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International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions

By Teika Newton and Jamie Kirkpatrick - Climate Action Network and BlueGreen Canada, September 2021

Canada has a climate plan but it does not lay out a plan for the future of oil and gas extraction that aligns with the goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, leaving workers and communities with an uncertain future. The Canada Energy Regulator warns that the future of oil sands extraction, which makes up 62 percent of Canada’s oil output, is uncertain due to the projected drop in the future oil demand as the global pace of decarbonization increases.

Meanwhile, a study backed by the UN Environment Programme further states that global oil and gas output would have to decline by over one third by 2030 and over one half by 2040 to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C. In early 2021, the International Energy Agency, one of the world’s foremost authorities on global energy forecasting, published a landmark report, Net Zero by 2050, in which the agency declared that oil and gas output should be constrained to existing operations in order to meet the 1.5°C temperature goals articulated in the Paris Agreement. Constraining Canadian oil and gas output to existing fields approximates a similar rate of phaseout to that proposed by the UNEP-backed report.

he Canadian oil and gas industry, including upstream activities, pipelines, and services, provides approximately 405,000 jobs - 167,000 direct jobs and 238,000 jobs across supply chains. In response to oil price crises, industry’s solution to protect profits has historically been to slash jobs while maintaining output. As a result the number of jobs per barrel of output has already fallen by 20% since 2000.

While oil and gas jobs have significantly better compensation and training provisions than most sectors in the economy, these jobs are also somewhat more precarious and have higher health and safety risks. Union density is higher but is also falling at a more rapid rate than in oth-er industries.8 Finally, automation is projected to threaten between 33%-53% of Canadian oil and gas jobs by 2040.

Read the text (PDF).

Trade unions welcome UN HLPF Ministerial Declaration, but demand action

By staff - International Trade Union Confederation, July 19, 2021

Trade unions have welcomed the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration by the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) as it recognises decent work, social protection and climate resilient investments with just transitions as key pillars for recovery. But this must now be translated into government action.

This year’s HLPF focused on ways to ensure a sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19 in line with the SDGs. This included a review of progress on SDG 8.

The Ministerial Declaration reaffirms governments’ commitment to the SDGs as the “global blueprint” to respond to the pandemic and build “a better future for all”.

Trade unions welcomed:

  • references to the decent work agenda;
  • a commitment to protection of labour rights and occupational health and safety for all;
  • a pledge to eradicate forced and child labour;
  • the creation of “conditions for decent work for all, including for those in the informal economy”;
  • the promotion of sustainable business practices;
  • the call for investments in the care economy;
  • the recognition of women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work;
  • and the need to close the gender gap in the labour market.

Even though the Declaration misses the opportunity to explicitly refer to universal social protection, it is vocal on the need for all countries to extend social protection coverage, including social protection floors.

Governments’ failure to live up to Paris Agreement promises puts planet stability at risk

By staff - International Trade Union Confederation, April 21, 2021

In total, 136 governments were due to submit enhanced National Determined Contributions (NDCs), but only 79 have done so. The ITUC has been publishing scorecards on each plan here.

Of the 79 NDCs submitted, the ITUC analysis found that

  • 20 NDCs (25%) have ambitious climate plans;
  • 10 NDCs (8%) have Just Transition plans; and
  • 16 NDCs (13%) use social dialogue.

The ten worst countries for climate ambition and Just Transition are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia and South Korea.

Two of the biggest countries, the USA and China, could announce their latest plans this week.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “Six years since the Paris Agreement was signed and the day before Earth Day, this isn’t good enough. The richest countries of the world should be taking the lead, not dragging behind.

“Only one in four countries have ambitious climate plans, and nearly nine out of ten countries are denying working people and communities a say in their own future by not using social dialogue.

“Climate change is the biggest threat to all of us and we need NDCs from all governments now, with strong Just Transition plans and social dialogue at their centre. For workers this means climate-friendly jobs that transition from fading employment sectors to new, growing industries. Working people deserve nothing less.”

  • The countries that show the most ambitious climate plans: Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya, Moldova, Rwanda and Suriname.
  • The countries with credible Just Transition plans: Argentina, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, European Union (EU), Germany, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Suriname.
  • The countries using social dialogue: Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Poland, Spain and the UK.

The EU is taking an important step with its recovery package that includes a Just Transition Fund to direct $21 billion to fossil fuel and carbon-intensive regions most impacted by the energy transition.

Kenya explicitly refers to Just Transition in its NDCs submission, and the government is consulting workers’ unions about its plans.

Costa Rica’s NDC submission includes a Just Transition plan and a commitment to tripart social dialogue between the government, working people and employers.

“These countries show what is possible. Mentioning the words ‘Just Transition’ is not enough. Credible plans need to involve dialogue with unions and stakeholders. Our unions are ready to sit down and work together in Just Transition plans.

