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The Case for Not Flying

By Fabrizio Menardo - Green European Journal, July 7, 2022

Although aviation accounts for 2.8 per cent of global CO2 emissions, its harmful impact rarely rises on the climate action agenda. In a globalised economy with businesses and lifestyles built around air travel, flying can be a hard habit to shake. To Fabrizio Menardo, individuals must make behavioural changes and policymakers must address the socio-economic challenges in the sector to bring travel in line with climate goals.

In 2015, under the famed Paris Agreement, almost every country on Earth pledged to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels and “pursue efforts” to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have already caused around 1.1 degrees of warming, leading to an increase in extreme weather and climate events such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, and droughts. Many of these impacts will last for centuries, and their magnitude will grow in line with cumulative future emissions. The IPCC estimates that, in order to achieve a 67 per cent probability of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius, our cumulative CO2 emissions from the beginning of 2020 must remain below 400 billion tonnes. Current annual CO2 emissions stand at around 35 billion tonnes

Green aviation: trade unions demand strong international commitment with social sustainability and a Just Transition

By staff - IndustriALL, June 21, 2022

The transition to a more sustainable aviation sector will impact workers and trade unions are demanding concrete measures to ensure a Just Transition and a fair transformation of the sector, which is inclusive and maintains and creates decent jobs.

This week, international and European trade unions representing workers in the aerospace and aviation sectors met to discuss a united position ahead of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly in September, at which it is hoped that the future pathway towards sustainable aviation will be agreed by international governments and key industry stakeholders.

At such a critical time, where the aviation industry faces the urgent challenge of responding the continued fallout from the Covid crisis, unions have identified the need for a coordinated industry-wide response from airlines, airports, governments, and unions to rectify capacity shortages, flight delays and beleaguered service levels that have plagued the industry for months.

Workers’ participation is critical, not just in fixing the underlying issues that are currently crippling the industry, but crucially in the addressing the long-term sustainability and decarbonisation of the industry. Workers’ participation will be essential in the social management of such a major industrial change. Climate justice cannot exist without labor justice with decent work being created through freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The meeting organized by IndustriALL Global Trade Union, International Transport Workers’ Federation, and their European counterparts industriAll European Trade Union and the European Transport Workers’ Federation follow successful collaboration on the Toulouse Declaration on the future sustainability and decarbonisation of aviation.

The aerospace and aviation sectors are intrinsically linked. Global trade union federations are particularly important in these processes playing a key role linking common needs and are essential in turning them into an international vision and strategy. Trade unions from both sectors see significant opportunities offered by a combined and cross-sectoral approach, based on a supply chain-wide vision and an international industrial strategy that is built on foundations of sustainability and decent work.

Leeds Bradford abandons its expansion plans: where does that leave us?

By staff - Greener Jobs Alliance, March 11, 2022

Tahir Latif is Secretary of the Greener Jobs Alliance. The opinions expressed here are his own, and not necessarily those of all GJA members. In the spirit of this newly created blog space, we invite alternative views and responses, which can be sent to gjacoms@gmail.com .

The news that Leeds Bradford airport has opted to abandon its expansion plans is hugely welcomed by climate activists everywhere and a testament to the extraordinary efforts of the grassroots organisation, GALBA. Backed by the local trades council, GALBA has been meticulous in rooting its opposition to the expansion in the needs of the community and workforce.

Instead of expansion, LBA is choosing to ‘develop’ its existing terminal. Regardless of what this will actually mean, the decision raises important questions about both the short- and long-term future of the aviation industry and its workers.

Unions and Climate Activists Find Common Cause in Opposing Airport Expansion

By Dayton Martindale - Truthout, September 27, 2021

Airport employees and community allies protest a proposed expansion of Los Angeles International Airport on September 14, 2021; image by author.

“Are you scared you’re going to lose all your jobs ’cause there will be no planes?”

The audience chuckled at MSNBC host Chris Hayes’s first question for Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, at a March 2019 special on the Green New Deal. Nelson, an ardent climate advocate, dismissed the notion out of hand: “We still have to get around.” The real threat to flights, she insisted, is an increase in extreme weather events. It is climate inaction, then, that could keep planes from flying, rather than climate action.

Across the Atlantic, the messaging is notably different. Environmentalists across the U.K. and France have campaigned against airport expansions, and the Swedish language now has a word (flygskam) for the climate shame felt by those who fly. In August 2019, Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg chose to ride a boat to New York to reduce emissions and draw attention to the crisis.

So, will we have to keep any airplanes on the ground? The answer is complicated, depending on how quickly certain technologies become widespread, how willing we are to tolerate financial and environmental costs of jet fuel alternatives, and whether we aim to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions entirely or merely reach “net-zero” emissions (in which scenario we would continue to emit, but attempt to offset the climate impact through carbon capture and storage).

