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(Working Paper #12) The Road Lest Travelled: Reclaiming Public Transport for Climate-Ready Mobility

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 2019

This working paper examines some of the key questions at the heart of climate-related debates on transport, and around passenger road transport in particular. It also looks at some of the more important issues surrounding public transport specifically, and the failure of neoliberal transport policy to improve and expand public transport in ways that fulfill its full social and environmental potential.

Part One: Mobility Rising: Transport, Energy and Emissions Trends

In Part One of this paper, we survey the current trends in energy, transportation and emissions. Although emissions continue to rise across the global economy, transport-related emissions are growing faster than those of other major sectors. Transport is now responsible for almost one-third of final energy demand and nearly two-thirds of oil demand. It is also responsible for nearly one-quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the use of fuel. This means that controlling and reducing CO2 emissions from cars, trucks, and motorcycles must become a policy priority.

Part Two: Neoliberal Transport and Climate Policy at the Crossroads

In this part, we review the policy landscape, including how transport-related emissions from the transport sector are addressed in the Paris Climate Agreement—which is hardly at all. We show that neoliberal climate policy has failed to make any real progress in addressing transport-related emissions, while at the same time preventing public transport from realizing its potential, mainly due to the insistence on a “public-private partnership” model in a futile effort to “unlock” private investment.

Part Three: The Electric Car—Myths and Realities

We summarize the myths and realities surrounding electric cars, and highlight some of the major issues associated with their possible mass deployment. We show that common assumptions about the role of private EVs in the future of sustainable mobility are not at all consistent with what is actually happening, what is likely to happen in the future, or with what is even possible or desirable from a trade union perspective.

Part Four: Taming the Transport Network Companies (TNCs): From Uberization to Enhanced Public Mobility for All

In Part Four, we look at the rise of TNCs and other recent developments and trends in urban transport. This has triggered a global debate on “new mobility services.” In this part of the paper we argue that TNCs currently undercut public transport systems and contribute to traffic congestion and often increase emissions. But the same “platform technologies” that gave us Uber and similar companies can become integrated into public transport systems in ways that complement traditional public transport modes and reduce dependence on private vehicles.

Part Five: Shifting Gears: A Trade Union Agenda for Low-Carbon Public Mobility

Finally, we summarize some of the climate-related arguments that unions can use in their fight to defend, expand and improve public transport. We believe these arguments are consistent with the values and priorities of many transport unions and progressive trade unionism in general.

The authors hope this paper will encourage unions representing workers in all sectors to deepen their discussions around the future of transport—to join the conversation about what public transport can and should look like in future, and what needs to happen in order to bring that vision to reality.

Read the report (PDF).

The Ecological Limits of Work: on Carbon Emissions, Carbon Budgets and Working Time

By staff - Autonomy, April 2019

Faced with accelerating technological progress and a deepening ecological crisis, a growing discussion sees a reduction in working hours as a multiple dividend policy, increasing, among other things, individual wellbeing, productivity and gender equality whilst simultaneously potentially contributing to a reduction in unemployment and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One cannot help but feel reminded of some earlier sociotechnical visions of a society in which productivity gains would be shared broadly to allow for radically shorter working hours and thus a qualitatively better life.

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Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the USA

By Dimitris Stevis - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, February 27, 2019

“In broad terms there are now two camps amongst US labour unions with respect to climate change and renewables (the two not always related). On one side, are those unions that believe that something needs to be done about climate change and that renewables are a good strategy. On the other side are those that are opposed to meaningful climate policy –even as they claim that climate change is a problem.”

This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?

Read the report (PDF).

The Ruhr or Appalachia: Deciding the Future of Australia’s Coal Power Workers and Communities

By Peter Sheldon, Raja Junankar, and Anthony De Rosa Pontello - CFMMEU Mining and Energy, December 3, 2018

Australia’s coal-fired power stations will all close in the next two or three decades. We know this because the companies that operate the 23 power stations currently operating nation-wide have told us so.

Despite the empty rhetoric of some, it is unlikely that the economic case for investing in new coal-fired power stations in Australia will stack up. Those who currently own and operate coal power stations have no plans to build new ones.

The bad news is that the transition in how we produce power will bring great change to the workers and communities we have relied on to provide Australian homes and industry with reliable energy over many decades.

The good news is that we have the lead time to make smart decisions about what that change looks like—or at least, we now have the lead time after being caught unprepared by earlier closures, including Hazelwood in 2017.We have the choice to manage this structural economic change so that individuals, families and regions aren’t abandoned to unemployment, low-value jobs, poverty and associated health and social decline. Even better, we have the evidence about what works to deliver just transitions for coal power workers and communities, with skills, jobs, opportunities and hope for the future.

