehensive net zero strategy ahead of November’s COP26 summit.”

The government will not endorse any of the Report’s recommendations immediately but they are promised to feed into the development of the U.K.’s Net Zero Strategy; in the meantime, “ a cross-cutting delivery group” has been established “to oversee the development and delivery of the government’s plans for green jobs and skills. This group will maintain the momentum generated by the Taskforce and drive meaningful action across the green skills agenda.”

The Green Jobs Taskforce was established in November 2020 , and included labour representatives from the TUC and Prospect union, along with academics, business representatives and the training sector, including Construction Industry Training Board, Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, East London Institute for Technology, Retrofit Works, Edinburgh University and National Grid.

Related reports: Unionlearn (part of the TUC) published a labour education document, Cutting Carbon, Growing Skills: Green Skills for a Just Transition in March 2020, providing discussion and case studies.

At TUED Global Forum, Scottish TUC Calls for Public Energy in preparation for COP26 in Glasgow: STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer delivers call for “A People’s Transition to Net Zero”

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, August 16, 2021

On August 11, TUED convened its latest Global Forum, to take up the question: "COP26: What Do Unions Want?"

The Forum saw contributions from COP26 host national center, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and Public Services International (PSI).

Nearly 150 participants joined the call, from 69 unions in 40 countries around the world.

The forum opened with remarks from Roz Foyer, General Secretary of the STUC. As the national trade union center for Scotland, with 40 affiliated unions as of 2020, the STUC represents over 540,000 trade unionists. Based in Glasgow, STUC will play host to trade unionists from around the world at COP26, in partnership with the UK’s TUC. (The recording of Foyer’s full contribution is available here.)

Foyer began by highlighting the STUC’s domestic campaigning priorities in Scotland in preparation for COP26, noting that these “chime in very closely with the TUED approach”:

We are first and foremost striving at the moment to build a genuine people’s recovery from the pandemic, and that people’s recovery that we are calling for is about calling for systematic changes to how our economy is organized, and really shifting the narrative around “private = good, public = bad.” And we’re also wanting to see our economy being rebuilt on a just transition. Everyone talks about a ‘just transition’ for workers, but we don’t believe that that just transition is being carried out by governments at this time. So we want to see a people’s recovery from the pandemic and a people’s transition to net zero.

The Covid crisis and the climate crisis have both brought into sharp focus the fact that the private sector and big business have proven themselves as being totally unable to meet the economic and social challenges that economies across the world now face. I think the writing was already on the wall when ordinary people through their governments were forced to bail out the banks during the financial crisis of 2010. And the latest incarnation of this are the various government rescue plans that we’ve seen across the world during covid, which, however necessary to save jobs in the short term, have really been largely focused on bailing out the bosses and the private sector.

So as we look forward to the vital need to decarbonize and achieve net zero through a Just Transition, it’s quite unthinkable that this could be achieved without massive government intervention, and without the efficiency and accountability that can only be delivered by direct, public sector delivery.

Turning to preparations for COP26, Foyer emphasized that the STUC’s approach is to use COP26 as a campaigning and leveraging opportunity, and as a means to build awareness and working class power, and make demands to government which are rooted in the real material needs of working people in Scotland. Towards that end, STUC has identified three campaign priorities which they will focus on in the months leading up to COP26.

Fishing communities in Costa Rica oppose the 30×30 conservation target

By Chris Lang - REDD Monitor, June 15, 2021

Costa Rica is currently the co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, together with France and the UK. A central goal of the Coalition is to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030. This 30×30 target is included in the draft of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, that will be negotiated at the next Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biodiversity, planned to be held in China in October 2021.

The High Ambition Coalition hopes to push the 30×30 target at the UNFCCC COP26 meeting in Glasgow in November 2021, as well as the CBD COP15 meeting in China.

The Coalition promotes the 30×30 target as aiming “to halt the accelerating loss of species, and protect vital ecosystems that are the source of our economic security”. But there is a serious danger that the 30×30 target will result in the biggest land grab the world has ever seen.

A recent Declaration from the Grupo de las Gentes del Mar in Costa Rica highlights this danger. The Declaration puts the 30×30 target in the context of the livelihoods of fishing communities in Costa Rica, and in the context of the history of dispossession, displacements, violations of human rights and violence associated with the creation of protected areas.

The declaration is available here with a full list of signatories.

Election of Union Leader Who Called for COP26 to be Ditched ‘Not Ideal’, Say Campaigners

By Jocelyn Timperley - DeSmog, June 7, 2021

Pro-fracking union leader Gary Smith has accused politicians of “preaching about the need for a green jobs’ revolution” and said Glasgow’s hosting of the UN climate summit showed the UK had its “priorities all wrong”.

Green campaigners have expressed concern about the GMB union’s newly elected leader, who has called for Glasgow to ditch the upcoming COP26 climate summit and enthusiastically backed fracking.

Gary Smith was previously Secretary of GMB’s Scotland branch but on Thursday was elected as the union’s new UK-wide General Secretary and Treasurer. GMB is the third largest union in the UK, with some 620,000 members covering work across a range of industry sectors, including oil and gas, aviation and manufacturing, as well as the public sector.

Smith, who won just over half of the 61,000 votes cast, has a history of outspoken comments about climate change and last year slammed the international UN climate conference now due to be held in Glasgow in November, saying “our priorities are all wrong”.

“The world’s political elite will fly in and out of Glasgow later in the year but the city’s many challenges will remain the day after the circus leaves town,” he said at the time. “The best thing government could do for Glasgow is to ditch hosting the COP and instead invest the money in dealing with the state of the city.”

Smith has been a long-time backer of fracking and fiercely criticised Labour for its support for a nationwide fracking ban, saying “Britain needs gas”. He has also been outspoken on the offshoring of manufacturing and fabrication work for the UK’s renewables industry. 

In the lead up to the election, climate activist Leo Murray said Smith’s election “would not bode well for prospects of GMB finally arriving in the 21st century with respect to the climate crisis”, calling Smith a “fracking cheerleader extraordinaire”.

Responding to news of the election, Alex Brent, GMB activist and co-founder of GMB for a Green New Deal, said Smith’s scepticism towards decarbonisation and often confrontational attitude towards climate activism is “obviously not ideal”.

However, he added, “ultimately it’s not him that needs convincing – it’s workers”, noting that GMB Union was “hardly leading the way in climate action before Gary Smith became general secretary”.

“GMB members, trade unionists and climate activists will continue to organise for climate action at the only level that matters – among their branches, in their workplaces, and in their local communities,” he said. “If Gary gets in the way of that organising, then that may prove to be a problem. Until then, the work continues.”

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