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Unjust Transitions: Climate Migration, Heat Stress, and Labour Exploitation in the United Arab Emirates

By staff - Equidem, November 20, 2023

Workers at the heart of the United Arab Emirates's renewable and gig sectors, and at the site that will host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) have left homes in Africa and Asia because of climate change only to be subjected to physical abuse, heat stress, exploitation and discrimination, a new report from Equidem reveals. Serious labour violations have taken place at the site of COP28, Expo City, as well as at five renewable energy firms, including Siemens Energy. 

Based on correspondence with 248 workers, and interviews with 102, the expansive report offers unprecedented insight into the renewables, construction, security, and delivery sectors in the UAE, shedding light on both industrial and service sector working conditions for 9 million migrant workers. 

The shining facilities at Expo City Dubai boast internationally lauded solar and wind parks and a booming local gig economy. Underneath that cheerful exterior, however, women and men from some of the poorest countries on earth are falling victim to an unjust transition: Migrant workers from Africa and Asia are being subjected to serious human rights abuses in a nation whose oil and gas-powered economy is at the heart of the planet’s climate crisis. 

“Hosting this peak global conference in a climate and rights abusing state was bad enough. Equidem’s research starkly reveals that the UAE is failing on almost every metric of the UN’s own human rights benchmarks for addressing climate change through the COP process,” said Mustafa Qadri, CEO of Equidem. 

Abuses include workplace violence, wage theft, working in extreme heat and other occupational health and safety risks, nationality-based discrimination, exploitative hiring practices, understaffing and overwork, lack of opportunities for promotion, overcrowded accommodations, inadequate food allowances, and inadequate channels for workers to seek relief from these violations. 

Investigations by Equidem were carried out between February and October 2023 at Expo City Dubai and in the renewables and delivery sectors, including at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, Al Dhafra Solar Power Project, Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant, Sir Bani Yas Wind Farm Project; and in the delivery sector in the UAE. 

  • Together, 57% of the migrant workers interviewed come from climate impacted areas of Asia and Africa.
  • 41 % of the workers reported nationality-based discrimination.
  • 77.% of the workers in renewable sector reported living in overcrowded accommodations, with up to 20 people in a room fit for six or fewer workers.
  • 83% of the African and Asian workers interviewed reported being unable to afford nutritious and healthy food.
  • 40% of the workers said they were skipping meals.

Equidem’s research found that African and Asian workers have migrated for employment based upon climate impacts in their own country, and then find employment in the industrial and service sectors in the UAE. These migrant workers are doubly impacted by the global climate crisis—they migrate in response to climate impacts and find employment in exploitative industrial and service contexts where they work long hours in extreme heat. These rights violations take place against a backdrop of racially delineated exclusion from labour rights protections, denial of freedom of association, and authoritarian suppression of dissent in the UAE. 

Download a copy of this publication here (Link).

The Climate Contradictions of Gary Smith

By Paul Atkin - Greener Jobs Alliance, September 21, 2023

In agreeing to be interviewed by the Spectator under the title the folly of Net Zero GMB General Secretary Gary Smith lets his members down; not least because remarks like these from a leading trade unionist help give Rishi Sunak encouragement to accelerate his retreat from the government’s already inadequate climate targets.

The phrase “the folly of Net Zero” makes as much sense as “the folly of getting into the lifeboats when the ship is sinking”

Difficulties in making a transition to sustainability does not mean that making it isn’t essential, and the faster we move the less damage is done. We can see that damage all around us even now. 

Gary doesn’t seem to get this, any more than Rishi Sunak does, and he latches on to some of the same lines as the PM does, albeit with a more pungent turn of phrase. To go through these point by point, quotes are either directly from Gary Smith or the Spectator.

California’s Climate Investments and High Road Workforce Standards: Gaps and Opportunities for Advancing Workforce Equity

By Sam Appel and Jessie HF Hammerling - UC Labor Center, September 20, 2023

California continues to lead the nation in charting a path to economy-wide decarbonization. On this path, the state has committed to pursuing a high road transition that prioritizes the development of a sustainable economy grounded in equity for workers and communities.

In our 2020 report Putting California on the High Road: A Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030 (JCAP), commissioned by the California Legislature in Assembly Bill 398 (Garcia, 2017), the UC Berkeley Labor Center offered guidance for policymakers on how to ensure an equitable energy transition for workers in California. That report describes clear, proven strategies for maximizing the creation of high-quality jobs across the low-carbon economy, broadening opportunities for workers of color and workers from historically marginalized communities, delivering the skilled workforce needed to achieve California’s climate targets, and protecting workers in transitioning industries.

