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‘COP28 should be the most important meeting in the history of the world’

By David Hill and Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 30, 2023

British journalist DAVID HILL interviewed Jeremy Brecher in the lead-up to COP28 about why international climate negotiations fail and how a “global nonviolent constitutional insurgency” could be a climate game-changer.

DH: Last year when we were in touch you said you thought COP27 “should be the most important meeting in the history of the world – nothing could be more important than international agreement to meet the climate targets laid out by climate science and agreed to by the world’s governments at the Paris Climate Summit.” Do you feel the same about COP28?

JB: Of course, COP28 should be the most important meeting in the history of the world. That was also true of COP27, COP26 and all the previous COP climate meetings. While they should be producing international agreement to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero, the reality is that the decades of international climate conferences have simply legitimated ever rising GHG emissions and ever increasing climate destruction. The idea that it is being hosted by Dubai and chaired by Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the head of the United Arab Emirates’s state-owned oil company, represents the height of absurdity – like putting Al Capone in charge of alcohol regulation. Sultan al-Jaber’s letter laying out plans for COP 28 is lacking in ambition to reduce climate destruction. The entire so-called international climate protection process is now controlled by those who hope to gain by climate destruction. A global nonviolent insurgency against the domination of the fossil fuel industry and the governments it controls appears to be the only practical means to counter their plan to destroy humanity.

DH: In other words, COP28 should be the most important meeting in the history of the world, but it’s not going to be. What do you think is the percentage chance of an international agreement to phase out fossil fuels being reached?

JB: The answer to this one is easy: there is zero chance that COP28 will produce an agreement that will actually phase out fossil fuels. The forces that are in control of the governments represented in COP28 represent fossil fuel interests that are intent on continuing and if possible expanding their use. US President Eisenhower once said that the people wanted peace so much that some day the governments would have to get out of their way and let them have it. An international agreement that will actually phase out fossil fuels will come when governments discover that if they want to go on governing they have to let the people have climate safety.

In a Clean Energy Future, What Happens to California’s Thousands of Oil Refinery Workers?

By Danielle Riedl and Devashree Saha - World Resources Institute, April 23, 2024

California is often considered the United States’ greenest state — a first-mover on climate policy, renewable energy, electric vehicles and more. But at the same time, the state is still a fossil-fuel production powerhouse.

This is especially true for its petroleum refineries, which turn crude oil into transportation fuels (like gasoline) and feedstocks for making chemicals. Despite declining oil production in the state, California still has the third-largest crude oil refining capacity in the country, just after Texas and Louisiana. About 83% of its refined petroleum is used for transportation, a sector that produces half of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. California is also the country’s largest consumer of jet fuel and second-largest user of motor gasoline, fuels that are processed and refined at petroleum refineries.

At the same time, California has a legal requirement to cut 85% of its emissions by 2045. Phasing down petroleum refineries, along with petroleum-based transportation fuels, are crucial steps in meeting that goal. Which begs the question: What happens to the thousands of workers, families and communities who rely on the state’s oil refineries for jobs and tax revenues?

While California is developing a detailed roadmap on how it will reduce its emissions, it doesn’t yet include a plan for addressing the impact of refinery closures — specifically, loss of jobs, incomes and the critical tax revenues that support communities’ schools, healthcare systems and more. California therefore has an opportunity to not only lead on phasing down America’s refineries, but to also make the transition a just one.

Grangemouth Refinery: Lessons for aviation workers on sustainable transitions

By staff - Safe Landing, April 16, 2024

Safe Landing recently attended the “Keep Grangemouth Working” event organised by Unite the Union at the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) conference in Dundee, Scotland. Grangemouth refinery is a classic case of an ‘unjust’ transition where poor industrial planning for the shift to low-carbon operations has led to major impacts for the livelihoods of workers and communities in the area. 

There are definitely lessons to be learned for the aviation industry – particularly as a sustainable future for the fuels sector is so intertwined with sustainable aviation!

Grangemouth Refinery: Scotland’s only refinery facing imminent closure

Grangemouth Refinery is one of the six remaining refineries in the UK and the only refinery in Scotland. It produces jet fuel which supplies airports at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Newcastle. It also produces a significant proportion of Scotland’s petrol and diesel. It’s estimated to account for approximately 8% of Scotland’s manufacturing base. 

In November 2023, the refinery owners, Petroineos, announced that the refinery could cease operations as soon as 2025 following an 18 month process to convert the facility to a fuel import/export terminal only. This could mean up to 500 jobs are lost at the site. 

This event was focused on the fight to maintain those jobs. 

This is a real life example of potential job losses from high-carbon infrastructure as the low-carbon transition (e.g. from petrol/diesel to electric vehicles) takes place. This could equally occur at an airport or aviation production facility unless transition plans are developed early, and future-proof investments are made. As Grangemouth produces jet fuel, there’s also an obvious overlap with the necessary transition required in aviation.

