Canada signs on to COP26 Just Transition Declaration

At the end of week one of the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow (COP26),  Canada signed on to the Just Transition Declaration, along with 14 other countries, including the UK, USA, much of the EU, and New Zealand.  The declaration cites the preamble from the Paris Agreement and the 2015 ILO Guidelines for Just Transition,  and states that 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.  

We recognise that a just transition is not the replacement of one industry with another, but a diversification toward a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive economy overall. Lastly, we recognise the importance of facilitating the transition from the informal to the formal economy, through social dialogue, to ensure that no one is left behind, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.  

The Declaration provides more details about each of the objectives, and concludes with a statement that:  “We intend to include information on Just Transition efforts, where relevant, in our national Biennial Transparency Reports in the context of reporting on our policies and measures to achieve our Nationally Determined Contributions.” The ILO, which played a key role in drafting the Declaration, released its own press release and summary here.  Reaction from the International Trades Union Congress (ITUC) is here .

Note that much more was said about Just Transition at COP26 – much of it at side events or smaller panels. One example, the COP26 panel on Just Transition in the Steel and Energy Industry on November 8, available on YouTube here.  This panel was the occasion for the launch of 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.  The report provides an overview of decarbonization in the steel industry, but most importantly 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.  

Lessons learned from unjust transitions – and a call for cooperation amongst unions and climate activists

On March 17, Labor Network for Sustainability released an important new report: Workers and Communities in Transition, which summarizes the results of their Just Transition Listening Project across the U.S. in 2020 .  The Listening Project comprised over 100 in-depth  interviews with workers and Indigenous and community leaders – 65% of whom were union members, 12% of whom were environmental justice and climate justice activists, and 23% of whom were members of other community groups. Their demographic characteristics were diverse, but all had first-hand experience  of economic transition, not only from the current transition in the fossil fuel industry, but also from automation, globalization, and other causes, as well as a variety of industries. Their thoughts and experiences are summarized, along with seven case studies, to describe the problems of unjust transitions and to arrive at the lessons learned. The report concludes with specific recommendations for action by policy-makers, recommendations for future research, and uniquely, recommendations for labour and movement organizations.  

In general, the recommendations are summarized as: “Go Big, Go Wide, Go Far.”  Under the category of “Go Big”, the authors state: “We will need a comprehensive approach that addresses the impacts on workers and communities across geographies, demographics and industries. The federal government will need to play a lead role. There are promising state and local just transition models, but none have access to the resources to fully fund their efforts. Strengthening the social safety net, workers’ rights, and labor standards will also be critical to supporting workers and communities equitably.” About “Go Wide”:  “…A common theme throughout the interviews … was the trauma individuals and families experienced as their economies were devastated. Several people referenced suicides, drug addiction, and depression among friends and co-workers who struggled with a loss of identity and relationships ….”.  And about “Go Far”: “Just transitions require a longer-term commitment of support and investment in workers and communities. Just transitions also require attention to generational differences: a younger, more diverse workforce has been growing into energy industries that will likely not offer long-term careers. It is essential to create good career alternatives for this generation.”

The specific recommendations for Labour and Movement Organizations are:

  • “Labor unions, workers’ rights organizations, and advocacy organizations should build cross-movement relationships by forming labor-climate-community roundtables, networks and/or committees at the state and/or local levels to build and sustain genuine personal and political relationships over time.
  • Labor unions should establish or expand any pre-existing environmental and climate committees, task forces, or other entities that can develop and deploy educational programs for members on issues of climate change; social, economic, and environmental justice; and just transition.
  • Environmental and other advocacy organizations should create labor committees to develop and deploy educational programs on issues of labor, job quality standards, and just transition.
  • Labor unions should adopt environmental and climate policy concerns as part of their advocacy agendas, and community organizations should adopt the right to organize and the promotion of strong labor standards as part of their advocacy agendas.
  • All organizations should create more mentorship and leadership development opportunities, especially for women, people of color, Indigenous people, and immigrants.”

Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industriall examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor).  Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.     

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some  employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industriall and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP). 

Workers Acting in Climate-Friendly Ways: A Study of Union members, Synthesis of Academic Literature, and a Case Study of Pilots

A post in  Portside on May 23  summarizes the research of Jeremy Brecher (of Labor Network for Sustainability) and Todd Vachon, which uses data from 2  national surveys in the U.S. to conclude that: “Union members, far from being only concerned with their immediate self-interest at the expense of a broader common interest in environmental protection, are often more concerned about the environment and more willing to act on that concern than either the public at large or non-union workers”.   A fuller report,   “Are Union Members More or Less Likely to Be Environmentalists? Some Evidence from Two National Surveys” was published as an article in Labor Studies Journal  in April (access restricted).  The article also provides examples from the historical record of labour and environmental issues, with the goal of contributing to the development of labour-community and blue-green coalitions to work for social change.

Another study  appeared in Nature Climate Change in June, regarding the determinants of translating climate change beliefs into actions .  “Meta-analyses of the determinants and outcomes of belief in climate change”  analyzed  27 variables,  drawn from  25 polls and 171 academic studies from 56 nations  (including 7 from Canada).  The authors, from the University of Queensland in Australia, concluded that  variables such as education, sex, subjective knowledge, and experience of extreme weather events were not as important in predicting behaviours as the variables of  values, ideologies, worldviews and political orientation. Surprisingly, the study also concludes “ belief in climate change has a solid relationship with the extent to which people aspire to behave in climate-friendly ways, but a small-to-moderate relationship with the extent to which people `walk the talk’.”

Finally, a practical example:  As reported in the Washington Post  on June 22, and by the Company in a detailed case study , Virgin Atlantic Airways conducted a large-scale experiment  to try to influence its pilots to use less fuel and reduce GhG emissions.  This was a controlled study, overseen by economists from the University of Chicago and London School of Economics, in which  different  behavioural interventions were used, including providing monthly feedback, setting targets, and setting targets plus making corporate charitable donations when targets were met. All pilots reduced their fuel consumption, and  those that received targeted goals, or that received these goals plus charitable donations made, performed the best of all.  The academic report of the study appears in A New Approach to an Age-Old Problem: Solving Externalities by Incenting Workers Directly , a working paper of the National Bureau of Economics (NBER), published in June.