“Just Transition is the bridge to a fossil-free economy. If we are going to transition every industry, and we must, in line with achieving net-zero emissions, then we need to make that transition just. That requires unions to be at the table to develop an agreed plan that gives workers a secure future.

“There is no excuse for not delivering NDCs that meet our three criteria: ambitious climate plans, Just Transition plans and social dialogue. We will continue to expose governments that are not pulling their weight and push them to do better in this race against time,” added Sharan Burrow.

Is Labor Green? A Cross-National Panel Analysis of Unionization and Carbon Dioxide Emissions

By Camila Huerta Alvarez, Julius McGee, and Richard York - Nature and Culture, March 1, 2019

In this article, we assess whether unionization of national workforces influences growth in national carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita. Political-economic theories in environmental sociology propose that labor unions have the potential to affect environmental conditions. Yet, few studies have quantitatively assessed the influence of unionization on environmental outcomes using cross-national data. We estimate multilevel regression models using data on OECD member nations from 1970 to 2014. Results from our analysis indicate that unionization, measured as the percentage of workers who are union members, is negatively associated with CO2 emissions per capita, even when controlling for labor conditions. This finding suggests that unionization may promote environmental protection at the national level

Read the text (PDF).

New Social Contract: Five workers’ demands for recovery and resilience

By staff - International Trade Union Confederation, January 25, 2021

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, outlined the demands during the World Economic Forum, with an ITUC session on the subject taking place at the World Social Forum on the 26 January and a detailed blog on the issues: “The choices made by world leaders and by business in 2021 will either heed the call of workers and civil society to reform the economic model and help create a just and sustainable future or maintain business as usual and see a model of corporate greed entrench inequality, exclusion and despair perpetuating instability for our communities and our planet.”

The five demands are:

  1. Creation of climate-friendly jobs with Just Transition. Job-creating industrial transformation to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, along with jobs in health, education and other quality public services.
  2. Rights for all workers, regardless of their employment arrangements, to fulfill the promise of the ILO Centenary Declarationwith its labour protection floor including rights, maximum working hours, living minimum wages and health and safety at work.
  3. Universal social protection, with the establishment of a Social Protection Fund for the least wealthy countries.
  4. Equality. Ending all discrimination, such as by race or gender, to ensure that all people can share in prosperity and that the appalling concentration of wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the many is undone.
  5. Inclusion. To combat the growing power of monopolies and oligarchs, ensure that developing countries can actually develop their economies and guarantee tax systems that provide the income vital for governments to meet the needs of people and the planet. An inclusive approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic is paramount, both in terms of economic support as well as universal access to testing, treatment and vaccines.

“Along with the tragic loss of so many lives from the pandemic, almost 500 million jobs have been lost and two billion people are struggling in informal work, including in new internet mediated businesses. People need a New Social Contract that delivers recovery and resilience based on the security that these five critical demands guarantee,” said Sharan Burrow.

Unions and Youth together: A Just Transition for climate ambition

Workers and Just Transition: A Global View

By various - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 5, 2021

With the election of a President who acknowledges the threats of climate change and of ongoing economic devastation for working people, we have an opportunity to seriously address how to make a transition to a climate-safe, socially-just, worker-friendly society. The primary objective of the Just Transition Listening Project (JTLP) is to ensure workers and community voices are central to the conversation of a Green New Deal and other climate policies. 

On Saturday, Dec. 5 at 12 p.m. Eastern, the Labor Network for Sustainability and the JTLP Organizing Committee will bring together labor and policy leaders to share perspectives, stories, and strategies from the frontlines of the struggle for a just transition globally. This will be the sixth webinar in the JTLP series. In addition to the webinar series we conducted interviews with more than 100 community leaders and workers to learn of their experiences and perspectives on Just Transition. Our report from these interviews will be available in January.

From the experiences of metalworkers in South Africa to the coal miners in Spain, to workers across sectors in Latin America and across the world, the struggle for a just transition is truly global. In order to effectively address the worldwide transitions we are facing in our jobs, environments, and homes, we must demand a worldwide response. Join us on Saturday, Dec. 5 as we learn from each other and set the stage for finalizing and distributing our report to help us win the struggle to protect jobs, communities and the right to thrive as we work toward a society that is ecologically sustainable and just. 

After the Hazelwood coal fired power station closure: Latrobe Valley regional transition policies and outcomes 2017-2020

By John Wiseman, Annabelle Workman, Sebastian Fastenrath, and Frank Jotzo - Crawford School of Public Policy, November 2020

This paper reviews and evaluates key policy initiatives and strategies designed to strengthen regional economic, social and environmental outcomes in the Latrobe Valley (Victoria, Australia) in the three years following the closure of the Hazelwood power station. Prior to its sudden closure in March 2017, Hazelwood was the most carbon-intensive electricity generator in Australia. The debate over the future of Hazelwood became an icon in the nation’s ongoing political struggle over climate and energy policy.

