You are here

greenwashing

Talking Climate: Labor

Refuse workers take strike action during COP26 climate talks

The Road to Ruin? - Electric vehicles and workers’ rights abuses at DR Congo’s industrial cobalt mines

By staff - Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and the Centre d’Aide Juridico-Judiciaire (CAJJ), November 2021

Cobalt is everywhere. It is a silvery-blue mineral used in the rechargeable batteries that power our mobile phones, laptops and tablets, and in larger quantities, the electric vehicles that will soon dominate our roads. It is a strategic mineral in the plan to decarbonise and move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. Accelerating this switch is one of the priorities to tackle the climate crisis and industry experts forecast that electric vehicle sales will skyrocket in the next 10 years. This will require a dramatic increase in cobalt production.

The booming demand for cobalt has a dark side, however. The Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa’s poorest nations, holds the lion’s share of the world’s cobalt reserves. In 2020, 70% of the world’s cobalt was extracted from within its borders with tens of thousands of workers labouring in large-scale industrial mines to dig up the ore. Multinational mining companies that own many of Congo’s mines, eager to demonstrate their “green” and “responsible” credentials, say they produce “clean” and “sustainable” cobalt, free from human rights abuses, and that their operations contribute to good jobs and economic opportunities.

This report, based on extensive research over two years, paints a very different picture. It shows dire conditions for many Congolese workers in the industrial mines, often characterised by widespread exploitation and labour rights abuses. Many workers do not earn a “living wage” – the minimum remuneration to afford a decent standard of living – have little or no health provision, and far too often are subjected to excessive working hours, unsafe working conditions, degrading treatment, discrimination and racism.

In recent years attention has mainly focused on Congo’s artisanal mining sector, partly because of the risks of child labour it creates, whereas the conditions for workers in the large-scale industrial mines have gone largely unnoticed. This report examines workers’ rights at Congo’s industrial mines where the large majority of cobalt is coming from, producing some 80% of the cobalt exported from the country (in contrast to the 20% produced in artisanal mines).

The findings presented in this report are based on detailed research over 28 months by UK-based corporate watchdog Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and the Centre d’Aide Juridico- Judiciaire (CAJJ), a Congolese legal aid centre specialised in labour rights. The research team carried out extensive field research in and around Kolwezi, a mining town where many of Congo’s cobalt and copper mines are located. It is informed by 130 interviews of workers and former workers at five mining companies, as well as interviews with subcontractors, union representatives, lawyers, Congolese local authorities, medical staff and industry experts.

Read the text (PDF).

Climate Jobs: Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

By Suzanne Jeffery, editor, et. al - Campaign Against Climate Change, November 2021

This report was written by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU). It builds on and develops the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014). The editorial group and contributors to this report are trade unionists, environmental activists and campaigners and academics who have collaborated to update and expand the previous work. Most importantly, this updated report is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and the type and scale of the transition needed to match it.

This report shows how we can cut UK emissions of greenhouse gases to help prevent catastrophic climate change. We explain how this transformation could create millions of climate jobs in the coming years and that the public sector must take a leading role. Climate jobs are those which directly contribute to reducing emissions. This investment will give us better public transport, warmer homes, clean air in our cities and community renewal in parts of the country which have long been neglected. Most importantly, it will give us a chance for the future, avoiding the existential threat of climate breakdown.

Read the text (Link).

Britain’s oil and gas workers want a green transition – but the industry doesn’t

By Erik Dalhuijsen - The Guardian, October 23, 2021

I’ve worked in oil for decades, and seen what happens when jobs dry up with no plan B. Now industry leaders must face reality too.

Moving to a green energy system and a zero-emissions society without leaving people behind is an enormous challenge. Many oil and gas workers are actually ready for the change, but the oil and gas industry itself is slowing the process, holding back real progress.

Having worked in the oil industry in Aberdeen and abroad for decades, what I have seen feels like the industry applying all of its power to self-preservation, in the face of the immutable truths that fossil fuels will one day run out and that we must keep what of them remains in the ground.