Communities grow around power stations and the mines that supply them. They are unique communities bonded in many cases by history, geography, difficult and dangerous working conditions and good unionised jobs. They are also uniquely vulnerable in their heavy dependence on the coal power industry.

This analysis of transitions in resource economies internationally and here in Australia provides valuable insights into the ingredients of success and the wide scope of outcomes.The Appalachian region in the United States is a heart-breaking story of industry transition characterised by short-term, reactive and fragmented responses to closures of coal mines, resulting in entrenched, intergenerational poverty and social dysfunction.

Compare this with the transition away from a heavy reliance on coal mining in Germany’s Ruhr region, where forward planning, investment in industry diversification, staggering of mine closures and a comprehensive package of just transition measures delivered a major reshaping of the regional economy with no forced job losses.

Central to these vastly different outcomes is the presence of a national, coordinated response. To this end, a major recommendation of this report is the establishment of a national, independent statutory authority to plan, coordinate and manage the transition.

In the energy debate to date, the impact of the transition on workers and communities has been almost completely ignored. This is an omission we can’t afford. After all, the costs of investing in a Just Transition need to be balanced against the costs of doing nothing and abandoning whole communities to a bleak future.

While global trends suggest that Australian export coal for steelmaking and energy production will be in demand for decades to come, coal-fired power generation in Australia is winding down. On the information available, there are no excuses for not taking action to protect the best interests of those affected.</p.

I thank Peter Sheldon and the team at UNSW Sydney’s Industrial Relations Research Centre for this important piece of work. I call on all power industry stakeholders to engage with its findings and consider how we can work together to deliver a Just Transition for coal power workers and communities.

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Climate Stability, Worker Stability: are they compatible?

By Dr. Louise Comeau, JD, PhD and Devin Luke - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, December 3, 2018

It appears we face a low- carbon transition dilemma. On the one hand, climate change solutions, like greenhouse gas regulation and carbon pricing, raise concerns about potential job displacement for workers in traditional energy sectors like oil and gas production and fossil-fuel generated electricity. Hence the calls for just transition. Our research, however, suggests that this blame may be at least partially misplaced. Energy workforce changes are currently affected by broader societal changes relating to fuel-cost differentials (i.e., natural gas cheaper than coal), automation, and the societal transition to non-unionized, unstable and lower-paying work. Greenhouse gas regulations and carbon pricing are certainly not the only driver of workforce change, and likely not, at least currently, not the primary driver.

Should proponents of renewable energy, energy efficiency and the low-carbon transition address these broader societal trends? If so, how? Is the solution to focus on collective responses such as energy cooperatives, public sector ownership of renewable energy supply, utility-scale and managed energy efficiency programs, rather than market- based, privatized solutions? These questions are worth answering. Our goal with this study was to better understand the training needs associated with renewable energy and energy efficiency job projections. There appears, however, to be a greater need to better integrate climate change and low-carbon economy discussions into a broader discourse on the nature of work.

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Radical Realism for Climate Justice

By Lili Fuhr and Linda Schneider - P2P Foundation, October 4, 2018

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial is feasible, and it is our best hope of achieving environmental and social justice, of containing the impacts of a global crisis that was born out of historical injustice and highly unequal responsibility.

To do so will require a radical shift away from resource-intensive and wasteful production and consumption patterns and a deep transformation towards ecological sustainability and social justice. Demanding this transformation is not ‘naïve’ or ‘politically unfeasible’, it is radically realistic.

This publication is a civil society response to the challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5°C while also paving the way for climate justice. It brings together the knowledge and experience of a range of international groups, networks and organisations the Heinrich Böll Foundation has worked with over the past years, who in their political work, research and practice have developed the radical, social and environmental justice-based agendas political change we need across various sectors.

Download a complete PDF of this collection of documents.

Missing Pathways to 1.5°C: The role of the land sector in ambitious climate action

By Kate Dooley, Doreen Stabinsky, et. al. - Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, October 2018

Current climate strategies are leading us to brink of disaster. While some level of removal of atmospheric carbon is inevitably required for the 1.5°C goal, due to historical and committed emissions, it is critical to limit this removal to the lowest amount possible, by restricting future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Ecosystem-based solutions can offer immediate, accessible, cost-effective and equitable strategies for meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal. In the context of international efforts to address climate change and increasing evidence of its rapid environmental impacts this report presents a global call to action for governments, development institutions and the broader climate community that challenges the fundamental assumptions that have so far guided national and international climate policies. Here we demonstrate the potential for targeted policies in the land sector to reduce the sustainability risks associated with mitigating climate change, while protecting human rights—particularly the customary rights of indigenous and local communities—and ensuring ecosystem integrity and food security.

