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Rights in a Changing Climate: Human Rights Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

By staff - Center for International Environmental Law, December 5, 2019

Climate change and human rights are not separate concepts, but rather go hand-in-hand. In line with the increased recognition in human rights bodies, countries around the world, and public discourse, Rights in a Changing Climate demonstrates the fundamental links between human rights and climate change and documents the growing momentum within the UN climate regime to articulate the legally binding duties of States to protect, respect, and promote human rights in the context of the climate crisis.

Rights in a Changing Climate showcases the increasing number of explicit and implicit references to different human rights in climate agreements and policies. It reveals that rights-based action is being discussed with greater frequency and with ever more explicit instructions for how States must incorporate a rights-based approach to climate action.

“The climate crisis is a human rights crisis. This doesn’t change when you step into the halls of the UNFCCC. Over the past decade, we’ve seen increasing momentum behind the integration of human rights and climate change under the UNFCCC,” says Erika Lennon, Senior Attorney at CIEL. “Going forward, human rights must be foundational to all climate action. Incorporating the voices and knowledge of women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities is vital to ensuring a rights-based approach to climate action and most effectively limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5°C.”

“CIEL’s report provides a vital guidebook for States as they consider their climate action plans and submit revised Nationally Determined Contributions early next year,” says André Weidenhaupt, Director General at the Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development of Luxembourg. “Solving the climate crisis requires the protection of human rights.”

The report concludes with an urgent call to action. “The greatest threat to human rights is climate change itself. As the climate crisis worsens, so do the threats to the realization of human rights. Parties must therefore urgently increase ambition to fulfill their legal obligations under human rights law. To ensure that Parties do not undermine human rights in doing so or act on climate at the expense of the rights of local communities, they should build on this momentum and place human rights at the center of climate action.”

Read the report (PDF).

Blueprint for Europe's Just Transition: The Green New Deal for Europe (Edition II)

By various - The Green New Deal for Europe, December 2019

Europe today confronts three overlapping crises.

The first is an economic crisis, with rising levels of poverty, insecurity, and homelessness across the continent. The second is a climate and environmental crisis, with severe consequences for Europe’s front-line communities and even more perilous ones on the horizon. And the third is a crisis of democracy. Across the continent, people are disconnected from the locus of political decision-making not only in Brussels, but also in the communities where they reside.

These crises are products of Europe’s political decisions, and they are closely bound together. The promotion of extractive growth has driven environmental breakdown, and the devotion to budget austerity — over and above the democratic needs expressed in communities across Europe — has constrained our capacity to respond to it.

A radically new approach is necessary to reverse this destructive trend — and to deliver environmental justice in Europe and around the world. We call this approach the Green New Deal for Europe, and the following report is a comprehensive policy pack-age charting a course through Europe’s just transition.

Read the report (PDF).

No Worker Left Behind: Protecting Workers and Communities in the Green New Deal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 2019

The Green New Deal Resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, while it includes many protections and benefits for workers, does not include language that specifically addresses workers who might be adversely affected by the transition to a climate-safe economy. Such GND proposals were soon criticized as too vague to provide protections that workers and unions could count on. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, for example, told the Economic Club of Washington, DC, "We would want a whole lot of changes made so that workers and our jobs are protected in the process."

There are now several GND plans proposed by political figures, including Democratic presidential candidates, that spell out how protections for workers might be implemented. There are also a variety of GND proposals from individuals and groups that further spell out such protections.

In this briefing paper we lay out the basic elements that have been proposed to protect the well-being of workers and communities who may be adversely affected by aspects of the GND and the transition to a climate-safe economy. We summarize how each of the plans would go about protecting workers and communities whose jobs may be threatened. In the Appendix we provide partial texts from which these summaries are extracted.

The purpose of this compendium is not to evaluate which candidate or other proponent has the best plan. Rather, the purpose is to present the various strategies and programs from which future shapers of the GND can select and combine to forge the best possible program.

Read the report (PDF).

The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership

By John Treat, Sean Sweeney, and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 15, 2019

On September 28, 2019, more than 150 trade union representatives, activists and policy allies from more than a dozen countries came together in New York City for a one-day international conference on “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership.”

The conference took place against the backdrop of the massive “Global Climate Strike” actions led by young people in numerous countries around the world, coinciding with the UN “Climate Week” of talks in New York City. In the weeks before those actions, TUED organized a “Global Web Forum” on the #Strike4Climate, and subsequently compiled a list of union statements and actions in support of the strikes.

