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Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)

Worker’s events at COP26: virtual and in-person

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 26, 2021

Web editor's note: Although these events have all passed, we include this as a record of the union efforts surrounding COP26.

The UN Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow begins on October 31 and runs until November 12, with the world’s media in attendance to chronicle if the high expectations are being met. A good source of news from a Canadian perspective is Canada’s National Observer, which will send reporters to Glasgow, and whose coverage has already begun, here .

Some news from a worker’s point of view:

Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate emergency will be released to coincide with COP26, by the Campaign against Climate Change, a coalition of U.K. unions . As of October 26, two chapters of the new report are available for free download: Warm homes, healthy workplaces: climate jobs in buildings and Creating a green, affordable and accessible network for all: climate jobs in transport. The new report updates their 2014 report, One Million Climate Jobs.

Another U.K. organization, the COP26 Coalition, is a broader, civil society coalition which includes environment and development NGOs, labour unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks. Their statement of demands is here . The Coalition is organizing a Global Day of Climate Justice on November 6 – with events in Canada happening in Toronto and in Quebec City , along with a related event in Sherbrooke Quebec on Nov. 5th .

In addition, COP26 Coalition has organized a People’s Climate Justice Summit  in Glasgow, composed of 150 sessions which will focus on indigenous struggles, racial justice, youth issues, and worker and labour union perspectives. Many, but not all, worker-related sessions will be held on November 8 as a “Just Transition Hub” – a full day of sessions hosted by the Friends of the Earth Scotland, Just Transition Partnership, Platform, STUC, TUC and War on Want. The full program, with the ability to register is here : those unable to travel to Glasgow can register as “Online- only” to receive a Zoom link for a livestream of some of the sessions. The online program includes the opening panel for the Just Transition Hub: “Here and Everywhere: Building our Power”, to be led by Asad Rehman, (War on Want), Sean Sweeney,(TUED), Roz Foyer, (STUC), and Denise Christie, (FBU). Other sessions available online include “UK climate jobs rooted in global solidarity and climate justice” and “Just Transition in Latin America, from Decarbonization to Transformation”.

In-person only sessions, which tend to have a U.K. focus, include: “Lessons from the Frontline: Climate crisis resistance from around the world”; “Are green jobs great jobs, or are green jobs rubbish jobs?”; “The Lucas Plan for Climate? How workers are fighting to future-proof industry”; “Geared Up: Campaigns for Greener Transport”; “Air tight: Campaigns for home retrofits”; “Organising the unorganised: tactics and strategies for power in new industries”; and “Changing workplaces, changing jobs: organising for power in unionised workplaces” – a training session led by Prospect union. Other sessions, outside of the Just Transition Hub, ( in-person only), include “Trade Unions and Climate Action”, a training session led by the Ella Baker School of Organizing and “International Trade Union Forum on Social and Ecological Transitions: what’s next?”, reporting on the International Trade Union Forum on Ecological and Social Transitions which took place for 6 days during June 2021, with more than 140 organizations from about 60 countries.

COP26: Trade Unions Must Fight for a Socialist Transition to Renewables

By Chris Baugh - The Bullet, October 26, 2021

The UK government is hosting the 26th United Nations Climate Change “Conference of the Parties” (COP26) in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988. Its latest report to the UN in August of this year contains even starker warnings for the Earth’s climate than previously, unless decisive action is taken to cut greenhouse emissions. Without this, there is little prospect of keeping an average global temperature increase below the 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius target in the 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement.

This was the first time an agreement had been reached on target reductions but it excluded major polluting industries like aviation and shipping and was devoid of any mechanism for implementing the targets. This reflects the global capitalist consensus that it is market mechanisms that will make the adjustment from fossil fuels to a zero carbon economy. This is despite the warning of Lord Stern who famously described climate change as “the biggest market failure in human history.”

Articles in the pages of The Socialist and Socialism Today have pointed out that it is capitalism’s insatiable pursuit of profit that has led us to this situation. Capitalism has shown itself unwilling and an actual impediment to the action on the timescale and scope required. An article published by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) gives recent evidence of how renewable energy companies are “party to a race to the bottom, capitalist dynamic.”

It cites the use of forced Uyghur labour in China-based solar companies and the ‘off-shoring’ of manufacturing for the Scottish wind industry. The large wind and solar companies prop up a market architecture that is sucking in huge amounts of public money to guarantee profit margins. The report is quoted as saying “these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.”

While richer governments of US and Europe talk up their climate commitments, the solutions proposed will not fix the climate crisis. UK plans to transition to renewable energy are reliant upon an unprecedented wave of resource extraction from ‘Global South’ countries. Intensifying the mining of so-called transition metals and minerals used to produce green technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicle batteries, is devastating communities from Chile to China.

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).

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy Global Forum on the IPCC Report

Climate Jobs and Just Transition Summit: Strong Unions, Sustainable Transport

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.

Viewpoint: Climate Justice Must Be a Top Priority for Labor

By Peter Knowlton and John Braxton - Labor Notes, September 21, 2021

Today’s existential crisis for humanity is the immediate need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. All of us have to. Everywhere. For workers and for our communities there is no more pressing matter than this.

We need to begin a discussion among co-workers, creating demands and acting on them at the workplace and bargaining table. We need to show up at local union meetings, central labor councils, and town halls supporting demands that move us toward a fossil fuel-free future.

At the same time, we need to protect the incomes and benefits of workers affected by the transition off of fossil fuels and to make sure they have real training opportunities. And we need to restore and elevate those communities that have been sacrificed for fossil fuel extraction, production, and distribution. We should promote candidates for elected office who support legislation which puts those aspirations into practice, such as the Green New Deal.

