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America’s Biggest Public Pension Fund Is Slow-Walking Corporate Climate Action, Report Charges

By Sharon Kelly - DeSmog, June 16, 2022

CalPERS says it needs to hold onto billions in fossil fuel shares in order to push polluters in the right direction – but a new report details a pattern of voting against climate proposals.

Does engaging with oil and gas giants by remaining invested in them – keeping a “seat at the table” – help in the fight against climate change? 

A new report suggests not very much – at least judging by the record of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

The report by environmental group Fossil Free California takes the public pension fund to task for its results to date, highlighting its history of pushing “the importance of corporate engagement on climate change” in public statements, while simultaneously voting against climate measures in shareholder meetings.

The report details dozens of votes against climate measures by CalPERS this year — including votes against greenhouse gas reduction targets at Royal Dutch Shell, against reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions at BP, and against pushing big banks to get in line with international “net zero by 2050” strategies.

In fact, CalPERS has voted against every climate resolution at major American and Canadian banks so far this year, the report claims.

The report also casts doubt on one of the biggest accomplishments of CalPERS’ engagement strategy – the election of several new members to ExxonMobil’s board of directors last year, nominated by the activist investment firm Engine No. 1. The report faults Engine No. 1’s directors for voting against two recent proposals to set greenhouse gas targets that would account for the pollution caused by the fossil fuels ExxonMobil sells, and to produce a report on low-carbon business plans.

“Despite their best efforts, CalPERS and [California’s other major pension fund] CalSTRS have failed to persuade fossil fuel companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, increase their renewable energy production, or transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” the report concludes. “By opposing climate proposals at the very companies they claim to influence, the funds’ shareholder activism is not only ineffective – it’s undermining climate action.” 

California lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would spur these pension funds, which invest retirement funds for state employees – including many, like the state’s firefighters, who are today on the front lines of the climate crisis – to drop their investments in fossil fuel producers.

The fund has an estimated $7.4 billion worth of fossil fuel investments that the bill would require them to shed. In April, its board voted to oppose that law, arguing that it would lose its “seat at the table,” only to be replaced by investors that “may not have the same interest in long-term sustainability as CalPERS”..

CalPERS declined comment on Fossil Free California’s new report.

Swedish workers, decarbonisation and the dilemmas of a just transition

By Johan Gärdebo - Democracy in Action, June 9, 2022

As Sweden's trade unions join the green economy, will they be able to manage the tensions between climate policies and party politics?

Ulf Karlström walks into the staff canteen having finished his morning shift. At one of the tables sit the representatives from Karlström’s union, IF Metall (the biggest union for factory and metal workers in Sweden). At another are the white collar workers and blast furnace managers. “Where are you going to sit?” someone asks, loud enough for everyone to hear. Karlström hesitates, only to be beckoned over by one of the managers, “Ulf, sit with us”.

Despite bearing all the hallmarks of a high school popularity contest, this scene took place at the Luleå plant of SSAB – a Swedish multinational and Northern Europe’s largest steel manufacturer – and is indicative of the conflicted loyalties seen in trade unions throughout Swedish industry today.

In 2021, Karlström was elected as trade union chairperson for the Pig Iron Division at SSAB Luleå. At the time, Karlström was serving as a local politician for the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration, right-wing populist party opposed to the climate politics of the centre-left Social Democrats. It was the latter who founded the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, or LO (Landsorganisationen), and still recruits members from LO’s ranks for political positions.

SSAB Luleå’s union members, who were fully aware of Karlström’s affiliation with the Sweden Democrats, did not consider this an obstacle to him representing their interests as workers. The leadership of IF Metall, which is part of LO, took a rather different view, leading to Karlström’s expulsion from the union. The issue was one of political loyalty, an issue of particular concern to the union’s ‘boomers’ (those born between 1946 and 1964).

A party for workers or a workers’ party?