Oil and gas workers need alternatives and fast. I have seen what happens in communities where oil and gas jobs dry up with no plan B in place. When the price of oil crashed in 2014, thousands of people in the region lost their job. I know former colleagues who used to work on multimillion-pound projects and are now unemployed or working in shops on the minimum wage.

I know that moving from oil and gas to renewables is possible. My skills helped me understand and troubleshoot the emissions models that underpin sustainable development plans. My skills allowed me to evaluate and optimise integrated renewable supply systems, and also decarbonise sewage treatment processes. Many people in the oil industry – including those who work offshore – have even more skills that can be transferred into the renewable energy sector, such as working on offshore wind farms.

But it still feels like the industry is refusing to adapt, all the while pretending to be leaders in “energy transition”. In the hope of selling more gas, the industry is pushing dirty (blue) hydrogen based on the yet-untested promise that carbon capture and storage will be able to remove any emissions at scale.

Energy transition or energy expansion?

By Sean Sweeney, John Treat, and Daniel Chavez - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and Trans National Institute, October 22, 2021

From politicians to corporate executives, media commentators to environmental campaigners, narratives evoking the “unstoppable” progress of a global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy have grown increasingly commonplace.

However, in reality, the global shifts in energy production, energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions we urgently need are not happening:

  • In 2019, over 80% of global primary energy demand came from fossil fuels, with global greenhouse gas emissions at record levels.
  • In 2020, wind and solar accounted for just 10% of global electricity generated.
  • Despite stories of its decline, coal-fired power generation continues to rise globally. In 2020, global efforts to decommission coal power plants were offset by the new coal plants commissioned in China alone, resulting in an overall increase in the global coal fleet of 12.5 GW.

Recently, some have argued that the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent contraction in economic activity signal a turning point. Indeed, global energy demand fell by nearly 4% in 2020, while global energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 5.8% — the sharpest annual decline since the second world war.

Despite these short-term shifts, the pandemic has failed to result in any significant long-term changes for the energy sector or associated emissions:

  • Global energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to grow by 4.8% in 2021, the second highest annual rise on record.
  • Demand for all fossil fuels is set to rise in 2021.6 A 4.6% increase in global energy demand is forecast for 2021, leaving demand 0.5% higher than 2019 levels.
  • By the end of 2020 electricity demand had already returned to a level higher than in December 2019, with global emissions from electricity higher than in 2015.
  • By the end of 2020, global coal demand was 3.5% higher than in the same period in 2019. A 4.5% rise in coal demand is forecast for 2021, with coal demand increasing 60% more than all renewables growth combined and undoing 80% of the 2020 decline.
  • Oil demand is forecast to rebound by 6% in 2021, the steepest rise since 1976. By 2026, global oil consumption is projected to reach 104.1 million barrels per day (mb/d), an increase of 4.4 mb/d from 2019 levels.

As such, an energy transition with the depth and speed necessary for meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement shows no sign of materializing. Indeed, most of the world’s major economies are not on track to reach their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on emissions reductions.

These facts point to a clear conclusion: the dominant, neoliberal climate policy paradigm, which deploys a “sticks and carrots” approach that attempts to disincentivize fossil fuels through carbon pricing, while promoting low-carbon investment through subsidies and preferential contractual arrangements has been completely ineffective. This policy paradigm positions governments as guardians and guarantors of the profitability of private actors, thus preventing them from addressing social or environmental challenges head-on.

Read the text (PDF).

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: Examining False Corporate Schemes advanced through the Paris Agreement

Do trade unions have energy for change?

By Bert Schouwenburg - MorningStar, October 2021

AGAINST a backdrop of floods and heatwaves of unprecedented magnitude and frequency all over the world, the latest report from the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a stark warning that immediate action must be taken on emissions to prevent global warming exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, if a global catastrophe is to be averted.

Its sobering assessment will set the scene at the forthcoming Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow, scheduled to commence at the end of October after being postponed from last year because of the Covid pandemic, where representatives of the international trade union movement will be in attendance.

Many of those unions are affiliated to Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), established in 2012 and based in New York City.

