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Peasants from 81 countries around the world reflect on the past 30 years and look to the future

By staff - La Via Campesina, December 5, 2023

The International Peasants movement, La Via Campesina, opened its 8th International Conference on the 3rd of December in Bogotá, Colombia. Comprised of 182 farmers’ organizations from 81 countries, La Via Campesina holds its International Conference every four years, but the 8th was held six years after the 7th Conference held in Bilbao, Spain in 2017 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the opening of the plenary session, the Youth Assembly was held on the first day, and then the Women’s, Men Against Patriarchy, and Gender Diversity assemblies were held on the second day. The 8th International Conference is scheduled to run for eight days from December, 1 to 8.

From South Korea, Kim Jung-yeol, ICC member for La Via Campesina Southeast and East Asia, Yoon Geum-soon, former ICC member for Southeast and East Asia, Kwon Oh-hyun, Vice Chair of the Korean Peasants League (KPL), Yang Ok-hee, President of the Korean Women Peasants Association (KWPA), Lee Jun-kyu, secretary general of the Goesan KPL, and Kim Ji-young, secretary general of the Jeju Daejeong-eup KWPA are participating as delegates.

The 8th International Conference will mark the 30th anniversary of La Via Campesina, which was founded in 1993, and will focus on reflecting on its progress, sharing the experiences of peasants around the world in the face of climate change, war, and other threats, and outlining the activities of La Via Campesina’s affiliated farmer organizations around the world for the next four years. In particular, the Conference will consolidate the meaning of the adoption of the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Peasants on December 17th, 2018, and will focus more on the need to strengthen international solidarity for the realization of peasants’ rights and the achievement of food sovereignty.

The opening ceremony, which took place on the 3rd of December, was led by the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations Council (CLOC), which played a key role in the preparation of the Conference. On that day, CLOC held a symbolic ceremony emphasizing solidarity, struggle, and unity, holding up signs on communication, agroecology, and land reform, and eliciting a response from the anticolonialist participants.

8th International Conference of La Via Campesina: An overview of the Global Political Context

By staff - La Via Campesina, December 4, 2023

On the afternoon of Sunday, December 3rd, La Via Campesina representatives from every continent and Palestine offered critical analyses of their regional contexts, drawing connections between the climate crisis, migration, and political instability. This is a critical component of building and advancing a global movement for food sovereignty to foster critical consciousness of disparate geographic realities, struggles and victories.

César Villanova, a LVC representative from El Salvador, shared that Latin America is one of the final critical battlegrounds in the struggle against neoimperialism. A war is being fought over the blood—that is the resources—of Latin America, and that war is not simply symbolic but very real, and felt in territories from Mexico and El Salvador, through Colombia, and to the south in Chile.

Building upon Villanova’s discussion of territorial conflict, Albert Bahana Manzambi (COPACO, Democratic Republic of Congo), next offered insights into the African experience, emphasizing that a number of multinational corporations are pushing to destabilize Africa. “We see the lack of security increasing,” Bahana Manzambi suggested, “taking the form of increasing coup d’états and contestation governments.” Importantly, this lack of security is deeply rooted in questions of food sovereignty, and its interconnections with the political context. Bahana Manzambi drove home the point that “there is no security, and no one is protecting peasants”. The question of political instability is driving an increasingly grave migration crisis. “People are fleeing to Europe, and are trying desperately to get there in whatever way possible, and are dying on the way, and when they die, whole families are lost, children, partners; everyone is losing.”

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Extreme Heat Pushes More Farmworkers to Harvest at Night, Creating New Risks

By Kristoffer Tigue - Inside Climate News , October 31, 2023

American farmworkers are increasingly at risk of heat-related illness and death as climate change drives temperatures around the world to record highs. That’s pushing more and more workers to harvest crops at night to avoid extreme heat, according to recent reports, which is creating a host of new risks that experts say need to be more thoroughly studied.

More than 2 million U.S. farmworkers, who typically toil outdoors under a hot summer sun, are exceptionally at risk of succumbing to heat-related illness, the Environmental Defense Fund warned in a July report, with heat-related mortalities 20 times higher for crop workers than in other private industries, as well as employees in local and state government. About three weeks of the summer harvest season are now expected to be too hot to safely work outdoors, the report’s authors added, and that number will only increase as global warming continues.

Government data and other studies have found that an average of 43 farmworkers die every year from heat-related illness. But top officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees U.S. working conditions, say that number is significantly undercounted, largely because heat doesn’t get factored into deaths from cardiac arrests and respiratory failures. One advocacy group estimated that heat exposure could be responsible for as many as 2,000 worker fatalities in the U.S. each year.

In fact, this summer was the hottest on record for the entire northern hemisphere, federal scientists announced in September, in large part because of climate change. Parts of the Midwest and large regions of Europe are also experiencing record hot Octobers.

As the daytime heat has gone up, a growing number of agriculture workers—many of whom are Latino and undocumented—now work while it’s still dark out. But that could be trading one risk for a set of others, labor and safety advocates are warning.

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ETUI training on energy poverty

By Ioannis Gkoutzamanis and Franklin Kimbimbi - European Trade Union Institute, May 2, 2023

In February 2023, the Education Department of the ETUI, in partnership with the French General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and the Institute of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), led a training activity at the CGT training centre in the suburbs of Paris called 'Energy poverty in the spotlight'.