Trade union members currently find themselves at the centre of a tug-of-war between the Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats. This struggle between what has traditionally been viewed as the ‘party for workers’ and the new ‘workers’ party’ became national news in spring 2021 when Mats Fredlund, representative of the Transport Workers’ Union, was expelled for serving as an elected politician for the Sweden Democrats. Similar cases were also reported in the Union of Commercial Employees and the Teacher’s Union. The union leadership stated that the expulsions were driven by the fact that the Sweden Democrats’ värdegrund – a Swedish term alluding to a value system or core principles – was incompatible with that of LO’s Social Democrat trade unions.

This argument conveniently sidesteps the reality that over 60% of LO members now support political parties other than the Social Democrats. The Sweden Democrats have particularly large support among IF Metall members, suggesting affinity, rather than antagonism, between the core principles of Sweden Democrat and Social Democrat workers. It is this overlap that terrifies the LO leadership.

While the Sweden Democrats have been siphoning off Social Democrat voters since the early 2000s, it was not until summer 2020, when Susanna Gideonsson took over as LO’s chairperson, that explicit strategies were launched to bring conservative union members back into the union fold. Driving such initiatives is the overarching question: how can LO become better at listening to, and promoting, Swedish workers and the realities they face?

Putin’s Carbon Bomb

By Ted Franklin - System Change not Climate Change, March 8, 2022

At a time when the entire world needs to focus on radical climate policy changes, he has thrust us into a war that might be as existentially dire as the climate crisis.

On day three of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a worldwide group of scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) gathered on Zoom to put the final stamp of approval on the UN body’s latest devastating report on the world’s feeble progress on climate.

A dark gloom hung over the proceedings as war threatened to derail global action on climate for years to come. Then Svitlana Krakovska, a Kyiv-based Ukrainian climatologist leading her country’s delegation to the virtual meeting, breached the IPCC’s longstanding commitment to apolitical discourse with a trenchant observation.

“Human-induced climate change and the war on Ukraine have the same roots — fossil fuels and our dependence on them,” she reportedly told her colleagues during a break from the air-raid sirens blaring intermittently in the Ukrainian capital. “The money that is funding this aggression comes from the same [place] as climate change does: fossil fuels. If we didn’t depend on fossil fuels, [Russia] would not have money to make this aggression.”

After Krakovska spoke, scientists and climate diplomats from the 195 IPCC nations listened in amazement as Oleg Anisimov, the head of the Russian delegation, apologized “on behalf of all Russians who were not able to prevent this conflict.”

Unions and Climate Change: Toward Global Public Goods

Net Zero versus Real Zero and the Future of the Planet

By David Klein - System Change Not Climate Change, January 13, 2022

“Net Zero” is the wrong goal. Here’s why we need to change the conversation and push for “Real Zero” instead.

A clarion call for “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions has been embraced by nearly everyone — environmentalists, politicians, corporations, and nations. More than 130 countries, including the world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, have established, or are developing, net-zero emissions targets. Adding to that, at least a fifth of the world’s largest corporations, representing some $14 trillion in sales, have announced net-zero emissions targets by midcentury. Even airline companies, collectively responsible for five percent of global warming, have publicized net-zero policies. These include United Airlines, American Airlines, Jet Blue, Delta, as well as other major U.S. and international airline companies.

At first glance, the idea seems eminently reasonable: Offset greenhouse gas emissions by removing equal quantities of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, to be permanently sequestered in soils, plants, oceans, and possibly artificial carbon capture and storage systems. In that way the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases is stabilized. But is net-zero really a sufficient response to the climate crisis?

A closer look at the dynamics of the climate system, including the way the carbon cycle works, reveals that “net zero” can be only a temporary, transitory step, if we are to restrain the worst consequences. Global emissions must be rapidly reduced to a level as close to zero ­— “near zero” as opposed to “net-zero” — as possible. Net-zero and near zero are not the same, even though some well-informed environmentalists conflate the two. 

Existing so-called net-zero policies are making things worse, not better. Despite a plethora of exposés (see for example here, here, and here), net-zero promises are still rife with fraud. Many net-zero pledges are just public relations ploys that enable corporations to continue emitting high volumes of greenhouse gases while “owning” undervalued carbon-absorbing forests or mangroves elsewhere in the world. And in some cases, those offsets burn down or are destroyed in other ways.

