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Paris Climate Agreement

The Promise and Perils of Biden’s Climate Policy

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is properly recognised as the largest climate policy in US history. In this short essay I will first summarise and comment on its provisions, then outline the reactions to it, with a focus on labour unions, and will close by providing my own thoughts.

The IRA allocates around $370 billion over a period of ten years. About 75% of that is in the form of incentives (rather than direct investments or regulatory mandates) to advance the transition to ‘clean energy’ that includes renewables but also nuclear power, biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration. These incentives focus primarily on advancing the production of clean energy but also on stimulating its consumption. Smaller energy investments focus on tackling pollution in poorer communities and on conservation and rural development.

The IRA also authorises as much as $350 billion of loans to be disbursed by the Department of Energy. While such loans have been around since the Bush Administration, the amounts and the likelihood that they will be used during the Biden Administration are much higher. Finally, its main regulatory provision is the designation of carbon, methane and other heat-trapping emissions from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas wells as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, one of the bedrocks of US environmental legislation, which the Environmental Protection Agency implements. Overall, it is estimated that by 2030 the IRA will help reduce emissions by around 40% of 2005 levels, compared to the about 25% reduction projected without it. 

However, the policy mandates that renewable energy siting permits cannot be approved during any year unless accompanied by the opening up of 2 million acres of land or 60 million acres of ocean to oil and gas leasing bids, respectively, during the prior year (for more details see 50265 of Act). In either case, the amount of actual leasing and drilling is subject to market dynamics rather than regulatory limits, while the Act also streamlines the permitting process for pipelines. The growing transition to electric vehicles will lessen the market for oil but the strategic repositioning of natural gas in energy production (as well as plastics) suggests that it (along with nuclear power) will be a long-term source of energy, including in the production of hydrogen. Nevertheless, overall, it is the prevailing view that the IRA will decisively transition the US into renewable energy as part of a broader energy mix.

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Labor-Climate Movement

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act reveals the power that can arise when the movements for worker protection, climate protection, and justice protection join forces.

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. They almost succeeded. But at the last minute, the combined power of climate protectors, worker advocates, and justice fighters was enough to force passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history.[1]

That power was enough to include important positive elements in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will provide the largest climate protection investment ever made. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs annually for a ten-year period.[2] It includes modest but significant funding to address pollution in frontline communities.[3]

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs, and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. It allows increased extraction of fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows massive drilling and pipeline construction that will turn areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good jobs. It makes few “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the changes it will fund.

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?

Aiming for the Sky: A Just Transition for the Aviation Industry

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

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