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European Green Deal

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?

Our Existence is Our Resistance: Mining and Resistance on the Island of Ireland

By Lydia Sullivan - Yes to Life, No to Mining, September 2021

This report from Yes to Life, No to Mining Network (YLNM) explores how and why many nations – and the mining industry – are re-framing mining as a solution to climate change in order to facilitate domestic extraction of so-called ‘strategic’, ‘critical’ and ‘transition’ minerals required for renewable energy, military and digital technologies. 

This analysis of geological and permitting data shows that a staggering 27% of the Republic of Ireland and 25% of Northern Ireland are now under concession for mining.

YLNM’s new research examines state and corporate claims that mining in Europe represents a gold standard of regulation and corporate practice that justifies creating new mining sacrifice zones in the name of climate action.

Without exception, the authors – in all nations – report a vast gap between this rhetoric and the realities of mining at Europe’s new extractive frontiers, highlighting systemic rights violations and ecological harm.

Read the text (PDF).

A Green Shift? Mining and Resistance in Fennoscandia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Sápmi

Mirko Nikolic, Editor, et. al. - Yes to Life, No to Mining, September 2021

This report from Yes to Life, No to Mining Network (YLNM) explores how and why many nations – and the mining industry – are re-framing mining as a solution to climate change in order to facilitate domestic extraction of so-called ‘strategic’, ‘critical’ and ‘transition’ minerals required for renewable energy, military and digital technologies. 

Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish authorities have granted concessions for tens of thousands of hectares of land, with mining pressure increasing particularly dramatically in Sápmi – the home territory of the Indigenous Sámi Peoples. 

YLNM’s new research examines state and corporate claims that mining in Europe represents a gold standard of regulation and corporate practice that justifies creating new mining sacrifice zones in the name of climate action.

Without exception, the authors – in all nations – report a vast gap between this rhetoric and the realities of mining at Europe’s new extractive frontiers, highlighting systemic rights violations and ecological harm.

Read the text (PDF).

Where We Mine: Resource Politics in Latin America

Thea Riofrancos interviewed by Annabelle Dawson - Green European Journal, August 12, 2021

As the drive to expand renewable energy capacity speeds up, there is a rush for lithium and other materials around the world. What will the expansion of rare earth mining in Latin America mean for the indigenous communities and workers who have historically borne the harms of extractivism? Thea Riofrancos, author of Resource Radicals (Duke University Press, 2020), explains how the energy transition in the Global North risks being anything but just without structural changes to supply chains and the governance of extractive industries.

Annabelle Dawson: Your work explores the politics of resource extraction in Latin America, from oil in Ecuador to lithium in Chile. How do you define resource politics or extractivism?

Thea Riofrancos: Resource politics refers to any social or political activity – whether conflict, collaboration, political economy or social mobilisation – that’s attributed to the extraction of resources, and in some cases to stop resource extraction. Scholarship tends to see resource politics as primarily related to elites like state officials and corporate actors. This is pivotal, for example, to the concept of the resource curse, which holds that dependency on resource rents leads to authoritarianism. However, this focus overlooks a range of resource politics such as social movements that oppose extractive projects or demand better regulation and indigenous rights.

Extractivism is a little thornier to define. My research has explored how in Latin America social movements, activists and even some bureaucrats in the case of Ecuador began to use this term to diagnose the problems that they associated with resource extraction. This happened in the context of the 2000 to 2014 commodity boom – a period of intense investment in resource sectors driven by the industrialisation of emerging economies like China – and the Left’s return to power across Latin America during the “Pink Tide”. Activists, left-wing intellectuals and some government officials began to see extractivism as an interlocking system of social and environmental harm, political repression, and corporate and foreign capital domination. So, the concept originates from political activity rather than scholarship [read more about extractivism in Latin America].

We tend to associate resource extraction with notoriously dirty commodities like coal, oil, and certain metals. How are green technologies implicated in all of this?

The transition to renewable energies is often thought of as switching one energy source for another: fossil fuels for renewables. That’s part of it, but this transition fits into a much bigger energy and socio-economic system. You can’t just swap energy sources without rebuilding the infrastructures and technologies required to harness, generate, and transmit that energy. All this has a large material footprint and requires materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and rare earth metals [read more about the central role and impact of these rare metals]. More traditional extractive sectors like copper are also very important for decarbonisation.

One very bad outcome would be if the harms related to fossil fuel capitalism were reproduced in new renewable energy systems, subjecting particular communities to the harms of resource extraction in the name of fighting climate change. We need a new energy system quickly – especially in the Global North given the historic emissions of the US and Europe. But in this rush, there’s a real risk of reproducing inequalities and environmental damage. This is especially so with some mining sectors where a boom in the raw materials for green technologies like wind turbines, electric vehicles and solar panels is predicted.

