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climate justice

A Just(ice) Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition: Centering the Extractive Frontier in Climate Justice

By Benjamin Hitchcock Auciello - War on Want and London Mining Network, September 2019

While the global majority disproportionately suffer the impacts of the climate crisis and the extractivist model, theGlobal North’s legacy of colonialism, the excess of the world’s wealthiest, and the power of large corporations are responsible for these interrelated crises.

The climate change mitigation commitments thus far made by countries in the Global North are wholly insufficient; not only in terms of emissions reductions, but in their failure to address the root causes of the crisis – systemic and intersecting inequalities and injustices. This failure to take inequality and injustice seriously can be seen in even the most ambitious models of climate mitigation.

This report sets out to explore the social and ecological implications of those models.

Read the report (PDF).

8 Unions Have a Plan for Climate Action—But It Doesn’t Mention Fighting the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Rachel M. Cohen - In These Times, August 26, 2019

On June 24, the BlueGreen Alliance — a national coalition which includes eight large labor unions and six influential environmental groups—released an eight-page document laying out its vision to curb climate change and reduce inequality. The report, dubbed Solidarity for Climate Action, marks a significant development in the world of environmental politics. It argues the needs of working people must be front-and-center as the U.S. responds to climate change, and rejects the ​“false choice” between economic security and a healthy planet.

While the report’s focus on public investment, good jobs and justice shares much in common with the federal Green New Deal resolution introduced in February, it also stands in tension with environmentalists who demand the U.S. work to transition more quickly away from oil, coal and natural gas. ​“We’d really like them to be stronger and more concise about what it means to move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewables,” said José Bravo, executive director of the Just Transition Alliance and speaking on behalf of the Climate Justice Alliance. Members of the BlueGreen Alliance say the ultimate goal should be to decarbonize the economy — to reduce CO2 emissions, but not necessarily end the fossil fuel industry itself, with its tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Other climate groups say that won’t be enough, and humanity cannot afford to preserve industries that have caused so much environmental harm. This difference in vision will stand as one of the most fundamental political questions facing progressives in the next decade.

The report spells out a series of principles, including limiting warming to 1.5°C, expanding union jobs, modernizing infrastructure, bolstering environmental protections and rebuilding the nation’s manufacturing sector with green technologies. It also elevates the issue of equity, calling to ​“inject justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities.” The BlueGreen Alliance emphasizes the disproportionate impact low-income workers and communities of color will face, and says those affected by the energy transition must receive ​“a just and viable transition” to new, high-quality union jobs.

(Read the rest here)

Who is Included in a Just Transition?: Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy

By Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Zaee Deshpande - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, August 2019

As the international community moves to act on the climate crisis, governments are increasingly being forced to reckon with the social and economic costs of climate policies. The production and consumption of fossil fuels is the primary driver of global heating, so shifting to cleaner alternatives is necessary for long-term environmental and economic sustainability. However, the global economy is highly dependent on fossil fuels, so declines in the production and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas have the potential to negatively impact large numbers of workers and their communities in the short to medium term. In Canada alone, the fossil fuel industry accounts for hundreds of thousands of jobs and more than $100 billion dollars worth of economic output.

Efforts to reduce emissions from the fossil fuel sector have provoked calls for governments to ensure the transition to a cleaner economy is a just transition for affected workers and communities. The concept of a “just transition” for fossil fuel workers has long existed within the North American labour movement, but only in the past few years has it gained mainstream international attention. The 2015 Paris Agreement acknowledged the “imperatives of a just transition of the workforce.” And in 2018, more than 50 countries signed the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, which highlights the essential role of a just transition in the broader fight against climate change.