Employment and economic outcomes in the three years since closure indicate promising initial progress in creating the foundations required to facilitate an equitable transition to a more prosperous and sustainable regional economy. The Hazelwood case study provides support for a number of propositions about successful regional energy transition including that well managed, just transitions to a prosperous zero-carbon economy are likely to be strengthened by proactive, well integrated industry policy and regional renewal strategies; respectful and inclusive engagement with workers and communities; and adequately funded, well-coordinated public investment in economic and community strategies, tailored to regional strengths and informed by local experience.

Read the text (PDF).

Transition from Crisis

By staff - Victorian Trades Hall Council, August 2020

With workers and unions leading the transformation of the economy, we will not only help to avoid the worst effects of climate change, it will lead to a more just society in which workers have a much greater share of the wealth they create. This is a moment in time in which we can reduce inequality, increase control over our own working lives, and have our economy work in the interests of everyday people. Without workers and unions playing this leading role, we risk either climate and economic breakdown or a transformation that is authoritarian, gives priority to the interests of capital over workers, and replicates the economic, social and political injustices that characterise the world today.

There are few more important issues facing workers in Victoria than how our economy is restructured and rebuilt in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to reduce the risks of climate change and to manage the effects of the warming that is already locked in to the climate system.

Climate change affects all workers, but in different ways. Health professionals like nurses, and emergency services workers like fire fighters and paramedics, are on the frontlines of the response to extreme weather and disasters and at the same time managing the pressures of other crises, like COVID-19. Public sector workers must manage everything from fire reconstruction work to welfare support to coordinating pandemic responses, often after years of federal funding cuts. In drought-affected communities, local workers can be hurt by the economic decline caused by lack of water, which has also led to closures of businesses such as dairy farming. Construction workers and farm workers must deal with the increasing number of hot days, often resulting in a downturn in industry productivity.

COVID-19 and its economic fallout have demonstrated that in times of crisis it is far too often women who disproportionally bear the brunt, both in job losses and also as frontline workers acting in response. It has also shown us that crises – whether climate or health related - exacerbate existing inequities, meaning those in insecure work, the low-paid, the disabled, migrant workers and First Nations communities are disproportionately affected. For instance, the link between insecure employment and the spread of the virus is now acknowledged by health authorities and the Victorian Government: workers without paid sick leave are more likely to go to work while sick. This tells us that in preparing for the challenges and likely crises of the future, including those climate-related, the elimination of these inequities and inequalities must be given high priority.

All of us will have to learn how to cope with a changing climate. But managing the economic restructuring that will be necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change will be particularly important for workers and unions. Workers and their unions know only too well what happens when individual firms or industries are restructured without workers or unions having a proper say: it’s workers who pay the price.

Read the text (PDF).

A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada

By Pia Björkbacka - The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK, June 26, 2020

Both the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the target of carbon neutrality by the year 2035 set out in the government programme of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin refer to a just transition for workers towards a low-carbon society. Such a just transition has long been sought by the trade union movement and is an important condition for achieving ambitious climate policy objectives.

The programme of the Marin government states that the government will work with labour market organisations to harmonise economic and labour market policies. Achieving climate objectives will also require co-operation with the social partners, and sectoral assessments in particular.

A just transition has been selected as one approach to reaching the target of a carbon neutral Finland by 2035. The government will pledge to implement emission reduction measures in a socially and regionally equitable way that involves all sectors of society. The government programme envisages establishing a round table on climate policy in Finland under the committee on sustainable development. Bringing together the various actors in society will ensure that climate measures serve the general interests of society and enjoy broad public support.

(Government Programme of Prime Minister Marin 2019)

The implementation of climate policy is causing restructuring in various sectors, meaning that climate policy decisions and actions also have social implications.

The European Commission has estimated that mitigating climate change will create more jobs in the European Union than it will cost (European Commission, 2019), but the changes will be sectoral. Even though labour market restructuring – which is also guided by climate policy - is creating new employment opportunities, it also brings fears of unemployment.

Realising employment opportunities requires substantial investment in employee skills and innovation. It is very important for the benefits and costs of low-carbon restructuring to be evenly shared across various sectors, occupations, population groups and regions. Successfully transitioning to a carbon-neutral society will not only require emission reduction measures and business and energy policies, but also employment, social welfare, education and regional policies.

The principle of a just transition will seek to meet these challenges. This means implementing emission reductions in a way that is fair to workers. It is about creating new, decent and sustainable jobs, in-service training for new employment, and security of earnings. The goal of a just transition is to increase the participation and commitment of workers in deciding policies for mitigating climate change nationally, regionally and within businesses, thereby promoting a smooth transition to a carbon-neutral society.

Read the text (PDF).

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