For a Fair and Effective Industrial Climate Transition: Support measures for heavy industry in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany

By Yelter Bollen, Tycho Van Hauwaert, and Olivier Beys - European Trade Union Institute, August 2021

Europe’s industrial base needs to undergo a swift and persistent transformation towards carbon neutrality and circularity, but this transition must happen in a fair and socially just manner. In this working paper, we evaluate the support mechanisms for heavy industry which have been put in place over the past 20 years, comparing the state of play in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

We also compare recent developments in the industrial policy frameworks of these countries, considering European as well as domestic policy levers. We conclude that policy frameworks have largely been ‘defensive’, have lacked foresight, and have had negative distributional effects. Recent shifts in policy have opened up avenues for progress, but the level of ambition remains insufficient and uneven. Major economic incentives and support measures should cohere with a just transition, at the (sub-)national as well as the EU level.

Read the text (Link).

Position Document on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Reform

By Pier Francesco Pandolfi de Rinaldis, Berthe Darras, Jean-Matthieu Thévenot - European Coordination Via Campesina, July 13, 2021

Today the Youth Articulation of ECVC has released a Position Document on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Following the latest agreement between the EU Commission, EU Parliament and European Council, the young members of ECVC want to express their opinions, concerns and proposals for the reformed CAP and its application at the national level.

“We fear that the reformed CAP will continue to neglect the real needs of young farmers, and in particular small, agroecological farmers. Moreover, we expect that the CAP will continue to miss one of its main objectives: facilitating the entrance of new farmers (…). The CAP policies significantly affect us, yet we have no say in its reform process. It is not sufficient that the role of young farmers is acknowledged on paper, we want effective policies to support us and the right to participate in decision-making. As there can be no future for EU agriculture without young farmers.”

Read the text (PDF).

Renewable energies and ‘green hydrogen’: Renewing destruction?

By Joanna Cabello - World Rainforest Movement, July 9, 2021

Industrial-scale renewable energy infrastructure has seen a revival in the agenda of the ‘energy transition’ and as part of the economic recovery plans in front of the pandemic. Besides, the production of so-called ‘green hydrogen’ from these projects adds another layer of injustices. The energy matrix and over consumption remain untouched.

In a 2020 statement from the International Hydropower Association, the world’s largest hydropower corporations are calling on governments for “fast-track planning approvals” to ensure new large dams construction can commence as soon as possible. (1) The hydro energy industry is also lobbying to make sure large dams are seen as essential to the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and to “the transition to net-zero carbon economies” (2), casting devastating projects as both ‘clean’ and central to a ‘green energy transition’.

Industrial-scale renewable energy, including hydro, wind and solar, is positioned as a solution to our ever-increasing energy consumption. On top of this, the production of the so-called ‘green hydrogen,’ adds another layer of injustices related to this mega infrastructure. Yet, the replacement of the energy source by no means addresses the real problem posed by the excessive levels of energy consumption, which are driven by accumulative economic growth. This also leaves unchallenged the violence intrinsic to the societies that such energy powers. (3)

Many corporate and state actors are pushing for increasing their capacity to produce and use hydrogen as part of the ‘green’ recovery plans from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. It is becoming central in the ‘green transition’ debates. The German government has announced plans to spend 9 billion euros (UD10.7 billion dollars) supporting its domestic hydrogen industry. (4) Likewise, the European Commission has started to promote hydrogen as a way of cutting carbon emissions and reaching its Green Deal climate targets. The EU plans to scale up ‘renewable hydrogen’ projects and invest a cumulative amount of 470 billion euros (US740 billion dollars) by 2050. (5) Moreover, US Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, said that hydrogen “will help decarbonize high-polluting heavy-duty and industrial sectors [in the United States] (…) and realizing a net-zero economy by 2050.” (6)

Driving Destructive Mining: EU Civil Society Denounces EU Raw Materials Plans in European Green Deal

By various - Yes to Life No to Mining, June 2021

A global coalition of 180+ community platforms, human rights and environmental organisations, and academics from 36 nations is calling on the EU to abandon its plans to massively expand dirty mining as part of EU Green Deal and Green Recovery plans.

In a statement released in the middle of EU green week, the coalition explains why, if left unchanged, EU policies and plans will drastically increase destructive mining in Europe and in the Global South, which is bad news for the climate, ecosystems, and human rights around the world.

“The EU is embarking on a desperate plunder for raw materials. Instead of delivering a greener economy, the European Commission’s plans will lead to more extraction beyond ecological limits, more exploitation of communities and their land, and new toxic trade deals. Europe is consuming as if we had three planets available”, says Meadhbh Bolger, Resource Justice Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.

Coordinated by the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network’s European Working Group, the statement’s signatories are united in support of an urgent and rapid transition to renewable energy.

However, they argue that relying on expanding mining to meet the material needs of this transition will replicate the injustices, destruction and dangerous assumptions that have caused climate breakdown in the first place:

“The EU growth and Green Deal plans must consider a deep respect of the rights of affected communities in the Global South, that are opposing the destruction of their lands, defending water and even their lives. A strong collective voice is arising from affected communities around the Planet, denouncing hundreds of new mining projects for European consumption. Their urgent message needs to be heard in the North: Yes to Life No to Mining”, says Guadalupe Rodriguez, Latin American Contact Person for the global Yes to Life, No to Mining solidarity network.