In Canada, the phrase “just transition” only began appearing in official policy documents around the time of the Paris Agreement, but it is now a formal priority for several governments across the country. Canada’s recent adoption of just transition principles has emerged almost exclusively in the context of the government-mandated phaseout of coal-fired electricity generation. Under a patchwork of provincial and federal policies, nearly all coal power plants and their associated coal mines will be shuttered by 2030.3 To mitigate the costs of the phaseout to coal workers and coal towns, the provincial government of Alberta — home to the largest share of the coal industry — together with the federal government have implemented or announced a variety of just transition policies since 2016. Targeted programs include income support and skills retraining for coal workers as well as infrastructure investments in affected communities. These governments continue to explore initiatives to provide support to coal communities as they undergo the transition to a cleaner economy.

Read the report (PDF).

The Future Is Already Here

By Larry Gambone - special to IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 2, 2019

Many people do not realize that everything we need for an environmentally sane, egalitarian and authentically democratic society exists NOW.[1] The fact that these exist already is grounds for hope. Neither are most of these new developments in their embryonic form – many – thought still a minority aspect – are quite well established.

The best known of these is the relatively clean generation of electricity.[2] Solar and wind generation is at or near the tipping point for cost compared with fossil fuel power generation. Energy specialists think the tipping point could be 2025 or sooner. Some say we are there already. Countries like Costa Rica and Holland already produce or are near to producing all their electricity through renewables. Less well known, but working examples do exist of geothermal and tidal power.

The other aspect is using less electricity or other energy sources. A massive amount of energy is consumed heating and cooling buildings. Fifty percent of energy expended in the EU has to do with heating and cooling. Passive houses reduce the cost of heating and cooling to almost nothing. Houses can be oriented and constructed in such a fashion that they cool themselves naturally.[3] Trees – no yard or street should be without them, not only do they use CO2 but they also have a cooling effect. Smaller dwellings should be a priority- well designed they should be as convenient for the occupants as any McMansion. These designs already exist. There is no reason other than assuaging one's ego, that the tiny families of today need a 4000 sq. foot house. A smaller house or apartment requires less energy consumption than a large one.

Twenty-five percent of energy expended globally has to do with transport, 20% of that is trucks, 12% ships and 45% cars according to statistics in the Maritime Executive site. Energy is wasted in unnecessary driving. If you could walk to most of the shops, schools or recreation centres you would not need to drive. We need to restore the village with facilities located in a nearby 'down town' that can be easily reached on foot. Combine this with an efficient public transit system – like they have in much of Europe – and better yet make it "free" like in Luxemburg - and less people will have cars. This means, of course, less energy consumed. For many, car ownership will be a thing of the past and the existing car coops and car share companies will predominate in the urban areas.

Energy is wasted in the unnecessary traffic in goods. No non perishables ought to be shipped by truck that can go by rail and thus save energy. A carbon tax ought to be levied upon all products that can be produced locally, yet are imported from afar due to a false sense of economy. This will encourage local production – once again less energy consuming – and reduce the amount of trucking and shipping.

Agribusiness consumes a lot of energy on machinery, petroleum, pesticides and fertilizers. While I would not suggest growing wheat organically on a small scale, many other food items can be grown in this manner. Small but intensive organic horticulture can produce an enormous amount of food from a small area. Paris used to feed itself in that manner and Havana does today. No pesticides or artificial fertilizers, but the organic waste of the city. Working with tools that last a generation and not expensive, short-lived machines that require petrol. Of course, food prices will need to increase to make such small farming viable – but this could be off set by keeping rents and mortgages low through an intelligent housing policy, like the one that exists in Germany.

One of the biggest consumers of energy is the military and a good way to reduce energy consumption would be peace. They are called "Defense Departments" but few countries other than Switzerland really have a defensive policy. Most countries are geared for offense – against other countries – or their own people. Bombers, missiles, drones, air craft carriers, nuke carrying subs, are not weapons of defense – they are for attacking. Ironically, we have no enemies other than a handful of home made bomb and small arm toting maniacs against whom such offensive weapons are useless. Using the model of Switzerland, we could have a cheap – and therefore less energy consuming – military. A military trained in guerrilla warfare using small arms, RPGs and SAMs – cheap stuff.