Framing and Meeting Highlights

The conference program was framed around a number of issues and concerns that have emerged out of recent union-led struggles to both defend and extend public ownership of energy in key countries and regions. Over the course of the day’s proceedings, a number of key themes and broadly shared conclusions emerged, including:

  • Investor-focused climate policy is not delivering the energy transition
  • Privatization of state-owned electricity utilities has failed—but alternatives exist
  • Defending public ownership of energy requires a reform agenda that can drive “de- marketization”
  • Confidence is rising to reverse electricity privatization where it has happened
  • Defending and reclaiming public energy requires building union power
  • The transition must take into account the real development needs of the global South, while contesting carbon- intensive “development as usual”
  • There is an urgent need for technical, programmatic work to make achieving the ambitious goals of the Green New Deal possible

Read the report (PDF).

Fossil Futures: The Canada Pension Plan's Failure to Respect the 1.5-degree Celsius Limit

By James K. Rowe, Steph Glanzmann, Jessica Dempsey and Zoë Yunker - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, November 2019

THE WORLD’S LARGEST PENSION FUNDS comprise over half of global investment capital. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) manages one of the country’s largest pools of investments, at $400 billion. How pension funds choose to invest has significant bearing on how we collectively address the climate emergency and the needed energy transition away from fossil fuels. In this report we ask: Is the CPPIB investing with the 1.5-degree Celsius limit on global average temperature rise in mind?

In April 2016, Canada was among 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement, committing to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Our major finding is that the CPPIB is not investing with the 1.5-degree limit in mind. Within its public equities portfolio, it has over $4 billion invested in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel reserve holders (oil, gas and coal). To stay within 1.5 degrees, these companies can extract only 71.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, yet the companies the CPPIB is invested in have 281 billion tonnes in reserve, meaning they have almost four times the carbon reserves that can be sold and ultimately burned to stay within 1.5 degrees. Since reserves are factored into current company valuations, this means the CPPIB has invested billions of dollars in companies whose financial worth depends on overshooting their carbon budget.

This is a moral and ecological failure. It is also a financial risk. As energy generation shifts away from fossil fuels, investors who do not respond could be left with “stranded assets”—investments that are no longer profitable. In its 2019 Financial System Review, the Bank of Canada included climate risk in its analysis for the first time. Canadian fossil fuel companies and their investors are especially exposed to stranded asset risk since the majority of oil produced in Canada is high-cost, carbon-intensive bitumen from the oil sands. And yet, the CPPIB remains exposed to the biggest oil sands majors, with over $1.2 billion invested in Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc. and Cenovus. Canadian pension beneficiaries may therefore be particularly vulnerable to stranded assets and the financial risks they pose.

Read the report (PDF).

Alberta’s Coal Phase-out: A Just Transition?

By Ian Hussey and Emma Jacksonn - Parkland Institute, November 2019

This report explains that Alberta will have little coal-fired electricity left by the end of 2023, six years ahead of the federally mandated coal phaseout deadline of December 31, 2029. This relatively rapid transition away from coal power is the result of numerous decisions made since 2007 by various provincial and federal governments, a few arms-length agencies of the Alberta government, and several large publicly traded corporations that produce electricity for the Alberta market. Our report aims to evaluate Alberta’s electricity transition to date against principles and lessons gleaned from the just transition literature.

Following the introduction, the report proceeds as follows. In Section 2, we provide an overview of Alberta’s coal power industry, communities, and workforce. In Section 3, we delineate key principles and lessons from the just transition literature. In Section 4, we present case studies on the three companies affected by the Notley government’s accelerated coal phase-out (TransAlta, ATCO, and Capital Power). We examine the Notley government’s transition programs for coal workers in Section 5 and for coal communities in Section 6. Section 6 also includes a case study of Parkland County, which is the municipal district in Alberta perhaps most affected by the phase-out of coal-fired electricity. In Section 7, we provide an analytic discussion of our research results by evaluating the government’s transition programs against the key principles and lessons drawn from the just transition literature. In Section 8, we outline our conclusions based on the research results.

Read the report (Link).

Putting the "Justice" in "Just Transition": Tackling Inequality in the New Renewable Econom

By staff - Maritime Union of Australia, et. al., November 2019

The Victorian Trades Hall Council and its affiliates are committed to leading the construction of a new economy that is environmentally sustainable, economically and socially just, and democratic.

This is why we are proud to support this report, and why we will campaign to ensure its ideas and strategies for a just transition and for a new offshore wind industry with good terms and conditions of employment are implemented.

