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Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign

By Chrislain Eric Kenfack - University of Alberta, 2019

In the current context of climate change and its accompanying adverse effects on natural, human and social systems, the imperative of transitioning to low- and preferably post-carbon societies has become a non-negotiable reality if we want to avoid reaching the point of no return in terms of environmental and climate catastrophe. Such a transition requires that the interests and needs of workers and their communities be taken into consideration to make sure they do not bear the heaviest part of the burden in terms of loss of jobs and means of survival, and that they are prepared to face the new, post-carbon labour environment.

The concept of Just Transition was coined to describe both the socio-political project put forward by trade unions in response to climate change, and the recognition by climate activists that the livelihoods and security of workers and their communities must be ensured during the transition to a post-carbon society. However, just transition movements are divided between two quite different orientations, which are labelled “affirmative” and “transformative.” On the one hand, affirmative just transition advocates envisage a transition within the current political-economic system. Transformative just transition activists, on the other hand, envisage a post-capitalist transition.

This article, drawing upon an extensive case study of the Portuguese climate jobs campaign, goes beyond showing how these orientations shape the positions taken by union and climate activists. The article also analyses how the conflicts and cooperation between these key actors can shed light on the possibilities and/or limitations of just transition as a framework for the collective action needed to achieve rapid, deep decarbonisation of economies in the Global North context.

Read the report (PDF).

Why we need a European Green New Deal

By Srećko Horvat - ROARMag, February 14, 2019

The damage caused by air pollution is now being compared to the effects of tobacco use. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution poses the greatest environmental threat to global health in 2019, killing seven million people prematurely every year, which is around the number of deaths caused by cigarettes.

No wonder a common joke about air pollution in contemporary India says that “living in Delhi is just like smoking 50 cigarettes in a day.”

Or that a joke in China even suggests ways of dealing with the air pollution in the best Graucho Marx manner: “Individual therapy: put a mask on. Family therapy: buy health insurance. If you have money and the time: go on holiday. If you’ve no class: emigrate. National therapy: wait for the wind.”

Unfortunately, as usually with dark humor, the joke is reality. When in January 2017 China announced the first ever nationwide red level fog alarm, haze-avoidance soon became a trend and hundreds of thousands of Chinese would start traveling abroad during winter months — when pollution is critical — specifically to escape air pollution. At the same time, those who do not have the means to escape have to stay with masks and literally wait for… air.

When we hear or read about air pollution, we immediately think of India or China. Yet the death rate from air pollution in Hungary happens to be the second highest in the world, coming just behind China. As many as 10,000 people die prematurely in the country each year because of diseases linked to air pollution.

In 2018, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a report showing that air pollution causes almost 500,000 premature deaths in Europe every year. The report warned that the toll on health was worse in Eastern European countries than China and India.

Towards a just transition: coal, cars and the world of work

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2019

The role of trade unions and social dialogue is key in demonstrating the major differences between coal-based energy generation and the automobile industry. This book presents two faces of a just transition towards a net-zero carbon economy by drawing lessons from these two carbon-intensive sectors. The authors regard just transition not as an abstract concept, but as a real practice in real workplaces. While decarbonisation itself is a common objective, particular transitions take place in work environments that are themselves determined by the state of the capital-labour relationship, with inherent conflicts of interest, during the transition process.

The case studies presented in this book highlight the major differences between these two sectors in the nature and magnitude of the challenge, how transition practices are applied and what role the actors play.

Read the report (Link).

Beyond Coal by 2030

By Florent Marcellesi and Joanna Flisowska - Green European Journal, November 29, 2018

The COP24 climate talks in Katowice, Poland are set to start on December 2. This year, the negotiations follow a clear warning from the global climate science community, which highlighted in the recent IPCC report that urgent steps are needed to slow global warming. Without action, the world faces the grim prospect of extreme weather events and a massive loss of species. Florent Marcellesi, Green MEP, and Joanna Flisowska, coal policy coordinator at Climate Action Network Europe, discuss COP, the energy global transition, and the gender dimension of climate change.

Green European Journal: In a matter of days, almost 200 countries will meet in Katowice, a city at the heart of a Polish coal mining region, to try and finalise the details of how the Paris Agreement will be put into force. Increasingly, the main timeline for taking steps to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5, now seems impossible. Where are we going into the talks?

Joanna Flisowska: The objective of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees was in the Paris agreement from the very beginning. But with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we found out just how urgent it has become to act on climate change. The report brings the impact of climate change beyond the 1.5-degree mark to light and shows how disastrous and far-reaching it will be.

