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Paris Climate Agreement

Trade unions and climate change: the need for a programmatic shift

By Asbjørn Wahl - Global Labour Column, November 2019

Climate change is a trade union issue. That is what we increasingly, and rightly, have been told by international trade unions leaders over the last ten to fifteen years. While the inter-governmental negotiations on climate change can be dated back to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the first so-called Conference of the Parties (COP) in Berlin, 1995, it was only about 15 years ago that trade union representation at the COP conferences reached around 100 delegates. Since that, representation has been increasing, and we have seen a growing trade union activity on climate change issues.

This activity has focussed particularly on the social dimension of climate change and climate change policies. Thus, the focus has been more on the effects on workers of climate change prevention and mitigation than on policies to really cut fossil fuel emissions. However, trade unions, as well as governmental bodies, cannot be assessed only on the basis of their activities, but first and foremost on what has been achieved in terms of climate change prevention and mitigation – and the social consequences. In this regard, we must admit that the trade union movement has not been able to take a lead in the climate change struggle.

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