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labor and environment

Beyond "Just Transition"

By Dr Eurig Scandrett - The Jimmy Reid Foundation, December 3, 2021

Introduction

It is no use simply saying to South Wales miners that all around them is an ecological disaster. They already know. They live in it. They have lived in it for generations. They carry it in their lungs… you cannot just say to people who have committed their lives and their communities to certain kinds of production that this has all got to be changed… Everything will have to be done by negotiation, by equitable negotiation, and it will have to be taken steadily along the way. Otherwise, you will find … that there is a middle-class environmental group protesting against the damage and there’s a trade-union group supporting the coming of the work. Now for socialists this is a terrible conflict to get into. Because if each group does not really listen to what the other is saying, there will be a sterile conflict which will postpone any real solutions at a time when it is already a matter for argument whether there is still time for the solutions. Raymond Williams (1982/1989)

The idea of ‘Just Transition’ (JT) has gained traction in recent years. With its roots in the union movement at the end of the twentieth century, it has developed into a concept with diverse and contested meanings. This engagement with JT has created spaces within the urgent policy areas of climate change mitigation to address potential job losses and the disproportionate impact up on the poorest communities, and more positively, to work for the generation of good quality, unionised jobs and greater social equality in a green economy. This is a fast-moving and often technical area of policy development. In Scotland, the Just Transition Commission (2021) reported in May 2021 after meeting over a period of two years, and relevant technical and policy reports are published with increasing frequency.

This paper is not a detailed contribution to these debates, on which others are more competent to comment, although it will inevitably touch on these. The paper aims to take a somewhat longer-term and more abstracted view of JT. It asks what do we mean by ‘Just’ and to what are we expecting to ‘Transition’ to? It argues that, in the discussions over the meanings of JT, the collective interests of workers, low-income communities and the environment are central, and require mechanisms to facilitate challenging dialogues between these interests.

There is an inevitable tendency, in developing positions on JT, to seek common ground between the two principal social movements that have driven JT debates: unions and environmental NGOs; or else between different unions or different industrial sectors. This process of seeking common ground can lead to a dilution of principle on all sides, a common denominator that all can live with, but with which none is entirely satisfied. While the process of negotiating common ground is a necessary and useful process for practical purposes, and a process at which the union movement is particularly adept, this paper argues that JT also provides the opportunity for a deeper dialogue in which all key stakeholders – the environment and working-class people who are either dependent on or excluded from the current unsustainable economy – can seek to incorporate the principles of the others. There are areas where the union movement and the environmental movement disagree. These areas of disagreement could be seen as potentially fertile grounds for deep dialogue in order to seek meaningful and lasting resolution.

This paper is, therefore, not intended to reflect the policy of any union or environmental group, but rather constitute a contribution to a debate within these movements and outwith them as well. It is, in places, designed to challenge. Indeed, it makes the case that the union and environmental movements can best learn from one another by being willing to be challenged by each other. All social movements reflect the interests of their participants, members, opinion formers and supporters and are contingent upon the social and political conditions in which they are acting. This is a strength, but also leads to ‘blind spots’ which are best addressed through collective self-reflection and challenges in solidarity from comrades in the struggle.

It is argued here that JT provides an opportunity to explore, for example, the tension well known in unions between representing the immediate interests of members and the long-term interests of the working-class; and in the environmental movement between the disproportionately educated, white, professional middle-class membership of the NGOs and the communities most directly affected by environmental devastation.

As has been recognised in some of the debates about JT, the idea can be located in a radical working-class tradition which, in Britain includes defence diversification, the East Kilbride Rolls Royce boycott of Chilean engines, the Lucas Aerospace Alternative Plan, the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, amongst others. JT can be more than a mechanism to address climate change, for it can also be a process which can be applied to transitions of many kinds that the labour movement and the left more generally have long advocated: the transition to a more democratic economy, more equal society and socially beneficial system of production, distribution and exchange. The paper, therefore, argues that the union movement, along with environmental and anti-poverty movements would benefit from going ‘beyond’ just transition.

Phased down and out at COP26

By Stephen Smellie - Unison, November 15, 2021

As proceedings ended at COP26 late on Saturday night, the Glasgow Climate Pact joined a long list of previous agreements, arrived at by world leaders, that have failed to ensure global temperatures stop rising.

The sum of all the commitments given before and during the two-week jamboree is that the Earth is heading for a 2.4 degree increase rather than being held back to 1.5 degrees. This, according to the prime minister of Barbados, will be a death sentence for many small island communities.

COP president Alok Sharma claims that the 1.5 target is still alive; but as many people have said, it is on life support and slipping away.

The hopes for COP26 were high. The stakes were even higher. The science is clear – if we do not cut the emission of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane by significant amounts by 2030 we will not meet the target of being net zero by 2050 and the planet will overshoot 1.5 by some way.

As an official observer at COP26 with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), I was privileged to spend the second week in the COP26 blue zone, working with a team of trade unionists from across the globe.

The ITUC’s aims were to lobby the government representatives to ensure that the historic commitment in the Paris Agreement to “ensure Just Transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs” was retained in the final Glasgow agreement. That was achieved.

However, the lobbying of the ITUC, along with other NGOs and many Global South countries, to secure the $100 billion for mitigation and adaptation in the developing countries by 2020, a mechanism for paying for loss and damage for the impact of climate change that is already happening, and a clear intention to reduce emissions, was not successful.

It is true that the Glasgow Climate Pact recognises, for the first time, the need to address the use of fossil fuels, but it does not set any targets, relying on countries to improve on their existing plans to reduce the burning of climate changing fossil fuels. However, in the final hours, even the limited commitment to “phase-out the use of unabated coal” was watered down by an amendment from China and India to change “phase out” to “phase down”.