Florent Marcellesi: The IPCC report is a tipping point. We can now clearly say that we have to go faster and act with greater ambition for two main reasons. First, the drastic consequences if we do not. In Spain, from now to the end of the century the soil could become a desert and Spanish people could end up as climate refugees. Second, the opportunities. Achieving the 1.5-degrees limit means people living healthier lives and the creation of new and better jobs. Climate change will have negative consequences for the economy and for identity, traditions, and culture too as it disrupts ways of life. But we must turn it into an opportunity and act with commitment to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement.

The IPCC report sets out some potential pathways for the world to stabilise global warming at 1.5 degrees. These depend on an unprecedented effort to cut fossil-fuel use, among which coal is a particularly high source of carbon emissions. How can we transition from coal to clean energy sources?

Joanna Flisowska: The way forward is somewhat different depending on whether we look at the global perspective or the EU one. The EU has to consider its historical contribution to today’s climate change and must therefore reduce emissions even faster than the rest of world. According to many scientific studies, the fastest and most effective way to stay on the path to 1.5 degrees is to phase out coal by 2030 at the latest. This assessment is certainly true and is why environmentalists are emphasising that coal has to be phased out in order for the EU to reduce its emissions in a timely and cost-effective manner. Today’s reliance on coal can be overcome through renewables, investments in energy efficiency, storage, and with better management of electricity networks.

Florent Marcellesi: We are phasing out of coal for two reasons. The first is economic: coal is not profitable right now. Many plants are closing simply because it cannot compete with renewables. But second, we need to phase out coal well before 2040 for ecological reasons. The IPCC was very clear on that point and, for Europe, a coal phase-out has to mean 2030 at the latest. In some countries like Spain, coal plants must be closed even earlier by 2025.

Metals in the Circular Economy

By Davide Patteri and Frédéric Simon - Euractiv, November 2018

Vanadium, borate, bismuth, gallium – they may sound like planets from a science fiction movie, but in fact they are some of the most critical elements of the European Union’s economy.They are all on the European Commission’s ‘critical raw materials list’.

The 27 materials on the list are considered both very important to the EU economy and of worrying scarcity. They therefore benefit from specific measures to guarantee their sourcing and encourage their reuse.

These metals are essential components in the manufacturing of smart phones, electric car batteries and other green technologies. In this special report, EURACTIV looks at how the EU’s circular economy strategy can help secure Europe’s supply of critical raw materials in a sustainable way.

Read the report (PDF).

A Guide for Trade Unions: Involving Trade Unions in Climate Action to Build a Just Transition

By staff - European Trade Union Confederation, September 2018

A guide to a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy is published by the European Trade Union Confederation on May 15.

The 48 page document ‘Involving trade unions in climate action to build a just transition’ contains

  • Recommendations for economic diversification and industrial policy, skills, social protection and governance for a socially just transition
  • Information on how trade unions can and have been engaged in shaping national climate action
  • Examples of innovative projects that can inspire a more just transition

Key recommendations include

  • Promote economic diversification in regions and industries most affected by the transition
  • Negotiate agreements at sectoral and company level to map the future evolution of skills needs and the creation of sectoral skills councils
  • Establish dialogue with all relevant stakeholders and regional authorities to identify and manage the social impacts of climate policies
  • Promote the establishment of adequate social protection systems
  • Unions and workers should assess the risks linked to ‘stranded assets’

The guide shows that up to half of trade unions have NOT been consulted on sectoral decarbonisation strategies, but over 75% were consulted on long-term decarbonisation strategies for 2050.

Read the report (PDF).

A Just Transition Towards a Sustainable World (of Work)

By María Marta Travieso, Maria Prieto, Moustapha Kamal Gueye - Green European Journal, June 29, 2018

Climate and the future of work are two of the biggest challenges facing the world today and one cannot be tackled without the other. International institutions, in cooperation with governments, unions and employers, are pushing for a just transition that can shift the economy away from destructive forms of production while maintaining quality of life for all.

As we see the lives of many millions of people severely affected by extreme weather events, it is now accepted by most countries that human activity is causing the planet’s climate to change and that, therefore, it is in humanity’s interest to change its behaviour. A clear body of evidence demonstrates that human-induced climate change is well underway and that there are serious consequences of failure to limit the global temperature rise to at most 2° Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The ensuing environmental damage could prove irreversible and pose a threat to humanity itself.