TUED describes itself as a global multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of land and people and responds to attacks on workers’ rights and protections.

It promotes an equitable energy system that can only occur if there is a decisive shift in power towards workers, communities and the public.

In order to achieve that goal, TUED advocates resistance to the agenda of the fossil fuel corporations, reclaiming privatised energy for the public ownership and restructuring it to a renewable, sustainable model.

Six of the 88 organisations belonging to TUED are the British trade unions — Unite, GMB, Unison, PCS, NEU and UCU. While they have all participated in TUED’s activities at one time or another and there is a general consensus on the call for public ownership, there are differences between them on matters of future energy policy in Britain and elsewhere.

Broadly speaking, the political debate about how best to avoid climate disaster has centred on whether the dominant neoliberal order can be adapted to provide market-based solutions to the crisis or whether a system based on perpetual growth and capital accumulation is completely at odds with the need to curb emissions.

It goes without saying that political elites in the richer countries of the global north, including Britain, subscribe to the former in their belief that some kind of green capitalism is both possible and desirable.

In this they are supported by the energy companies, whose principal concern is their bottom line.

TUED, on the other hand, is promoting the concept of a Just Transition from an economy based on fossil fuel consumption to one that largely relies on renewable energy.

Technological advances make that transition a realistic proposition but in order for it to be “just” it must take into consideration the livelihoods of energy workers who would see their jobs disappear.

This presents an enormous challenge to the governments of the day but were there to be a strategically planned conversion to a publicly owned green economy, there would undoubtedly be a huge demand in everything from retrofitting home insulation to the manufacturing of wind turbines that could more than absorb work lost in the transition.

The theory of a Just Transition within the framework of an oft-quoted Green New Deal is certainly plausible, but for British trade unions there is, justifiably, little faith in a right-wing Conservative regime doing the right thing by their members, many of whom currently enjoy relatively stable and well-paid employment in parts of the energy sector that would disappear.

People's Utility Justice Playbook​

By Yesenia Rivera and Johanna Bozuwa - Energy Democracy Project, October 2021

Have you ever wondered who is in charge of your electricity? And why?

The People’s Utility Justice Playbook has two components:

  1. a “History of Utilities” report to summarize the history of utilities for everyone to understand how our current energy system originated.
  2. a “People’s Utility Justice Playbook” to expose the tactics from electric utilities that are undermining community’s efforts, so we can build our organizing strength—to not only fight back but also to build the democratic energy system for climate justice.

This is the basic information we need to fight back against energy utilities attempting to slow or stop progress toward economic and climate justice.

History of Utilities​

Electric utilities have expanded into almost every aspect of our lives to become one of the most powerful and concentrated industries on Earth. To have a better understanding of what we’re fighting against, we first need to learn about the history of energy utilities! This PDF summarizes the entire timeline and how the rise of energy democracy came about.

People's Utility Justice Playbook

In order to fight the industry-owned utilities’ tactics, we need our own strategies for combat!

We have our very own playbook sourced from energy justice activists on the ground. They suggest strategies and tactics they employ when fighting against utilities that anyone fighting against utilities could use!

Read the History (PDF).

Read the Playbook (PDF).

We Make Tomorrow: Briefing for Workers and Trade Unions To Mobilise for COP26

By Workers Action: Cop26 Coalition Trade Union Caucus - We Make Tomorrow, Septmber 20, 2021

Introduction Briefing for Workers and Trade Unions

  1. View this briefing as a Google Slides presentation here or on our website here.

Introduction

This November, world leaders will meet in Glasgow at the global climate talks - COP26 - to discuss our future. 

The COP26 Coalition is a civil society coalition of trade unions, NGOs, community organisations mobilising a week of global action for climate justice

Our Plans

5 November - Supporting Global youth strikes

6 November - Global Day of Action

7-10 November - People’s Summit”

The Global Day of Action

  1. More information about the 5 Nov and Peoples Summit will be available soon

On the 6 November, we are organising decentralised mass mobilisations across the world, bringing together movements to build power for system change – from indigenous struggles to trade unions, and from racial justice groups to youth strikers.

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.