But there is a growing consensus that even in technologically optimistic scenarios, some constraints on demand will be necessary to curtail the expected growth in flights over the decades to come. Many climate activists argue that because these technologies are uncertain, we should start reducing flights as soon as possible. And some early indications — such as an ongoing union-led fight against an airport expansion in Los Angeles — suggests that the climate movement’s most powerful ally against rampant growth in air travel may be labor.

Few demonstrators at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during a September 14 rally held greenhouse gas emission foremost in their minds as they decried the proposed expansion. The 50 or so protesters — most wearing the shirt of either SEIU United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) or Unite Here Local 11 — were more vocal about issues such as health care, wages, and the impact of air pollution and traffic congestion at their jobs and in their neighborhoods. The two unions, representing thousands of food, custodial and passenger service employees at the airport, were joined by Sunrise LA and other community and environmental groups outside a meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners (BOAC).

An SEIU-USSW press release argues that the current plans to expand LAX “ignore the needs of workers at the airport as well as those who are most impacted by it: nearby neighborhood residents,” but they do not oppose the expansion outright. Instead, the labor groups want to see a community benefits agreement — an enforceable contract between the airport and community groups that allows workers and residents to provide substantive input, ensuring any airport development respects economic and environmental justice. If this demand is not met, SEIU-USWW President David Huerta tells Truthout, the union “could transition into direct opposition.”

Any solution must ensure worker voices are heard, says Sunrise LA spokesperson Josiah Edwards. Airport employees kept LAX running through the pandemic for inadequate pay, and already bear a heavy environmental burden. That they are not invited to the BOAC’s closed-door meetings is “a clear instance of environmental injustice,” Edwards says.

Turbulence Ahead: What LAX’s Expansion Means for the City of Los Angeles’ Legacy on Racial Equity and Environmental Justice

By staff, editor, et. al - SEIU United Service Workers West, June 2021

Right now, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is charging ahead on an expansion project of a scale not seen for decades. Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the organization that owns and operates LAX, quietly released a draft Environmental Impact Report late last year that reveals a project with a host of alarming implications for communities near the airport. If the City of Los Angeles and its elected officials are serious about leadership on environmental justice and equity, resolving the issues presented by this project will be critically important.

As it stands, the proposed development is poised to worsen traffic in an area already infamous for it, expose thousands of new residents to the noise of one of the busiest airports in the world, and intensify the air quality impact of a facility that is already a statewide leader in air pollution. Worse still, these outcomes are set to be concentrated within Black and Brown communities near LAX that already grapple with a longstanding history of environmental racism—communities that have suffered disproportionately from the health and economic fallout of the COVID pandemic.

LAWA’s current approach signals that the airport is not only failing to adequately protect the community from the consequences of LAX’s largest expansion in decades, but is, in effect, concealing the real, long-term effects of that expansion as it rushes toward approval as early as this year. The City of Los Angeles, LAWA, and the airlines that will occupy the new terminals have an obligation to do better and ensure that this project is carried out equitably, that it will not become another sad chapter in the story of environmental injustice in South Los Angeles and the continued exploitation of essential workers as the city emerges from the pandemic.

In this report, we take a deeper look at the proposed development and what the draft Environmental Impact Report does and doesn’t reveal about the consequences of LAWA’s plans for the airport. We will contextualize this project and what it means for workers, families and communities—particularly communities of color—as well as the direction of the City of Los Angeles as a whole. Finally, we will lay down a foundation for how the airport can approach this project as a real, positive opportunity for the region, and not a cautionary tale of corporate greed and bureaucratic complicity in the making. In the coming years, the City of Los Angeles will prepare to host major events—the Super Bowl, the 2028 Summer Olympics, the World Cup—and enjoy global attention. It is critical that the city and its leaders take every opportunity to be a leading model for an equitable and just economy. With the whole world watching, showing how LAX’s development can be done without harm to communities of color will be an excellent place to start.

Read the text (PDF).

Trade Unionists And Ecologists Demand A Just Transition Towards Less Air Traffic

By Stay Grounded - Popular Resistance, February 11, 2021

London/Vienna Today, the UK trade union PCS and the global network Stay Grounded published together a paper entitled “A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation – Shifting towards Climate-Just Mobility”. Tahir Latif, PCS Aviation Group President, says: “This paper clearly shows: the aviation workforce needs to accommodate the urgent requirement for a reduction in flying. This is imperative to avoid climate catastrophe. We need to retain job security through retraining and redeployment into jobs, some within aviation and some in other sectors, that help to restore the planet, not destroy it.”