This report presents a current snapshot of the state’s progress in implementing several of these strategies by examining the integration of high road workforce standards across California’s climate investments. Specifically, we review existing high road standard policies in California, and assess the reach of high road standards across the state’s proposed climate investments in California’s 2022-23 state budget.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Employment Impacts of New U.S. Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure Laws

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Gregor Semieniuk, and Chirag Lala - Political Economic Research Institute, September 18, 2023

The report Employment Impacts of New U.S. Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure Laws by PERI researchers Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Gregor Semieniuk and Chirag Lala estimates job creation, job quality, and demographic distribution measures for the three major domestic policy initiatives enacted under the Biden Administion—the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation (BIL), and the CHIPS Act. Pollin et al. find that, in combination, total spending for these measures will amount to about $300 billion per year. This will generate an average of 2.9 million new jobs within the U.S. economy as long as spending for these programs continues at this level. The newly created jobs will be spread across all sectors of the U.S. economy, with 45% in a range of services, 16% in construction, and 12% in manufacturing. Critically, the study finds that roughly 70% of the jobs created will be for workers without four-year college degrees, a significantly higher share than for the overall U.S. labor market. As such, these measures expand job opportunities especially for working class people who have been hard hit for decades under the long-dominant neoliberal economic policy framework.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

The Green New Deal from Below and the Future of Work

The Green New Deal from Below Means Jobs

Investment Impact of Alberta's Renewable Energy Moratorium

By Jason Wang, Will Noe - Pembina Institute, August 24, 2023

Alberta’s proven, economic, and available wind and solar resources position it to become Canada’s renewable energy capital. In fact, three-quarters of renewable energy projects built in Canada last year were in Alberta. At a time when the investments are trending towards renewable energy growth globally, accelerating the buildout of renewables in the province is a no-regrets economy-building decision. Renewable energy reduces electricity costs, creates jobs, and has been a growing source of investment in Alberta. Since 2019, projects have drawn nearly $5 billion in investments, creating close to 5,500 jobs.

But on August 3, 2023, the Government of Alberta announced a seven-month pause on approvals for renewable energy projects over 1 megawatt (MW) – including wind, solar, and geothermal, though excluding microgeneration.

Natural resources should be developed responsibly with care to mitigate environmental impact and address stakeholder concerns. However, there are several measures in place already for the responsible development and reclamation of renewable energy resources in Alberta. In addition, renewable projects are only developed with interested landowners. There are improvements that can be made to the measures in place, but they can be undertaken without hampering the industry and stakeholders involved in project development.

We reviewed the Alberta Electric System Operator’s (AESO) list of electricity generation projects in development in relation to their approval status from the Alberta Utility Commission (AUC) to determine how many projects are impacted by Alberta’s renewable energy development moratorium and what this means for investments, revenues, and jobs in the province.

Public data shows that 118 projects are currently in development and are either waiting for permitting approval or could submit an approval application within the next few months. These projects represent at least $33 billion of investment and more than 24,000 job-years.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

Nevada shows states how to build workforce for solar energy boom

By Kaleb Roedel, KUNR & Elizabeth Miller, Climate Central - Grist, August 6, 2023

In northern Nevada, east of Reno, a mountainous desert unfolds like a pop-up book. Wild horses on hillsides stand still as toys. Green-grey sagebrush paints the sandy land, which is baking under the summer sun.

On a 10-acre slice of this desert, people are working to turn this sunshine into paychecks. As society phases out fossil fuels and builds huge new solar energy plants, this region is grabbing a share of that green gold rush by retraining workers for work that is spreading across the West.

At this training center for the Reno branch of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Francisco Valenzuela uses a wrench to secure brackets to a long steel tube on posts about four feet off the ground. What looks like the start of a giant erector set is the support structure common on large-scale solar farms.

“The brackets, they hold the panels and we set it up,” said Valenzuela.

A few years ago, Valenzuela did electrical work for a solar project not far from here – the 60-megawatt Turquoise Solar Farm. Now, he’s gaining more skills so he can land more jobs. The 43-year-old is originally from Sonora, Mexico, but lives in Reno for trade jobs in northern Nevada. He has two kids in Las Vegas and visits when work is slow.

“You stay busy the whole year working,” he said.

It’s good pay, too, he added, with some companies paying $20 to $30 an hour, or more.

Maine lawmakers approve bill to jumpstart floating offshore wind, develop 3 GW by 2040

By Diana DiGangi - Utility Dive, July 27, 2023

Dive Brief:

  • The Maine legislature on Tuesday passed a bill requiring the state to procure 3 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2040, and establishing provisions regarding the construction and siting of future projects.
  • LD 1895 supports the creation of a port facility designed for fabricating and launching the materials needed to establish floating offshore wind farms, as the waters in the Gulf of Maine are too deep to accommodate fixed-bottom wind turbines.
  • The bill received broad-based support from state labor and environmental groups, as well as some fishing industry groups, who supported the bill’s provision to give priority to projects sited outside of a key fishing area known as Lobster Management Area 1, or LMA-1.

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