A Different Approach – A Green Transition (Part 2)

By Jonathan Essex - Greener Jobs Alliance, March 19, 2024

This is the second part of Jonathan’s discussion of a new approach to a Green Transition, as presented at the GJA AGM on 13 February.

We need a green transition, that is labour- not material- or technology-intensive, increasing how the economy flows locally rather than how big it is nationally or globally. The new jobs will not be in production in the UK but reproduction. It would depend upon new skills and jobs that reimagine, repurpose and reuse what already exists, and thus on activities that retain embodied carbon. Instead of using ever more energy to make more stuff that economy of scale and comparative advantage turn into fossil fuel powered global supply chains: a revolution of upskilling is needed to reconnect communities. Instead of Do-it-yourself, think: Re-inspire Your Community.

The shift to this new economy could be energised through local green jobs plans that ratchet down our level of resource supply and demand, making better use of what the economy already has, including repurposing resources like steel regionally and locally, reinsulating homes, renewables and less overall energy use. This would be a clear alternative to continuing to exploit more North Sea oil and gas, and also to end the massive predicted increase in the use of lithium and rare earth metals to power the transition to electric vehicles – reducing the scale of consumption of these, and our propensity to travel and consume ever more. 

Such green jobs plans need to be set in an economics of redistribution that turns politics into something we all participate in, something that provides the glue and grease that links the climate science and emergency declarations and policies into real plans, everywhere that can deliver sufficient collective transformation. That would be a great upskilling in contrast to the present absence of any government requirement on business to provide pathways to new skills and jobs beyond that company. That requires a government to go beyond doing litmus tests and tinkering in the market and instead to drive forward with a clear public-led plan. 

So how might this start in the absence of such a plan? I am involved in a local community enterprise – I am part of Energy Action Redhill and Reigate. Our leaky home surveys use infrared cameras to show residents where heat leaks, and we distribute free and half price insulation to households in need. But not just that! We are NVQ-ing up to levels 3 and 4 a group of energy champions. Initiatives like this are already getting skills in place, in readiness for government to finally mainstream investment in retrofitting the UK’s poorly insulated and leaky housing stock. 

Consider how this might look if the economy behaved like the national electricity grid. If we opt for a scaling up of renewables alongside the rethinking of demand explored above, the national grid will not need to expand exponentially to cope with the electrification of heating, transport and all else. Instead, more energy will be generated and consumed locally, and the grid will have a greater role in rebalancing and redistributing power, alongside new storage and demand management. Similarly, instead of continuing to increase the scale of energy generation and consumption, and the ‘economy’ distributing product from where it is centrally produced to consumers, it might serve to redistribute between far more self-reliant local economies, that retain more of their own work, and have a greater sense of place as the local vernacular of architecture, the seasonal variations of diet, and sports and pastimes more dependent on where you live.

Winning Fossil Fuel Workers Over to a Just Transition

By Norman Rogers - Jacobin, March 18, 2024

This article is adapted from Power Lines: Building a Labor-Climate Justice Movement, edited by Jeff Ordower and Lindsay Zafir (The New Press, 2024).

I have a dream. I have a nightmare.

The dream is that working people find careers with good pay, good benefits, and a platform for addressing grievances with their employers. In other words, I dream that everyone gets what I got over twenty-plus years as a unionized worker in the oil industry.

The nightmare is that people who had jobs with good pay and power in the workplace watch those gains erode as the oil industry follows the lead of steel, auto, and coal mining to close plants and lay off workers. It is a nightmare rooted in witnessing the cruelties suffered by our siblings in these industries — all of whom had good-paying jobs with benefits and the apparatus to process grievances when their jobs went away.

Workers, their families, and their communities were destroyed when the manufacturing plants and coal mines shut down, with effects that linger to this day. Without worker input, I fear that communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry face a similar fate.

This nightmare is becoming a reality as refineries in Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana, California, and New Mexico have closed or have announced pending closures. Some facilities are doing the environmentally conscious thing and moving to renewable fuels. Laudable as that transition is, a much smaller workforce is needed for these processes. For many oil workers, the choice is to keep working, emissions be damned, or to save the planet and starve.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675 — a four-thousand-member local in Southern California, of which I am the second vice president — is helping to chart a different course, one in which our rank-and-file membership embraces a just transition and in which we take the urgent steps needed to protect both workers and the planet. Along with other California USW locals, we are fighting to ensure that the dream — not the nightmare — is the future for fossil fuel workers as we transition to renewable energy.

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, Shouts Down Pennsylvania Gov. Shapiro Over a Proposed ‘Hydrogen Hub’

By Kiley Bense - Inside Climate News, March 12, 2024

Activists want more public participation in a proposal to produce hydrogen in southeastern Pennsylvania. Touted by the Biden administration as “crucial” to the nation’s climate goals, advocates fear the federally-funded project will create more pollution and further burden environmental justice communities.

