COP26 takeaways for Canada and the labour movement

At the conclusion of COP26 on November 13, the world has been left with the Glasgow Climate Pact and numerous side deals that were made throughout the two weeks of presentations and negotiations. Carbon Brief notes that the final Glasgow Pact is actually set out in three documents –with most attention falling on this paragraph in the 11-page “cover document” (aka 1/CMA.3), which:

“Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing  targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition;”

Fortunately, Carbon Brief analyzed all three documents, as well as side events and pledges in its summary of Key Outcomes .The International Institute for Sustainable Development has also compiled a detailed, day by day summary through its Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Reactions range widely, but the November 13 tweet from @Greta Thunberg captures the essence:  “The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever.”  Veteran climate reporter Fiona Harvey writes “What are the key points of the Glasgow Climate Pact?” in The Guardian, representing the more positive consensus about the success of diplomacy, and The New York Times provides overviews from a U.S. perspective inNegotiators Strike a Climate Deal, but World Remains Far From Limiting Warming” (Nov. 13)  and  “Climate Promises Made in Glasgow Now Rest With a Handful of Powerful Leaders” (Nov 14). In contrast, George Monbiot argues that the Fridays for Future movement and civil society have demonstrated the power of a committed minority in “After the failure of Cop26, there’s only one last hope for our survival” and states: “Our survival depends on raising the scale of civil disobedience until we build the greatest mass movement in history, mobilising the 25% who can flip the system. 

More details, with  COP26 highlights most relevant to Canadians and workers:   

The National Observer has compiled their coverage in a series of articles titled Uniting the World to Tackle Climate Change – which includes a summary “Glasgow didn’t deliver on 1.5 C, but not all is lost” . A quick summary appears in The Toronto Star “What’s in the Glasgow Climate Deal and what does it mean for Canada”  (Nov. 15). Climate Action Network Canada (CAN-Rac) compiles a range of reactions in “Canadian civil society reacts to COP26: incremental inadequate progress; a reason to mobilize“.

Key Issues:

On Just Transition:

In what could be considered progress, for the first time the language of Just Transition is included in the main text of The Glasgow Pact, as section 85 states that the Parties: “… recognizes the need to ensure just transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs, including through making financial flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emission and climate-resilient development, including through deployment and transfer of technology, and provision of support to developing country Parties”

In addition, a  Just Transition Declaration  was agreed upon by 15 governments, including Canada, UK, USA, much of the EU, and New Zealand.  The ILO played a key role in drafting the Declaration and  released its own press release here . The Declaration itself cites the preamble from the Paris Agreement and the 2015 ILO Guidelines for Just Transition, and states:

“signatories recognize their role to ensure a transition that is “ fully inclusive and benefits the most vulnerable through the more equitable distribution of resources, enhanced economic and political empowerment, improved health and wellbeing, resilience to shocks and disasters and access to skills development and employment opportunities. This should also display: a commitment to gender equality, racial equality and social cohesion; protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; disability inclusion; intergenerational equity and young people; the promotion of women and girls; marginalised persons’ leadership and involvement in decision-making; and recognition of the value of their knowledge and leadership; and support for the collective climate action of diverse social groups. Social dialogue as well as rights at work are indispensable building blocks of sustainable development and must be at the centre of policies for strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth and development.”    

On November 10, the closing statement of the Trade Union Delegation to the COP26 Plenary session was delivered by Richard Hardy, National Secretary for Prospect union  in Scotland, a member of the General Council of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, and a member of the Scottish Governments Just Transition Commission.  From that statement:

“ I will speak on behalf of the 210 million workers in 165 countries represented by the global trade union movement …….. the global trade union movement is happy that “Just Transition” has finally found its way in the language used by many parties and observers. We saw and appreciate the adoption by donor countries of the declaration on “Supporting the Conditions for a Just Transition Internationally” and applaud the strong commitments made by signatories. We urge the parties to continue to work towards a Just Transition one that is about jobs, plans and investment. Once again, we call on parties to step up their NDCs and create the millions of good quality jobs and decent work with your climate policies and measures, good quality jobs and decent work which the world desperately requires…. Unions need a voice at the table in social dialogue processes that deliver on jobs, just transition plans and investments.”   

Reaction from other unions: A  joint statement by the UK Trade Union delegation to the COP President on November 10 calls for increased engagement on just transition, climate action, labour and human rights. Further, it states:   “We applaud the UK COP Presidency’s role in preparing the Declaration on “Supporting the Conditions for a Just transition Internationally”, which was launched last week. But this is a parallel initiative, and not part of the binding UNFCCC agreements. Similar efforts need to be made to incorporate just transition and labour rights into the official COP26 negotiations.”  The International Trades Union Congress (ITUC) reaction is here and here (Nov. 11), and from IndustriALL, here.

On Ending new fossil fuel production and subsidies

In his opening address to COP26 on November 1, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada “will cap oil and gas sector emissions today and ensure they decrease tomorrow at a pace and scale needed to reach net-zero by 2050”. (a statement reviewed in “Amid urgent calls for action at COP26, Trudeau repeats pledge to cap oil and gas emissions” (National Observer, Nov. 1) .  Before leaving COP, the Prime Minister also committed up to $1 billion in international funding for the transition away from coal. But when the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance  was officially launched on November 10, it was the government of Quebec which joined (having pre-empted the launch with their announcement on November 4 ).  