Energy poverty is a pressing issue in the EU that can seriously affect the quality of life of its residents. Energy poverty is the inability to access and afford adequate energy services such as warmth, cooling and lighting. In the EU, at least 50 million people lived in energy poverty before Covid-19 (EPSU, 2021), with approximately 25 million households at risk of suffering from its effects. Lower-income families who cannot meet their basic energy needs are the most affected. The causes of energy poverty are multidimensional: low incomes, poor-quality homes, high energy prices, and energy-inefficient appliances.

Despite the complexity of issues behind energy poverty, this phenomenon is not set in stone. Civil society organisations such as consumer associations, alone or in association with trade unions, can play a critical role in reducing energy poverty by raising awareness, empowering communities, providing education and training, conducting research, and advocating for policies and programmes that address the issue:

  1. Advocacy and awareness-raising: civil society organisations and trade unions can raise awareness about the impacts of energy poverty and advocate for policies and programmes that address it, including increased investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and access to affordable energy for low-income households.
  2. Community engagement and empowerment: civil society organisations and trade unions can work with communities to identify their energy needs and help them develop solutions appropriate to their context, such as developing community-led renewable energy projects or energy-saving initiatives.
  3. Education and training: civil society organisations and trade unions can provide education and training to individuals and communities on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy management, helping them to reduce their energy consumption and costs.
  4. Research and data collection civil society organisations and trade unions can conduct research and collect data on the impact of energy poverty on individuals and communities, helping to inform policies and programs to address it.
  5. Partnerships and collaboration: civil society organisations and trade unions can partner with governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders to mobilise resources and expertise to address energy poverty and ensure sustainable and effective solutions.
  6. Direct assistance and support: civil society organisations can provide direct assistance and support to low-income households, including the provision of energy-efficient appliances, insulation, and other measures that can help reduce energy costs and improve living conditions

Tackling energy poverty in the EU requires a coordinated effort from governments, businesses and communities. By implementing a combination of strategies (e.g. increasing access to energy-efficient housing, or implementing social policies targeted at low-income families, older people, or those living in remote areas), it will be possible to reduce energy poverty and ensure that everyone in Europe has access to affordable and sustainable energy.

Further information:

Provisional agreement on energy efficiency: lights and shadows

By Paolo Tomassetti - European Trade Union Institute, May 2, 2023

On 10 March 2023, the European Council and the Parliament reached a provisional agreement to reform the EU Energy Efficiency Directive, which lays down rules and obligations for achieving the EU’s 2030 energy efficiency targets. The agreement aims to reduce final energy consumption at EU level by 11.7% by 2030, exceeding the Commission’s original ‘Fit for 55’ proposal. Rapporteur Niels Fuglsang (S&D, DK) presented the agreement as a great victory that is 'not only good for our climate, but bad for Putin'. Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy, added: 'Energy efficiency is key for achieving the full decarbonisation of the EU’s economy and independence from Russian fossil fuels'.

While this marks the first time EU policymakers have made an energy consumption target binding, trade unions, NGOs and civil society organisations are critical. ResCoop, for example, notes that the overall EU 11.7% target is non-binding at EU level: binding energy saving targets (1.49%/year) refer to the individual Member States only. Meanwhile, the Climate Action Network (Europe) regrets that, despite its binding nature, the target 'does not even align with the REPowerEU Plan, failing to recognise the skyrocketing energy prices as a result of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It is far below the 20% energy efficiency target that is needed for the EU to fulfil its obligations under the Paris Agreement'.

However, there is consensus that some progress has been made compared to the existing Directive. Firstly, energy efficiency requirements must now be integrated into public procurement. This normative technique echoes the horizontal policies promoted in EU public procurement and concession laws, under which the procurement or concessions of products, services, buildings and public spaces by public administrations are used as a lever to achieve social and environmental sustainability goals.

Secondly, the revised directive will lay down an obligation for large energy consumers to adopt an 'energy management system'. This includes SMEs that exceed 85 terajoules of annual energy consumption (a terajoule/TJ is equal to one trillion joules; or about 0.278 gigawatt hours/GWh, which is often used in energy tables). Otherwise, they will be subject to an energy audit (if their annual consumption exceeds 10TJ). Workers could be positively affected by this provision. For example, MBO’s plan of managerial staff could include indicators linked to energy efficiency targets under the energy management system. Workers’ representatives could negotiate collective agreements that redistribute the resources flowing from energy and cost savings to go towards wage raises. This would be consistent with the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee, according to which 'new awareness of the need for more restrained consumption will free up resources, which can then be used for other things. Trade union agreements on measurable targets and distribution of profits between businesses and workers could be a useful way of raising widespread awareness of the importance of saving energy'.

Thirdly, the agreement includes the first ever EU definition of energy poverty – a situation in which households are unable to access essential energy services and products. People affected by energy poverty – vulnerable customers, low-income households, and, where applicable, people living in social housing – should be given primacy when Member States implement energy efficiency improvement measures. The revised rules put a stronger emphasis on alleviating energy poverty and empowering consumers, acknowledging support for energy communities as one way to meet the targets. Since the condition of energy poverty affects many vulnerable people from the working class, this is certainly another area for collective action by trade unions. Unsurprisingly, unions from different EU countries are already engaged in cooperation with NGOs and environmental groups to promote energy communities as a way to democratise the energy system while connecting energy poverty and labour disempowerment (see initiative by CGIL and Fiom-CGIL Milan as examples).

The provisional agreement now requires formal adoption by the European Parliament and Council. Further comments will follow soon after the text is published in the Official Journal of the Union and enters into force.

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