Protestors disrupted a public meeting on Monday about a federally-funded “hydrogen hub” to be located in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware that would produce, transport and store the controversial fuel at sites across the region.

While the Biden administration considers these hubs a key part of its climate agenda that would decarbonize greenhouse-gas intensive sectors of the economy like heavy industry and trucking, climate activists consider hydrogen a false solution based on unproven technology that will only lead to more fossil fuel extraction and further pollute the environment.

Minutes after Governor Josh Shapiro took the stage at a union hall in northeast Philadelphia to speak in support of the project, which will be funded with $750 million from the Department of Energy as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Delaware Riverkeeper, Maya van Rossum, stood up from her seat and demanded his attention.

“The Department of Energy said that community engagement is supposed to be a highest priority. You have yet to have a meeting with the impacted community members to hear what they have to say,” she shouted, interrupting Shapiro as he was speaking about the buy-in for hydrogen hubs at all levels of government in Pennsylvania. “When are you going to have a meeting with those community members?” she asked.

Why do green jobs plans need a different politics and economics? (Part 1)

By Jonathan Essex - Greener Jobs Alliance, March 19, 2024

The Greener Jobs Alliance was very pleased to invite Jonathan Essex to speak at our AGM on 13 February. Here Jonathan expands on the ideas in that presentation in a two-part blog posting, focusing, in this first part, on the urgent need for a different approach to transition in several specific sectors.

Green jobs plans are an important part of the transition to a zero-carbon economy. But they need wider political commitments to make this happen. This piece explores the need for a stronger position by the UK government on phasing out fossil fuels, for a transition for heavy industry such as steel, for reducing overall demand for energy and materials, and for this to be set within an economics of redistribution. 

No more oil, coal and gas

First, we need to stop extracting ever more coal, oil and gas. We can’t afford to extract and burn current reserves, let alone new reserves. That Rosebank, the large new oilfield in the North Sea, should not be exploited, is a litmus test of political commitment to sufficient climate action. It has long been known that we must leave at least 80% of coal, oil and gas as unburnable to stay within 2°C of global warming. In 2021, the International Energy Agency said that no more oil, gas or coal reserves should be developed to stay within the limit of 1.5°C. In 2023 researchers have estimated that 60% of existing oil, gas and coal fields and mines already open or under construction need to be shut down. 

The implication for the UK is clear. No more offshore or onshore fossil fuel extraction should start, and existing North Sea oil and gas fields should be phased out. 

But to constrain fossil fuel burning within global limits we need more global restraint of supply and demand than has been envisaged, let alone agreed, at global climate conferences.

Firstly, a non-fossil fuel proliferation treaty is needed to keep large amounts of existing reserves, including that already being exploited, in the ground in a fair manner. This needs a global transition fund and clear agreed plans for its implementation. 

The UK and other historic emitters should lead by example. For the UK this means not just no to Rosebank but no new coal mine in Cumbria, no fracking or other onshore extraction. 

But that is only half of the story. Research by Fergus Green on climate policy highlights that to be effective, policies to limit fossil fuel extraction and constrain demand for oil, coal and gas need to work together. They use the analogy of a pair of scissors. Unless pressure is put on both sides, to reduce supply and demand together, then policies to cut carbon will not work. 

So, alongside limiting extraction, real efforts to curtail demand are needed. Such demand reduction must start with key sectors of the economy that have to date largely defied efforts to decarbonise. Three are explored here: transport (particularly aviation, shipping and road freight), heavy industry and the overall demand for high carbon ways of living. To explore this the fastest growing form of transport emissions – aviation – and perhaps the cornerstone of heavy industry – the steel industry – are considered, before exploring how society as a whole might make sufficient changes.

The Impact of UAW Forcing Stellantis to Reopen Belvidere

An Unjust Transition

By Matthew Paterson - The Ecologist, February 12, 2024

Britain’s climate 'leadership' is based on the profoundly unjust and violent transition that was the defeat of the 1980s miners' strike.

Margaret Thatcher is often taken as an early pioneer in climate change among leading politicians. Her speech to the Royal Society in September 1988 helped propel climate change onto the political agenda not just in Britain but around the world. 

But her government was much more important in shaping the course of Britain’s actions on climate change a good deal earlier in her period of office. 

Her decisive intervention was rather in the assault on the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), with the strike of 1984-5 as the decisive event.

How the Green New Deal from Below Integrates Diverse Constituencies

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2, 2024

Green New Deal initiatives at local, state, regional, and civil society levels around the country have drawn together diverse, sometimes isolated, or even conflicted constituencies around common programs for climate, jobs, and justice. How have they done so?

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