For over 150 years the Victorian union movement has led efforts to improve the lives of working people. Our campaigns for industrial rights have been matched by a commitment to broader social, political and economic rights. We know that the threat of climate change is best met in ways that are deeply engrained in our movement – solidarity, collective action, respect for workers, a commitment to decent jobs and economic and social justice.

We know, too, that unions must lead in the restructuring of the Australian and global economies that is necessary if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. As unionists we know only too well what happens when economic restructuring occurs without unions to represent the interests of workers. This country has a bad track record when it comes to industry restructuring, with many instances of workers just being given help to write CVs and no effort put into the development of new employment opportunities. The privatisation of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria shows what happens when industries are profoundly restructured without proper consideration of workers’ interests – whole communities are affected for decades.

This is why the proposals put forward in this report are so important. Using the prospect of the Star of the South project in Gippsland to develop a framework for the creation of an Australian offshore wind industry, the document focuses on ensuring that benefits flow to local communities and workers, while not ignoring the opportunities for Victoria and the nation more generally.

The scale of the Star of the South project is impressive. It should help in the transition when brown coal companies make decisions that affect the Latrobe Valley without consulting workers. It would deliver major benefits to Gippsland, a region that has powered our State for generations. But those benefits will only be fully realised if the Victorian government can undertake the comprehensive planning needed to ensure that workers and unions are placed front and centre so that the potential jobs are maximised and a just transition is prioritised. Making sure it is done well is exactly what Australia needs to break through the scepticism and doubt that a truly fair and sustainable economy is possible.

Trades Hall commends Putting the Justice in Just Transition to all who have an interest in building a sustainable, prosperous and just Gippsland, Victoria and Australia. We ask that you join with us in making it happen.

Read the report (PDF).

Vermont AFL-CIO 10 Point Program

By various - Vermont AFL-CIO, October 14, 2019

Organized Labor has been the most powerful force for change in the History of the United States of America. From the 8 hour day/40 hour work week, the establishment of the weekend, livable wages (in Union shops), to workplace safety standards; Labor has won these foundational victories through collective action and solidarity. However, for some decades Labor, nationally, has been on the decline. After endorsing Bill Clinton for President (1992), Clinton and the Democrats in Congress sent our manufacturing jobs to low wage (super exploited) nations through NAFTA and other free trade agreements (agreements which we opposed, and which we still oppose). And with these good manufacturing jobs, so went thousands of Union jobs.

Today in Vermont (2019), the 10,000 member strong AFL-CIO continues to be a major force within the Labor Movement, but few would rationally deny that we have largely stagnated. This stagnation comes as President Trump and his increasingly far-right Republican Party have launched existential attacks on Labor. The most dire of these include the politically motivated Supreme Court ruling outlawing fair share dues in public sector Unions, the Administration’s so- called rule change outlawing even voluntary dues through payroll deductions for most Unionized home healthcare providers, and the appointment of corporate stooges to the National Labor Relations Board. This is not the time for Labor to stagnate…

This wilting of Labor does not have to be. We can (and must) be a social and political power once again; one capable not only of defending against the attacks we now face from DC, but also of going on the offensive and delivering positive life altering changes for working people. But we will not achieve our potential if we stay on the road more traveled. We cannot continue to do what we have always done and expect a different result. Nor can we be satisfied with candidates that run for Union office who support all the good things, but who neglect to tell us how we will get there. Instead we must be bold, we must experiment, and we must forge a way forward which not only transforms the Vermont AFL-CIO, but also delivers a powerful Labor Movement with the muscle needed to transform Vermont as a whole. And here, the Vermont we intend to deliver is one wherein working class people not only possess the means to live a secure and dignified life, but one where we, as the great majority, wield the democratic power required to give social and political expression to the many. Such a transformative potential presupposes first a unity around an effective program, and second the development of our immediate political power.

Read the report (PDF).

Vermont AFL-CIO Ten Point Program

By Traven Leyshon - Vermont AFL-CIO, October 14, 2019

OFFICIAL VERMONT AFL-CIO TEN POINT PROGRAM
A New Path Towards Progressive Change For Labor

[Unanimously adopted as the official platform of the Vermont AFL-CIO by the elected Executive Board on October 6, 2019. Motion made by District VP for Windsor County Ed Smith, OPEIU. Seconded by District Vice President for Washington-Lamoille Counties Liz Medina, UAW. All voted in favor.]