This Paper makes it clear that there is no option to go back to business as before Covid-19: instead of bailing out airlines, airports and manufacturers, recovery packages must directly finance a just transition. This includes providing a living wage and social protection for workers leaving the industry, retraining programmes, creating jobs in climate-safe sectors and fostering alternatives to flights and harmful mass tourism. 

Public money must save people, not planes”, says Magdalena Heuwieser, from Stay Grounded. “If we try to go back to the old high-speed fossil-fuelled transport system, it will crash very soon. Let’s be realistic: aviation will change, and it will do so either by design or by disaster. So let’s choose design.” 

The discussion paper has a global scope and is the result of a collective writing process by people active in the climate justice movement, trade unionists, indigenous communities and academics from around the world. Several aviation workers who were involved also advocate for a just transition and less flying, like ex-pilot Paul Taylor: “I was made redundant from my airline due to Covid-19 – and I won’t go back to flying. I realised it’s neither healthy for me, nor for the planet.”

The document has its focus on the question of how to fairly reduce passenger flights and it makes clear links to freight as well as tourism. ”Mass sun and beach tourism is a sector that is highly dependent on aviation and very vulnerable, as the Covid pandemic has shown. We need to focus on more inland and local tourism, based on sustainability, respect for the territory and on more sustainable mobility options,” says Carlos Martínez, member of the Secretary of Environment from CC.OO. The Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras) is one of the biggest Spanish unions. In another paper published in January 2021 with the biggest Spanish environmental NGOs, it argues for reducing dependency on mass tourism and air travel. 

It is key that the climate justice movement, trade unions and workers join forces to fight for our future”, concludes Magdalena Heuwieser from Stay Grounded. The demand for a just transition has been developed by trade unions and the climate justice movement. It aims to protect workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries, but is also a broader process to help safeguard the future of workers, communities and the planet. It is not an argument for delaying the changes needed, rather for managing them effectively, fairly and democratically. 

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) is one of the largest unions in the U.K., with around 180,000 members. PCS represents workers in the civil service and ex-civil service areas that are now in the private sector, including aviation. PCS is one of six UK unions with members in aviation, representing around 1,800 workers in air traffic management, airport ground and security staff and in civil aviation regulation.

Stay Grounded is a network of about 170 member organisations from all over the world, among them: NGOs, climate justice groups, indigenous organisations, labour unions and civil initiatives against airport noise and expansion. Together, they fight for climate justice and a fair reduction of aviation.

A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation: Shifting towards climate-just mobility

By staff - Stay Grounded, February 2021

Covid-19 has grounded air traffic. The aviation industry itself expects to be operating at a lower capacity over the next few years. This Paper discusses how long-term security for workers and affected communities can be guaranteed, without returning to business as before. 

With the looming climate breakdown, automation, digitalisation and likely climate induced pandemics, we need to be realistic: aviation and tourism will change – and they will do so either by design or by disaster. They will transition either with or without taking into account workers’ interests.

This Discussion Paper, published by the Stay Grounded Network and the UK Trade Union PCS in February 2021, is a result of a collective writing process by people active in the climate justice movement, workers in the aviation sector, trade unionists, indigenous communities and academics from around the world. It aims to spark debates and encourage concrete transition plans by states, workers and companies.

Read the text (PDFs: EN | DA | DE | ES | FR | PT ).

Transport Workers and Climate Change: Towards Sustainable, Low-Carbon Mobility

By ITF Climate Change Working Group - International Transport Workers’ Federation, August 4, 2010

This report, now more than a decade old, was remarkably forward-thinking for its time (except for the uncritically positive assessment of Carbon Capture and Storage and Cap-and-Trade, positions the authors would likely now no longer hold. It also, interestingly, includes in an appendix, the delegate of one union affiliate, Robert Scardelletti, President of the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU), an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), from the US, who dissented from this report's conclusions, because it's green unionist orientation would "destroy jobs", a position held by the most conservative unions in the AFL-CIO.

From the introduction:

Climate change is the biggest single challenge ever faced by human civilization. Human economic activity has put so much carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) into the atmosphere that serious global warming is already happening. As a society, we have no choice but to reduce these emissions drastically in order to stand a good chance of avoiding potentially catastrophic changes in our climate. Moreover, emissions from transport are rising faster than emissions from any other sector and in some cases the increase in transport emissions is counteracting emissions reductions achieved in other sectors. Lowering transport emissions presents a series of unique and formidable challenges.

The good news for transport workers is that a serious approach to emissions reductions will create new opportunities for quality employment, particularly in public transport, railways (both passenger and freight), transport infrastructure, road repair, and in developing clean transport technologies. But failure to act on climate change will have the opposite effect.

Read the text (PDF).

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