On November 4, a  federal press release states that Canada has signed the Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition, stating that …”Canada and other signatories will further prioritize support for clean technology and end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel sector by the end of 2022, except in limited and clearly defined circumstances that are consistent with the 1.5 degree Celsius warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement.” [emphasis by the editor].  Climate Action Network Canada (CAN-Rac) sums up that commitment and  hopeful reactions by many  in “Canada joins historic commitment to end international fossil fuel finance by end of 2022” . However, for context, the CAN-Rac press release also notes Canada’s Big Oil Reality Check, a report  released on November 3  by Oil Change International and Environmental Defence Canada. It assesses the climate plans of eight Canadian oil and gas producers (including Cenovus, Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd , ExxonMobil and Imperial Oil ,and  Shell Canada), and concludes that their current business plans to 2030 put them  on track to expand annual oil and gas production in Canada by nearly 30% above 2020 levels.  Also, at a COP side event on November 12,  The Fossil Fueled 5 report called out the governments of Canada, the U.K., the United States, Norway, and Australia for the huge gap between their net zero targets and climate pledges and their public support for fossil fuel production. In the case of Canada, the report states that the government has provided approximately $17 billion in public finance to three fossil fuel pipelines between 2018 and 2020. The Fossil Fueled 5 was produced  by the University of Sussex in cooperation with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and their regional partners in each of the 5 countries – Uplift (UK), Oil Change International (USA), Greenpeace (Norway), The Australia Institute (Australia) and Stand.earth (Canada). 

On Deforestation:  The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use seems especially important to Canadians, given the current flooding and devastation in British Columbia which is part of a “Lethal Mix of cascading climate impacts” . The Declaration, endorsed by Canada, Russia, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is explained by The Narwhal in  “COP26 deforestation deal could be a win for climate, but Canada needs to address true impacts of forest loss” (Nov. 10) and in Leaders promise to halt ‘chainsaw massacre’ of world’s forests” (National Observer, Nov. 2). However, the New York Times exposes “The billions set aside in Glasgow to save forests represent a fraction of spending to support fossil fuels”  ( Nov.2)  and Energy Mix writes  “Glasgow Forest Pact Runs Short on Funding while Canada ‘Gives Industrial Logging a Free Pass’” (Energy Mix, Nov. 3). The Energy Mix also notes the failure of previous such Declarations to make an impact on emissions – especially in Canada and Brazil – as explained in Missing the forest: How carbon loopholes for logging hinder Canada’s climate leadership, a report released pre-COP by Environmental Defence Canada, Nature Canada, Nature Québec, and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Zero Emissions Cars Declaration  launched a coalition which includes six major automakers ( Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors ,Volvo, BYD, and Jaguar Land Rover), and 30 national governments  – including Britain, Canada, India (the world’s 4th largest market) , Mexico,  the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, Croatia, Ghana and Rwanda, and others. Sub-national signatories included British Columbia and Quebec in Canada, and California and Washington State.  The federal U.S. government, China and Japan did not sign, nor did Toyota, Volkswagen, and the Nissan-Renault alliance. Signatories pledged to work toward phasing out sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide, and by 2035 in “leading markets.”  The New York Times has more here

Union participation at COP26: 

A webinar in October, co-hosted by IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll Europe was titled  ‘On the Way to COP26 – Industry, Energy and Mine Workers Demand Just Transition’, and saw the launch of a Joint Declaration  on Just Transition by the two internationals. (IndustriALL also released its own Just Transition for Workers guide).  From the  International Trade Union Confederation,  an overview of trade union demands going in to the COP26 meetings was released as The Frontlines Briefing document ;  the ITUC also provides  a schedule of the activities of the official Trade Union Delegation  – at 25 pages, an impressive record of union participation in events and negotiations.  

The Canadian Labour Congress sponsored  a panel: Powering Past Coal with Just Transition: The Trade Union Perspective, with CLC Vice-President Larry Rousseau  and Tara Peel joined by Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, as well as Sharan Burrow,  International Trade Union Confederation general secretary as moderator. Speakers included union leaders and government/ministerial representatives from Canada, South Africa and the US.

Another panel, Just Transition in the Steel and Energy Industry took place on November 8 and is available on YouTube .  It launched Preparing for a Just Transition: Meeting green skill needs for a sustainable steel industry, a report written by Community Union and researchers from the Cardiff University School of Sciences.  It reports on the views of 100 steelworkers in the U.K.,  revealing that 92% feel a green transition is necessary, 78% feel it will bring a radical transformation to their industry, and 55% feel they already possess the skills necessary to make the transition.  79% had not been consulted by their employers, leading to a recommendation for more worker voice.  The survey also delved into what skills would be needed.   

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) mounted a focused campaign, including a new report co- released on November 10  with C40 Cities . Their original research modelled the impacts of doubling public transportation in five major cities – Houston, Jakarta, Johannesburg, London and Milan and demonstrated that it  create tens of millions of jobs worldwide (summarized by an ITF press release and available as the full report,  Making COP26 Count: How investing in public transport this decade can protect our jobs, our climate, our future .  

Also on November 10,  the ITF announced that a tripartite Just Transition Maritime Task Force will be formed, to  drive decarbonization and support seafarers through shipping’s green transition.  Official partners include the UN Global Compact and the International Labour Organization, as well as the ITF representing workers and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), representing ship owners.  The ITF Sustainable Shipping Position Paper, titled The Green Horizon We See Beyond the Big Blue,  is available from this link .

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