If the labor movement does not take the lead in pushing for a fair and just transition, one of these futures awaits us: (1) the world will either fail to make the transition to renewable energy and scorch us all, or (2) the working class will once again be forced to make all of the sacrifices in the transition.

The time is long past ripe for U.S. unions and our leaders to step up and use our collective power in our workplaces, in our communities, and in the streets to deal with these crises. That means we need to break out of the false choice between good union jobs and a livable environment.

There are no jobs on a dead planet. Social, economic, and environmental justice movements can provide some pressure to mitigate the crises, but how can we succeed if the labor movement and the environmental movement continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to pit us against each other? Rather than defending industries that need to be transformed, labor needs to insist that the transition to a renewable energy economy include income protection, investment in new jobs in communities that now depend on fossil fuels, retraining for those new jobs, and funds to give older workers a bridge to retirement.

Like any change of technology or work practice in a shop, if the workers affected don’t receive sufficient guarantees of income, benefits, and protections their support for it, regardless of the urgency, will suffer.

Renewable Energy companies seen as barriers to a successful public energy transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 8, 2021

Recent issues of New Labor Forum include articles promoting the concept of energy democracy, and bringing an international perspective. In “Sustaining the Unsustainable: Why Renewable Energy Companies Are Not Climate Warriors” (New Labor Forum, August), author Sean Sweeney argues that renewable energy companies “are party to a “race to the bottom” capitalist dynamic that exploits workers – citing the example of alleged forced Uyghur labour in China-based solar companies, and the offshoring of manufacturing for the Scottish wind industry. He also argues that “large wind and solar interests’ “me first” behavior is propping up a policy architecture that is sucking in large amounts of public money to make their private operations profitable. They are sustaining a model of energy transition that has already shown itself to be incapable of meeting climate targets. In so doing, these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.”

The theme of the Spring New Labor Forum was A Public Energy Response to the Climate Emergency , and includes these three articles: “Beyond Coal: Why South Africa Should Reform and Rebuild Its Public Utility”; “Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action”; and Mexico’s Wall of Resistance: Why AMLO’s Fight for Energy Sovereignty Needs Our Support .

The author of Sustaining the Unsustainable is Sean Sweeney, who is Director of the International Program on Labor, Climate & Environment at the School of Labor and Urban Studies, City University of New York, and is also the coordinator of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED). In August, TUED convened a Global Forum, “COP26: What Do Unions Want?” – with participation from 69 unions, including the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and Public Services International (PSI). Presentations are summarized in TUED Bulletin 111, (Aug. 18), and are available on YouTube here .

Defend and Transform: Mobilizing Workers for Climate Justice

By Jeremy Anderson - Global Labour Column, September 8, 2021

Mobilizing the global labour movement for climate justice and just transition is one of the defining challenges of our times. However, for workers in many sectors, it is unclear how climate issues will affect them specifically, and how they should respond. To date, much of the debate around just transition has focused on workers in industries that are facing job losses. These struggles are important. But in order to build a transformational vision that can mobilize workers in all sectors from the ground up, we need to understand a wider array of industry perspectives.

In this essay, I will discuss three issues. First, I will make the case for why climate justice and just transition are fundamental issues for the labour movement. Second, I will review debates around just transition, and particularly the contrast between worker focused and structural transformation approaches. I will argue that we need to build a bridge between the two perspectives, particularly in scenarios where it is important to engage workers about the future of their specific industries. Third, I will analyse three different scenarios from the transport sector that illustrate the various challenges that workers face: public transport as an example of industry expansion, aviation as an example of industry contraction, and shipping as an example of industry adaption.

Sustaining the Unsustainable: Why Renewable Energy Companies Are Not Climate Warriors

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, August 27, 2021

In the fight to address climate change, renewable energy companies are often assumed to be Jedi Knights. Valiantly struggling to save the planet, wind and solar interests are thought to be locked in mortal combat with large fossil fuel corporations that continue to mine, drill, and blast through the earth’s fragile ecosystems, dragging us all into a grim and sweaty dystopia.

In the United States and elsewhere, solar panels glitter on rooftops and in fields; turbines tower majestically over rural landscapes. The fact that, globally, the renewables sector continues to break records in terms of annual deployment levels is, for many, a source of considerable comfort. Acting like informational Xanax to ease widespread climate anxiety, news headlines reassure us that the costs of wind and solar power continue to fall, and therefore wind and solar is (or soon will be) “competitive” with energy from coal and gas. The transition to clean energy is, therefore, unstoppable.

By Any Means Necessary

Of course, wind and solar companies are not charities. They are, in a phrase, profit driven. They want to attract investment capital; they seek to build market share, and they all want to pay out dividends to shareholders. In this respect, renewable energy (and “clean tech”) companies are not fundamentally different from fossil fuel companies.

. . . [W]ind and solar companies are not charities. . . . In this respect, [they] are not fundamentally different from fossil fuel companies.

But so what? North-based environmental groups frequently point out that we have just a handful of years to start to make major reductions in emissions. Therefore, this is not a time, they insist, to split hairs or to make the perfect the enemy of the good. If electricity generation is the leading single source of CO2 pollution, then surely the more electrons generated by renewable sources of energy will mean fewer electrons being generated by fossil fuels. What more needs to be said?

But there are several reasons why, in their current role, renewable energy companies could be more part of the problem than they are part of the solution—which, if true, means a lot more has to be said. As we will see, they are beginning to squander their “social license” by being party to a “race to the bottom” dynamic that risks turning workers and many ordinary people against action on climate change. Equally serious, large wind and solar interests’ “me first” behavior is propping up a policy architecture that is sucking in large amounts of public money to make their private operations profitable.

They are sustaining a model of energy transition that has already shown itself to be incapable of meeting climate targets.[1] In so doing, these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.

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