COP26: Jobs plans with just transition essential to implementation of Glasgow Agreement

By staff - International Trade Union Confederation, Novemver 15, 2021

COP27 must keep 1.5C in reach through raised ambition, and agreed Loss and Damage Mechanisms must be central to any outcome.

“For workers and their communities, the social dialogue vital for just transition plans, with jobs at their centre, must begin now. Nothing less than national jobs plans and company jobs plans can be accepted.

“Commitments on deforestation, methane, increasing finance for adaptation, recognising the need for more support for vulnerable countries and the agreed rules on carbon markets are all welcome but don’t go far enough.

“Science tells us that the absolute priority must be rapid, deep, and sustained emissions reductions in this decade – specifically, a 45% cut by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. Now it is time to see all governments and all companies get serious about transition plans – with just transition measures in all industries – if we are to have a fighting chance of staying within the 1.5 target,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary, ITUC.

Climate talks are leaving workers ‘out in the cold’ warn unions

By staff - Unison, November 10, 2021

UNISON adds its voice to concerns that the UK’s own COP president is ignoring ‘just transition’ in the COP26 negotiations.

UNISON has joined the TUC and others in warning COP26 president Alok Sharma that he is “putting progress at risk” during this month’s climate talks by neglecting international commitments to a just transition in the move towards low-carbon economies.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 committed nations to taking account of “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”.

However, trade union delegates within the climate conference, including UNISON’s Stephen Smellie, fear that just transition is being sidelined in the negotiations.

Reflecting their concerns, the TUC, Scottish TUC and Wales TUC, with support from affiliated unions, have made a joint statement calling on the UK Presidency to build on the commitment made in Paris.

Their statement says: “The UK COP pPresident Alok Sharma MP has repeatedly committed to just transition as an essential component in rapidly moving the world away from fossil fuels.

“But so far, the UK presidency has invested little political capital in including just transition in the climate agreement negotiations – leaving workers around the globe out in the cold.”

The statement applauded the presidency’s role in preparing last week’s conference declaration supporting just transition, but added that this was separate to any binding agreements currently being discussed.

“Similar efforts need to be made to incorporate just transition and labour rights into the official COP26 negotiations,” it says.

Trade Union Program for a Public, Low-Carbon Energy Future

By various unions - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 9, 2021

The following “Trade Union Program for a Public, Low-Carbon, Energy Future” (“Program”) is the result of the work of a Trade Union Task Force consisting of more than 30 unions. Focusing mainly on the power sector, the Program is an attempt to rally the international trade union movement behind an ambitious political effort to bring about a fundamental shift in climate and energy policy. This shift is needed both to correct the failures of the market model and to ensure that the energy transition is socially just, economically viable, and effective in terms of reaching climate goals.

Recognising That:

  • Access to a healthy environment has been declared a human right by the UN Human Rights Council, in recognition of the interconnected human rights crises of environmental degradation and climate change.
  • Lack of adequate access to energy remains a major source of poverty, inequality and insecurity, in violation of human rights and contrary to the aims of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Widespread electrification of many energy-dependent processes will be necessary to meet agreed, science-based decarbonisation targets.
  • Ensuring access to affordable, safe, secure, reliable, low-carbon electricity will therefore be essential to meeting most future energy needs.
  • All known methods of capturing, transforming, and distributing energy for use involve some degree of environmental disruption.
  • Neoliberal climate and energy policies – which are tied to privatisation and commodification – have failed to halt the rise of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Privatisation, marketisation, and liberalisation of electrical power systems have led to price increases, falling levels of service quality, and inadequate investment.
  • The transition required to meet decarbonisation targets will entail substantial changes affecting workers, especially in many energy-related areas of employment, and many of these changes may be very disruptive if their impacts are not addressed.
  • Many countries in the global south continue to face a crippling legacy of colonialism and debt, constraining their ability to procure the technologies and resources needed to ensure universal access to electricity.

In Celebration: Jack Mundey and the Green Bans

Talking Climate: Labor

Refuse workers take strike action during COP26 climate talks

Climate Jobs: Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

By Suzanne Jeffery, editor, et. al - Campaign Against Climate Change, November 2021

This report was written by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU). It builds on and develops the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014). The editorial group and contributors to this report are trade unionists, environmental activists and campaigners and academics who have collaborated to update and expand the previous work. Most importantly, this updated report is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and the type and scale of the transition needed to match it.

This report shows how we can cut UK emissions of greenhouse gases to help prevent catastrophic climate change. We explain how this transformation could create millions of climate jobs in the coming years and that the public sector must take a leading role. Climate jobs are those which directly contribute to reducing emissions. This investment will give us better public transport, warmer homes, clean air in our cities and community renewal in parts of the country which have long been neglected. Most importantly, it will give us a chance for the future, avoiding the existential threat of climate breakdown.

Read the text (Link).

Pushing for a Green New Deal at Rolls Royce

By Mika Minio-Paluello - Trades Union Congress, October 28, 2021

Union members and reps in aviation manufacturing are campaigning to retool their sites to produce zero-carbon technology.

Across three Rolls Royce sites, union reps have developed plans for green manufacturing that could future-proof jobs by providing a long-term future and security.

The reps described that the best way to get buy-in and members excited about a just transition was to:

  • include union members in discussions from the start
  • present a vision where the Green Industrial Revolution will be delivered by workers and communities, not by managers
  • place workers in the driving seat in coming up with ideas for new products.

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