If climate change is a consequence of human activity, then that activity is, for the most part, work or work-related. It is therefore no coincidence that climate change tends to be benchmarked against pre-industrial levels. And if work is the predominant cause of climate change, then inevitably it must be central to strategies to prevent, mitigate, and adapt to it.

An acknowledgement of shared responsibility was demonstrated through the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development with its associated 17 goals. In the declaration supporting the 2030 agenda, world leaders committed to “take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.”

Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation

Edited by Satoko Kishimoto and Olivier Petitjean - Transnational Institute, June 2017

You would be forgiven, especially if you live in Europe, to think that public services are by nature expensive, inefficient, maybe even somewhat outdated, and that reforming them to adapt to new challenges is difficult. It would seem natural to assume – because this is what most politicians, media and so-called experts tell us continuously – that we, as citizens and users, should resign ourselves to paying ever higher tariffs for services of an ever lower standard, and that service workers have no choice but to accept ever more degraded conditions. It would seem that private companies will inevitably play an ever larger role in the provision of public services, because everything has a price, because politicians have lost sight of the common good and citizens are only interested in their own individual pursuits.

This book, however, tells a completely different story. Sometimes it may feel as though we are living in a time when profit and austerity are our only horizons. In reality, below the radar, thousands of politicians, public officials, workers and unions, and social movements are working to reclaim or create effective public services that address the basic needs of people and respond to our social, environmental and climate challenges. They do this most often at the local level. Our research shows there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalisation of public services worldwide in recent years, some of them involving several cities. In total there have been more than 1600 cities in 45 countries involved in (re)municipalisation. And these (re)municipalisations generally succeed-ed in bringing down costs and tariffs, improving conditions for workers and boosting service quality, while ensuring greater transparency and accountability.

Read the text (PDF).

Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy

By Mika Minio-Paluello - Scottish Green MSPs, August 2015

The North Sea oil industry says jobs are threatened by falling oil prices. But a better future for Scotland is possible. More and better jobs. A safer and more stable economy. Stronger communities. A long-term future as an energy exporter. Moving from energy colonialism to energy democracy.

This better future won't come with tax cuts for oil corporations and trying to extract every last barrel. It means changing direction – towards arapidtransition away from fossil fuels.

This will require a wholescale change of UK economic policy away from austerity and toward investmentin the new economy.

This report shows that sustainable sectors in the new economy can employ significantly more people than currently work in fossil fuel industries. Scotland can create stable jobs for those who need them, wipe out fuel poverty, do its bit to stem climate change and re-localise economies.

We researched and analysed existing and potential employment in offshore wind and marine energy, forestry and sustainable biomass, retrofitting buildings, decommissioning the North Sea, synthetic gas, and training and research.

Projections were built on conservative estimatesof the jobs required for a rapid andambitious energy transition.We didn't include new jobs in public transport, solar, waste, renewing the electricity grid, energy storage or climate adaptation.

Our calculations show that there are 156,000 workers employed in fossil fuel extraction in Scotland, of which one third are export-oriented jobs. The new economy could in comparison employ more than 200,000in 2035.

Read the report (PDF).

(Working Paper #3) Energy Democracy in Greece: SYRIZA’s Program and the Transition to Renewable Power

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, February 4, 2015

Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent “Great Recession,” governments have mostly scaled back or deemphasized their climate protection and “green” commitments. Lack of public funds and concerns about growth, competitiveness, and unemployment are frequently cited as explanations for this apparent loss of both ambition and urgency. The “green growth” narrative that colored various countercyclical “stimulus” spending packages from 2009-10 has been largely abandoned.

This has in turn slowed the deployment of renewable energy and thrown the UN climate negotiations into paralysis. During the recent talks in Lima (COP 20) it became clear that a global climate agreement seems very unlikely to emerge from the “deadline COP” in Paris in late 2015.

The goal of this paper is to show how economic crisis and austerity, which today serves as the perfect cover for inaction and reversals on climate protection and ecological sustainability, could actually spur a radical departure from the slow and stuttering progress of the recent past. The paper looks at the opportunities for such a departure in Greece, a country mired in debt, high unemployment, and on the receiving end of a full-blown austerity program. But Greece is also a country where the radical Left could soon be in power led by a party, SYRIZA, that’s committed to nothing less than the “ecological transformation of the economy.”

But how can such a transformation be carried out? How can a country like Greece—facing enormous challenges—be an ecological leader and perhaps an exemplar for a new course? Can a SYRIZA or SYRIZA-led government break new ground in terms of fusing a viable leftgreen project in the face of crushing odds?

Download (PDF).

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