The future that is now, is more than energy efficiency, it is also about equality and freedom. Freer, more democratic and more egalitarian institutions exist already and are more widespread than you might think.

A Just Transition to a Greener, Fairer Economy

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trades Union Congress, July 2019

The trade union movement recognises that there is overwhelming scientific evidence of the need to decarbonise our economy. Energy-intensive industries, including the energy, transport, manufacturing and construction sectors, will be key to achieving this transition, but this is a project that will require change right across our economy, and trade union members have the expertise to deliver it. The voices of workers who are at the forefront of dealing with the challenge of climate change must be at the centre of achieving a successful transition to the economy we will need.

Such a change, if left to solely to the market, could have massive economic and social consequences, in terms of jobs, skills and knowledge lost and communities destroyed. We need a different approach to the failed neoliberal approach of the 1980s, which left workers behind, and communities devastated.

The international trade union movement has called for a ‘just transition’ to a greener economy, where new jobs that are just as good in terms of pay, skills, pensions and trade union recognition replace those that are lost. Following union pressure, the concept of a just transition was included in the preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement and in the Silesia Declaration at the climate talks in 2018.

The move to a low-carbon economy has implications and potential opportunities for industrial policy and the quality of employment. However, the opportunities will not be realised unless the workers most affected have a seat at the table where key decisions are taken. They should be able to contribute to solutions, not be told after decisions have been made.

Read the report (PDF).

Nurses’ Unions, Climate Change and Health: A Global Agenda for Action

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

The planet is warming and the climate is changing. With increasing regularity, headlines report record- breaking heat waves, catastrophic storms, floods and fires, and rising numbers of people displaced due to famines, droughts and violence. The world seems to be rapidly becoming a more dangerous and more frightening place.

These changes have profound significance for human health. Indeed, the health impacts of global warming and climate change are already being felt by vast numbers of people around the world. At the same Ame, although certain health risks may actually diminish with increased warming for some people—for instance, risk from exposure to cold in some regions—health risks overall are set to increase significantly. In the medium term, this is especially true for risks related to exposure to floods, droughts and extreme heat; food security issues; and infectious diseases. Longer-term, health risks associated with displacement and conflict are likely to become much more serious.

This paper aims to provide information to nurses and their unions regarding climate-related health risks. It summarizes what is happening now, and what health-related climate science suggests could happen if current trends continue.

Nurses and their unions have been at the forefront of many key struggles to minimize the negative health impacts of current and rising fossil fuel use, and for strong policy responses to the unfolding climate crisis. But it is today clear that addressing climate change will require a radical change at the level of politics and policy. The current policies—which are directed towards ensuring investment opportuniAes for big business—have been a massive failure. Emissions conAnue to rise, and health outcomes and indicators conAnue to worsen.

Read the report (PDF).

Solidarity for Climate Action

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, July 2019

Americans face the dual crises of climate change and increasing economic inequality, and for far too long, we’ve allowed the forces driving both crises to create a wedge between the need for economic security and a living environment. We know this is a false choice—we know that we can and must have both, and we need a bold plan to address both simultaneously.

Many solutions are already being put into place across the country. For example, tradespeople built the Block Island offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island, autoworkers are on the factory floors building cleaner cars and trucks in Michigan, and previously unemployed workers in St. Louis and Los Angeles are gaining access to high-skilled jobs in energy efficiency retrofitting, pipefitting, and transit manufacturing, while mine workers are extracting palladium to be used in catalytic converters. These are all good, union jobs building a clean energy and climate-resilient economy today.

At the same time, not enough of the new jobs that have been created or promised in the clean energy economy are high-quality, family-sustaining jobs, nor are these jobs in the same communities that have seen the loss of good-paying, union jobs.

Wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and sea-level rise driven by climate change are hurting communities across the country and will only worsen if we don’t take decisive action. Lower income workers and communities of color are hit the hardest and are less able to deal with these impacts as wages have fallen and their economic mobility and power in the workplace has declined.