Many narratives about climate change begin by asking what mitigation actions are technically or economically feasible, and how we can use the land sector to sequester as much carbon as possible. They focus on addressing climate change now so that we might ensure food security, human rights and biodiversity in the future, with little emphasis on who bears the brunt of the impacts of mitigation. The analysis in this report starts from a different place, giving primacy to food security, protecting human rights and protecting and restoring natural ecosystems in the battle against climate change.

This report addresses the shortcomings of current modelling approaches to deep mitigation pathways. Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) for 2°C and 1.5°C almost universally rely on intervention in the land sector on a truly massive scale, with most relying on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to remove carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it underground. In this report we substantiate and quantify the evidence that a large proportion, if not all of the required removals, could be achieved by conserving and enhancing natural sinks, while better land management and agricultural practices could avoid significant amounts of ongoing emissions. Further, when the protection and restoration of natural sinks is achieved through the stewardship of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, securing collective land and forest rights represents a far more equitable and cost-effective way to achieve

climate mitigation targets than other carbon capture and storage measures (Frechette et al., 2016).

This approach relies on ecosystem restoration to deliver ‘the missing pathway’ through avoided conversion of natural sinks and enhancing and protecting terrestrial ecosystems. It prioritises securing indigenous and community rights to land and utilises transformative agricultural practices to help eliminate over-production and consumption, including shifting diets and reducing demand for land for agricultural expansion.

Despite the advantages of multiple ecosystem-based carbon removal pathways in maintaining a liveable planet, such approaches have received little attention from policymakers. Policy choices have been largely informed by modelling that is geared toward accommodating our combustion-based economies, for instance building in the false solution of replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy. Policymakers have largely not been offered options that incorporate how behavioural and societal shifts—and strengthening tenure rights—can mitigate climate change.

The frame for considering pathways to 1.5°C must not be narrowly focused on emission reductions. Certainly the need for climate change action is urgent, but understanding the context for action is paramount. The world is one of growing inequality. Climate change arises from that inequality and feeds it, as the world’s wealthy continue over-consuming diminishing resources. The rest of this introductory section situates climate responses in the intersecting crises of climate, rights and biodiversity; addresses the shortcomings of modelling-based approaches to climate mitigation; and outlines our vision for ecosystem-based solutions that are centred on rights and food sovereignty.

Read the report (PDF).

Women and Climate Change Impacts and Action in Canada: Feminist, Indigenous, and Intersectional Perspectives

Written and researched by Lewis Williams with Amber Fletcher, Cindy Hanson, Jackie Neapole and Marion Pollack - Work and Climate Change Report - February 2018

Climate change is unequivocally occurring across the globe, impacting the conditions, experiences, and livelihoods of communities in multiple ways.2 Between 1948 and 2007 temperatures in Canada increased at a rate approximately twice the global average.3 Accelerated rates of global warming and dramatically increased temperatures are expected to occur in parts of Canada well into the future.4 Yet, Canada remains one of the world’s biggest per capita carbon polluters5 and is falling far short of meeting climate mitigation goals under the Paris Agreement, an international agreement for meeting climate change mitigation and adaptation targets.

Emerging research on the gendered impacts of climate change in Canada demonstrates how climate change is exacerbating inequalities between women and men. Women’s lower incomes relative to men, their gendered roles and social statuses, and the ways in which these interact with changing environments and related policies and programs affect women’s experiences of climate change. Despite these inequities, gender considerations are remarkably absent in climate plans and policies across the country.

Climate change is largely the result of the tightly interwoven forces of colonialism, patriarchy, and neoliberal forms of development.9 These conditions are constraining women’s knowledge, expertise, and unique agencies in addressing what is probably the most defining issue of our age. Yet women, including Indigenous women, have significant roles to play in the articulation of feminist and Indigenous worldviews, and aligned climate action strategies.

Read the Report (PDF).

(Working Paper #11) Trade Unions and Just Transition

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 2018

In late 2015, after more than a decade of tenacious lobbying of government negotiators, union representatives led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) succeeded in getting the phrase “Just Transition” into the preamble to the Paris Climate Agreement negotiated at COP21. The text affirmed “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.”

More than two years have passed since COP21, and calls for a Just Transition have emerged from all corners of the global progressive community. Once more or less exclusively a trade union priority, calls for a Just Transition increasingly appear, in varying forms, in the campaigns of major environmental organizations, climate justice and green NGOs, and indigenous and farmers’ movements. However unevenly, Just Transition has begun to feature in discussions around national politics and policy, and unions increasingly refer to the current period as Just Transition’s “implementation phase.”