Capitalism Can’t Stop Climate Change

By Ablokeimet - The Anvil, January 7, 2022

COP26, the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow, was a monumental failure. It was supposed to be the forum where the world finally committed to emissions reductions sufficient to meet the target of the Paris Agreement: keeping the global temperature increase to only 1.5° Celsius. No less an establishment figure than the Prince of Wales described it as humanity’s “last chance saloon”, but the results fell a long way short of what is necessary. According to the prestigious scientific journal Nature (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03431-4), global emissions must fall 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Instead, the commitments at COP26 will make emissions 14% higher by 2030.

The majority of the capitalist class recognises in theory that climate change is a grave problem requiring drastic steps, but each government wants to protect their own capitalists. The Australian Government is conspicuous by being on the list of bad guys at almost every point. Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison signed up to a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, but only after almost every other advanced country (and many others) had done so. However, its 2030 target is only a 26-28% reduction from 2010 levels. Even without lifting a finger it will definitely achieve 30% and possibly 35%, so the refusal to promise more is ferociously political.

In sectoral negotiations, 40 countries promised to phase out coal, but Australia was not one of them. More than 80 countries pledged to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, but Australia was not one of them. Neither were other big natural gas producers (and therefore producers of fugitive emissions) Russia and Iran. And the Australian Government’s zeal in funding expansion of fossil fuel exports is joined with almost matching enthusiasm by the main opposition party, Labor. Similar stances have been taken by other large fossil fuel exporters, including Canada.

There is a reason for this. Capitalist governments exist, first and foremost, to protect the interests of their own capitalist class. There is enormous sunk capital invested in fossil fuels and the industries using them as inputs. So mining and oil companies fund climate denialism, they promote political parties that oppose addressing climate change and, where necessary, they fight hard to establish loopholes for themselves from any general policy. If a political party proposing serious action against climate change comes to power, or even threatens to, they run vicious and mendacious campaigns to stop it. These companies may have been cutting jobs for decades, but they will cry crocodile tears over the threat to their workers’ jobs. And they may have undermined their local communities by introducing fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers, but suddenly they’ll be backing community groups who think that the only way to defend their community is to oppose climate action.

Just to defend themselves, governments want to protect investments in fossil fuels to the maximum extent possible. So when a problem is identified and specific action is required to address it, the governments that could make the biggest difference are ones least likely to sign up to it. And on the rare occasion where a government that can make a big difference signs up (as Brazil has over attempts to stop deforestation), it is an attempt at fishing for international assistance that won’t have to be returned if targets aren’t met.

Beyond a Just Transition

Beyond "Just Transition"

By Dr Eurig Scandrett - The Jimmy Reid Foundation, December 3, 2021

Introduction

It is no use simply saying to South Wales miners that all around them is an ecological disaster. They already know. They live in it. They have lived in it for generations. They carry it in their lungs… you cannot just say to people who have committed their lives and their communities to certain kinds of production that this has all got to be changed… Everything will have to be done by negotiation, by equitable negotiation, and it will have to be taken steadily along the way. Otherwise, you will find … that there is a middle-class environmental group protesting against the damage and there’s a trade-union group supporting the coming of the work. Now for socialists this is a terrible conflict to get into. Because if each group does not really listen to what the other is saying, there will be a sterile conflict which will postpone any real solutions at a time when it is already a matter for argument whether there is still time for the solutions. Raymond Williams (1982/1989)

The idea of ‘Just Transition’ (JT) has gained traction in recent years. With its roots in the union movement at the end of the twentieth century, it has developed into a concept with diverse and contested meanings. This engagement with JT has created spaces within the urgent policy areas of climate change mitigation to address potential job losses and the disproportionate impact up on the poorest communities, and more positively, to work for the generation of good quality, unionised jobs and greater social equality in a green economy. This is a fast-moving and often technical area of policy development. In Scotland, the Just Transition Commission (2021) reported in May 2021 after meeting over a period of two years, and relevant technical and policy reports are published with increasing frequency.