It is critical that working people are front and center as we create a new economy: one that values our work, our families, our communities, and our environment. It is with that imperative that we call for a new plan to create jobs and protect the environment for the next generation. This plan must respond to the climate crisis on the scale that science demands, while simultaneously addressing inequality in all its forms.

Read the report (PDF).

Energy commons: from energy transition to climate justice

By Cécile Blanchet - ROARMag, June 19, 2019

In 2019, only oil lobbyists and shabby orange politicians persist in denying the influence of human activities on the Earth’s climate. Scientific evidence is piling up and we know that we must change our ways. The concept of energy transition has become mainstream.

However, governments have remained remarkably motionless. They are so inactive that kids have started school strikes and demand climate justice in front of the United Nations’ Conference of Parties. They are so immobile that citizen groups actually sue their governments for their lack of climate action. And when governments attempt to do something, it is so unjust that people take to the streets even during the coldest months of the year, screaming, filled with rage and frustration.

Our leaders have forgotten that the poorer half of our societies should not have to clean up the mess produced by the richest half. That it should not be our kids cleaning up our mess.

Doing It Ourselves

Facing a lack of political will, an interesting and vivid grassroots movement has taken shape to reclaim our energy systems. From households to city politics, and even at the European level, there has been an unprecedented involvement from the public into energy and electricity matters. For example, in the shape of energy cooperatives.

According to the European Federation of renewable energy cooperatives, RESCOOP, there are at present some 1,250 energy communities in which a million people throughout Europe are involved. Through the RESCOOP federation, these groups actively lobby at a European level to bend the legislation towards promoting and supporting energy cooperatives.

This model of energy cooperativism originated in Germany in the late 1990s and was enabled by a set of disruptive laws supporting the production of renewable energy. This bill kick-started the German energy transition (dubbed “Energiewende”), which has become a landmark and is being widely copied.

The two main pillars were defined in the Feed-In Act of 2000: the priority of renewable sources to the grid and feed-in tariffs (fixed prices paid for renewable energy).

The particularity of this framework is that it has enabled small players to enter the game. Citizen cooperatives and households have especially benefited, because a fixed price for each kilowatt hour (KWH) could be sold back to the grid, which gave them more space to invest in new technologies.

From the late 1990s onwards, the number of cooperatives in Germany has grown exponentially, reaching 900 in 2019, representing the majority of energy cooperatives in Europe. It is a model that comes with many advantages. Let’s virtually visit one of these cooperatives together.

Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign

By Chrislain Eric Kenfack - University of Alberta, 2019

In the current context of climate change and its accompanying adverse effects on natural, human and social systems, the imperative of transitioning to low- and preferably post-carbon societies has become a non-negotiable reality if we want to avoid reaching the point of no return in terms of environmental and climate catastrophe. Such a transition requires that the interests and needs of workers and their communities be taken into consideration to make sure they do not bear the heaviest part of the burden in terms of loss of jobs and means of survival, and that they are prepared to face the new, post-carbon labour environment.

The concept of Just Transition was coined to describe both the socio-political project put forward by trade unions in response to climate change, and the recognition by climate activists that the livelihoods and security of workers and their communities must be ensured during the transition to a post-carbon society. However, just transition movements are divided between two quite different orientations, which are labelled “affirmative” and “transformative.” On the one hand, affirmative just transition advocates envisage a transition within the current political-economic system. Transformative just transition activists, on the other hand, envisage a post-capitalist transition.

This article, drawing upon an extensive case study of the Portuguese climate jobs campaign, goes beyond showing how these orientations shape the positions taken by union and climate activists. The article also analyses how the conflicts and cooperation between these key actors can shed light on the possibilities and/or limitations of just transition as a framework for the collective action needed to achieve rapid, deep decarbonisation of economies in the Global North context.

Read the report (PDF).

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