Organized Labor has been the most powerful force for change in the History of the United States of America. From the 8 hour day/40 hour work week, the establishment of the weekend, livable wages (in Union shops), to workplace safety standards; Labor has won these foundational victories through collective action and solidarity. However, for some decades Labor, nationally, has been on the decline. After endorsing Bill Clinton for President (1992), Clinton and the Democrats in Congress sent our manufacturing jobs to low wage (super exploited) nations through NAFTA and other free trade agreements (agreements which we opposed, and which we still oppose). And with these good manufacturing jobs, so went thousands of Union jobs.

Today in Vermont (2019), the 10,000 member strong AFL-CIO continues to be a major force within the Labor Movement, but few would rationally deny that we have largely stagnated. This stagnation comes as President Trump and his increasingly far-right Republican Party have launched existential attacks on Labor. The most dire of these include the politically motivated Supreme Court ruling outlawing fair share dues in public sector Unions, the Administration’s so-called rule change outlawing even voluntary dues through payroll deductions for most Unionized home healthcare providers, and the appointment of corporate stooges to the National Labor Relations Board. This is not the time for Labor to stagnate…

This wilting of Labor does not have to be. We can (and must) be a social and political power once again; one capable not only of defending against the attacks we now face from DC, but also of going on the offensive and delivering positive life altering changes for working people. But we will not achieve our potential if we stay on the road more traveled. We cannot continue to do what we have always done and expect a different result. Nor can we be satisfied with candidates that run for Union office who support all the good things, but who neglect to tell us how we will get there. Instead we must be bold, we must experiment, and we must forge a way forward which not only transforms the Vermont AFL-CIO, but also delivers a powerful Labor Movement with the muscle needed to transform Vermont as a whole. And here, the Vermont we intend to deliver is one wherein working class people not only possess the means to live a secure and dignified life, but one where we, as the great majority, wield the democratic power required to give social and political expression to the many. Such a transformative potential presupposes first a unity around an effective program, and second the development of our immediate political power.

Extractivism and Resistance in North Africa

By Hamza Hamouchene - Transnational Institute, October 2019

Extractivism as a mode of accumulation and appropriation in North Africa was structured through colonialism in the 19th century to respond to the demands of the metropolitan centres. This accumulation and appropriation pattern is based on commodification of nature and privatisation of natural resources, which resulted in serious environmental depredation. Accumulation by dispossession has reaffirmed the role of Northern African countries as exporters of nature and suppliers of natural resources – such as oil and gas- and primary commodities heavily dependent on water and land, such as agricultural commodities. This role entrenches North Africa’s subordinate insertion into the global capitalist economy, maintaining relations of imperialist domination and neo-colonial hierarchies.

The neo-colonial character of North African extractivism reflects the international division of labour and the international division of nature. It is revealed in largescale oil and gas extraction in Algeria and Tunisia; phosphate mining in Tunisia and Morocco; precious ore mining - silver, gold, and manganese - in Morocco; and water-intensive agribusiness farming paired with tourism in Morocco and Tunisia. This plays an important role in the ecological crisis in North Africa, which finds its clear expression in acute environmental degradation, land exhaustion and loss of soil fertility, water poverty, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and disease, as well as effects of global warming such as desertification, recurrent heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels.

Concurrent with this dynamic of dispossession of land and resources, new forms of dependency and domination are created. The (re)-primarisation of the economy (the deepened reliance on the export of primary commodities) is often accompanied by a loss of food sovereignty as a rentier system reinforces food dependency by relying on food imports, as in the case of Algeria; and/or as land, water and other resources are increasingly mobilised in the service of export-led cash crop agribusiness, as in Tunisia and Morocco. Extractivism finds itself mired in serious tensions, which generates protests and resistance. This paper documents some of these tensions and struggles by analysing activist grassroots work, including the participation in alternative regional conferences and ‘International Solidarity Caravans’ where representative of grassroots organisations, social movements and peasant communities met and travelled together to sites of socio-environmental injustices, providing a space to strategise together and offer effective solidarity to their respective struggles.

The rural working poor and the unemployed in Northern Africa are the most impacted by the multidimensional crisis. Comprising small-scale farmers, near-landless rural workers, fisherfolks and the unemployed, the movements emerging in the five case studies presented here are resisting the looting of their subsoil resources, the despoliation of their lands, pervasive environmental destruction and the loss of livelihoods. The paper asks the following questions: should we see these protests, uprisings and movements as mainly environmental, or are these fundamentally anti-systemic – anti-capitalist, antiimperialist, decolonial and counter-hegemonic protests? Are these circumstantial episodes of resistance, or do they rather represent the latest development in the historical trajectory of class struggle against the latest capitalist offensive in North Africa? The paper presents an assessment of the nature of these movements which grapple with tensions and contradictions that face them.

Read the report (PDF).

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