This paper is not a detailed contribution to these debates, on which others are more competent to comment, although it will inevitably touch on these. The paper aims to take a somewhat longer-term and more abstracted view of JT. It asks what do we mean by ‘Just’ and to what are we expecting to ‘Transition’ to? It argues that, in the discussions over the meanings of JT, the collective interests of workers, low-income communities and the environment are central, and require mechanisms to facilitate challenging dialogues between these interests.

There is an inevitable tendency, in developing positions on JT, to seek common ground between the two principal social movements that have driven JT debates: unions and environmental NGOs; or else between different unions or different industrial sectors. This process of seeking common ground can lead to a dilution of principle on all sides, a common denominator that all can live with, but with which none is entirely satisfied. While the process of negotiating common ground is a necessary and useful process for practical purposes, and a process at which the union movement is particularly adept, this paper argues that JT also provides the opportunity for a deeper dialogue in which all key stakeholders – the environment and working-class people who are either dependent on or excluded from the current unsustainable economy – can seek to incorporate the principles of the others. There are areas where the union movement and the environmental movement disagree. These areas of disagreement could be seen as potentially fertile grounds for deep dialogue in order to seek meaningful and lasting resolution.

This paper is, therefore, not intended to reflect the policy of any union or environmental group, but rather constitute a contribution to a debate within these movements and outwith them as well. It is, in places, designed to challenge. Indeed, it makes the case that the union and environmental movements can best learn from one another by being willing to be challenged by each other. All social movements reflect the interests of their participants, members, opinion formers and supporters and are contingent upon the social and political conditions in which they are acting. This is a strength, but also leads to ‘blind spots’ which are best addressed through collective self-reflection and challenges in solidarity from comrades in the struggle.

It is argued here that JT provides an opportunity to explore, for example, the tension well known in unions between representing the immediate interests of members and the long-term interests of the working-class; and in the environmental movement between the disproportionately educated, white, professional middle-class membership of the NGOs and the communities most directly affected by environmental devastation.

As has been recognised in some of the debates about JT, the idea can be located in a radical working-class tradition which, in Britain includes defence diversification, the East Kilbride Rolls Royce boycott of Chilean engines, the Lucas Aerospace Alternative Plan, the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, amongst others. JT can be more than a mechanism to address climate change, for it can also be a process which can be applied to transitions of many kinds that the labour movement and the left more generally have long advocated: the transition to a more democratic economy, more equal society and socially beneficial system of production, distribution and exchange. The paper, therefore, argues that the union movement, along with environmental and anti-poverty movements would benefit from going ‘beyond’ just transition.

CLARA Statement on COP26 Outcomes

By staff - Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, November 13, 2021

The science is clear: we are facing “Code Red for Humanity.” COP 26 started with soaring rhetoric promising to ‘keep 1.5 alive.’ Once again though, this COP has failed to listen to science and give credence to the peoples’ voices ringing outside the negotiating rooms of the COP and those taking to the streets calling for climate justice.

One bright spot, however, is the agreement on the Glasgow Committee on Non-Market Approaches and the forthcoming work program. CLARA is committed to seeing these approaches succeed in order to enable enhanced cooperation on mitigation and adaptation in order to provide communities with the support they need for climate action. But the market based mechanisms in the rest of Article 6 risk undermining real climate action with offsets that do nothing to enhance ambition to keep temperature rise below 1.5 (see more below).

Read the text (PDF).

Blah, Blah, Blah, Yay: Another Epic Fail for the COP, but Seeds of Growth for our Movements

By John Foran - Sierra Club, December 1, 2021

As COP 26 began, Greta Thunberg summed up the whole thing quite succinctly using just one word, three times:  Blah blah blah.

And as it ended two weeks later, she tweeted:

The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever [emphasis added].

And indeed, COP 26 was an epic fail, even by the dismal standards of the 25 COPs that preceded it, but at the same time, the global climate justice movement made some much needed forward progress.

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