Some labour union reflections on COP26

In “After Glasgow : Canadian Labour Unions Confront The Most Exclusionary COP Conference In History” (Our Times, Dec. 16), Sune Sandbeck and Sari Sairanen of Unifor describe their experiences as union delegates to the events – where unionists and even some countries were vastly outnumbered by the 503 delegates from the fossil fuel industry . The article asserts that, despite much disappointment in the COP26 results,

“Trade unions were instrumental in securing the Just Transition Declaration, whose signatories included Canada, France, Germany, the UK, the European Union and the U.S. And although just transition was omitted from early draft texts being negotiated, it would eventually make its way into vital passages of the final agreement. In fact, the Canadian labour delegation played a key role by drafting last-minute text proposals that would see just transition included in a crucial paragraph in the final COP26 decision.”    

The article names the following unions who sent representatives as the Canadian labour delegation at COP26 :  the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC ), the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Unifor, the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE), the United Steelworkers (USW), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada.  

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) wrote a brief reaction to events in “COP26 – workers must focus on solutions, not empty promises”, calling for a focus on concrete steps for job creation in a green economy.  CUPE cites the agenda of the international Trade Union Program for a Public Low-Carbon Energy Future, launched on November 4 at COP26. It states: “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.”  

The Canadian Teachers Federation reflected on COP26 and climate education with: “Turning of the oil taps begins in the classroom”, advocating for the important role of teachers. Much of the same thinking appears in the Education International reaction “COP 26 key outcomes: Why is this important for education unionists?” . That response notes that progress was made in the form of a pledges by government ministers regarding teacher training, student participation and climate resilience in education systems, and noted that youth activists stressed the importance of teacher support and student collaboration in reforming curricula across the world. However, the language of the formal negotiations for climate education ( part of the mandate of the Action for Climate Empowerment ) fell short, calling only for climate education to be “encouraged”.

From the international federation IndustriALL: “Trade unions at COP26: what we did, what we achieved, and what we need to focus on now” chronicled union events at COP26, and on December 14, the union published a more analytical piece “What happened at COP26 and what it means for workers” . Speaking about fossil fuel jobs, an IndustriALL delegate states: “… Rather than making our members believe that we can defend these jobs indefinitely, we must be honest with them and help them to prepare for the future. Our urgent task is to develop concrete frameworks for Just Transition that we can implement through social dialogue.” 

And to those who are suspicious that the claims of Just Transition are just “more of the same”,  the article has this: “Why should we believe it will be different this time?

“It won’t be different if we leave it to our politicians. But it can be different if we are engaged in driving the transition. We are facing an unprecedented shift in the global economy – the end of the age of fossil fuel, and the beginning of a new age that is yet to be defined. Unlike previous changes, this is a managed process, with space for unions to influence policy. The world’s governments will spend unprecedented amounts of money. It is up to us to ensure that this spend delivers good jobs to our members – and that we build a better world in the process.”

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