The Need for an Integrated and Transformative Politics

Unions for the most part understand that they must strive to develop a Just Transition politics that somehow addresses the immediate concerns of workers while keeping the need for a transition of the entire economy in view. A transition that is “just” from the perspective of workers or “the workforce,” but which fails to help achieve the needed socioeconomic transformation, will ultimately accomplish little to address pressing climate-related and broader ecological concerns. Alternatively, policies aimed at driving a socioeconomic transformation that are robust enough to achieve climate and environmental targets, but which ignore the impact on workers in specific locations or industries, risk being unable to secure the support from workers that such a transformation requires in order to be successful.

Social Dialogue” or “Social Power”?

In this eleventh TUED Working Paper, we argue that, in order to effectively achieve this full range of aims, the international trade union movement must collectively formulate and pursue a comprehensive, integrated approach. Doing so requires a sober examination of the origins and current state of debates over Just Transition.

Unions at all levels of the international trade union movement recognize that a broad transformation of our economy and society is urgently necessary. But the insistence on keeping “Social Dialogue” at the center of such discussions holds trade union debates captive to the narrative of the liberal business establishment, and to a very narrow and de-mobilizing interpretation of Just Transition. Anchored in the particular realities of post-war Europe, Social Dialogue has been effectively elevated to the status of an official ideology in recent years–one that is increasingly out of step with both the challenges facing workers and their organizations, and the pressing demands for action posed by the climate and ecological crisis more broadly.

This paper makes the case for a different and more expansive trade union conversation-one that can address worker-focused concerns while advancing deeper socioeconomic transformation. We call this the “Social Power” approach. This approach is guided by the belief that a Just Transition cannot be accomplished without a deep restructuring of the global political economy. Existing power and ownership relations must be challenged and changed. This is, of course, an extremely difficult task. But if this does not occur, then the vast majority of the world’s working people will never see anything vaguely resembling a Just Transition. We can at least begin by openly acknowledging that this needs to be our movement’s long term goal and then organize accordingly.

The paper offers examples from around the world that illustrate how this new approach is cohering within day-to-day trade union struggles, as well as at the level of ideas across the political left.

Download the full paper here.

(Working Paper #10) Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy

By By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, November 2017

Inadequate levels of investment in renewable energy are a major obstacle standing in the way of the transition to a new, renewables-based energy system. TUED Working Paper 9, Energy Transition: Are We Winning? raised this investment deficit in passing and in a very broad context: Fossil-based energy use is rising globally, and renewables have so far failed to seriously alter the overall direction of global energy systems. “Modern renewables” like wind and solar remain on the margins of the global energy system. At the end of 2015, wind and solar PV together generated just 4.6% of global electricity.

By using the term “investment deficit” we aim to draw attention to the discrepancy between the levels of investment in renewable energy that are currently being seen around the world and those levels that are widely considered necessary to meet the science-based emissions targets and temperature thresholds articulated in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord: “well below two degrees Celsius” and “net zero emissions.”

It is also necessary to stress at the outset that the investment deficit in renewable energy is part of a much larger investment shortfall in what are often referred to as “low-carbon solutions” or “green technologies” (including, for example, storage and conservation). We touch briefly on this below but focus mainly on generation— principally wind and solar power.

Echoing a string of recent reports, a 2017 study by the International Energy Agency and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IEA-IRENA), Perspectives for the Energy Transition: Investment Needs for a Low-Carbon Energy System, estimated that investment in renewable energy needs to be more than double 2016 levels by 2030, reaching roughly $600 billion per year, in order to be consistent with the effort to keep global temperatures below the warming threshold of two degrees Celsius. This means approximately $14 trillion of investment in wind and solar generation, combined, by 2030.

Like many similar studies, however, the IEA-IRENA study fails to explain why, in a world awash with “idle capital,” the investment deficit in renewables exists at all. The present paper attempts to address this crucial issue. We believe that an honest review of the data and the policy history leave no doubt that the dominant policy paradigm—justified (and perhaps blinded) by a constant insistence on the need to “mobilize private sector investment”—has failed, even on its own terms, either to generate the kind of momentum needed to drive a full-on energy transition or to seriously impede the rise in fossil fuel use. We believe such a review also shows that the prospects for the dominant policy paradigm to produce results consistent with any serious effort to reduce emissions—let alone meet the Paris targets—are extremely poor.

We will attempt to show that any effort to address the investment deficit must deal with its systemic and institutional roots. These roots trace back to the privatization and liberalization of electricity markets that began in the UK in the 1980s, became EU policy in the 1990s, and have since come to define the dominant policy approach in many parts of the world. Even where energy systems have remained publicly owned, the policy approach to renewables is oriented toward private corporations and investors.

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