“Research shows that a mining-intensive green transition will pose significant new threats to biodiversity that is critical to regulating our shared climate. It is absolutely clear we cannot mine our way out of the climate crisis. Moreover, there is no such thing as ‘green mining’. We need an EU Green Deal that addresses the root causes of climate change, including the role that mining and extractivism play in biodiversity loss ”, adds Yvonne Orengo of Andrew Lees Trust, which is supporting mining affected communities in Madagascar.

The statement sets out a number of actions the EU can take to change course towards climate and environmental justice, including recognising in law communities’ Right to Say No to unwanted extractive projects and respect for Indigenous Peoples’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Read the text (PDF).

Beyond the Growth Imperative

By Olaf Bruns - Green European Journal, April 13, 2021

For 30 years, environmental economist Tim Jackson has been at the fore of international debates on sustainability. Over a decade since his hugely influential Prosperity Without Growth, the world is both much changed – reeling from a pandemic and with unprecedented prominence for environmental issues – and maddeningly the same, still locked in a growth-driven destructive spiral. What does Jackson’s latest contribution, Post Growth, have to say about the way out of the dilemma?

Tim Jackson’s new book, Post Growth: Life after Capitalism (Polity Press, 2021), follows his ground-breaking Prosperity without Growth (2009, updated in 2017). Whilst the previous work reflected, partly, the austerity-driven answers to the Great Recession, Post Growth falls into a different world. It is a world where the recognition of climate change as the greatest challenge facing humankind is moving towards consensus. In the United States, even the Republican Party’s younger members are looking for ways out of the corner into which the party has manoeuvred itself.

It is also a world where the Covid-19 pandemic has not only taken many lives and destroyed many livelihoods, but – via the need for state intervention – has also dealt a blow to the gung-ho neoliberalism that is one of the main culprits of financial chaos and the looming breakdown of planetary life-support systems.

US President Joe Biden’s rescue plan as well as the EU’s Next Generation pandemic recovery fund are questioning the free-market paradigm that has held sway the since the Reagan-Thatcher area, and that had trickled down into centre-left politics as well. In parallel, from the Paris Agreement to the European Commission’s European Green Deal, environmental concerns that were condescendingly smiled upon until recently have now moved centre stage. The newly discovered role for the state and the emerging environmental consciousness might not be discussed at length in Jackson’s new book, but they are the backdrop against which it is to be read.

Two years on: the UNDROP must be built into the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy and the CAP strategic plans

By Staff - La Via Campesina, January 13, 2021

Two-years after the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas (UNDROP), considerable work remains to implement and guarantee the rights it sets out – the Green Deal, Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) and the CAP national strategic plans are the place to start.

For European Coordination Via Campesina, the objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy and the European Green Deal can only be reached by integrating clear measures to implement the UNDROP, including within the CAP national strategic plans. Peasant agroecological methods and family farming offer ready-made, proven solutions to climate and biodiversity issues. A clear shift of European Policy in support of these practices would help to avoid the various human rights, economical and social issues facing small-scale farmers and agricultural and migrant workers, many of which were highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID19 pandemic.

The UNDROP represents an opportunity to transform food systems in an holistic way, with the long-term vision needed to tackle climate change. These key rights, if respected and used as a framework, would lead the EU towards achieving the Green Deal goals. To give just a few examples, proper implementation of Article 14, to ensure healthy working conditions for peasants and migrant workers, could have prevented the unsafe working conditions of slaughterhouse and other agrifood workers around Europe in the recent pandemic.[i] Further subsections of Article 14, relating to the use and handling of toxic and harmful chemicals, along with the right to traditional peasant seeds highlighted in Article 19, are key to achieve the EU’s goals on pesticide reduction and preventing the pollution of natural areas.[ii] If the rights laid out in Article 17, relating to access to, use of and control over land, were protected, the land grabbing and concentration that contributes to significant losses of biodiversity could be tackled and the EU’s focus on next generation farming (a key topic of today’s Agricultural Outlook conference) given a bigger focus.[iii]

The clear parallels that can be drawn between the outcomes of the proper implementation of the UNDROP and the goals of the Green Deal and F2F Strategy highlight the important role that peasant farmers, who represent the backbone of EU agriculture, have to play within the urgent agriculture transition.

This legal tool offers a ready-made, rights-based roadmap for EU Institutions and Member States to ensure the objectives laid out for the future of EU agriculture, so that they can be achieved in an effective and democratic way that will truly “leave no one behind”.

Moreover, at both European and national levels, the many organisations that have been fighting to implement and ensure these rights for decades, such as ECVC, it’s member organisations and allies, can offer expertise on policy proposals towards a paradigm shift and achieve real change for our food systems and consequently to society and the planet. Instead of focusing on purely profit-oriented, technical and digital solutions that in the end promote further intensification through intensive livestock farming and monocultures, allowing large scale food-industry to maintain the status quo and putting the costs of the long term impacts of those model of productions on the shoulders of the future generations, it is now time for fair food and agricultural policies promoting healthy economies and fair models of production and distribution that guarantee the right to quality food for all citizens.

The EU must ensure that the Farm to Fork Strategy is in line with the UNDROP declaration and use these tools, resources and knowledge to act now, before it’s too late.

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