Global vaccine justice seen as a test of climate justice at G7 meetings in June 2021

G7 finance ministers and the global financial elite issued an important Communique  on June 5, and while the mainstream media (and Finance Canada’s own press release ) focused mainly on a 15% minimum global tax rate for corporations, the Communique made ambitious statements regarding international climate finance too, with calls which seem to acknowledge the importance and inequity of climate risk to the global financial order. “G7 Ministers Recommit to Climate Finance, Leave Details for Later” in The Energy Mix summarizes the general reaction that the Communique is too vague and “unambitious”. The article states that the scale of global climate investment (both public and private) is estimated at $100 billion per year, and that Canada’s fair share would be US$4 billion per year.

The issue of global climate finance is seen as crucial to the success of the upcoming G7 meetings of world leaders in the U.K. on June 11-13. “As leaders gather for G-7, a key question: Will rich countries help poor ones grapple with climate change?” in The Washington Post (June 7) describes how global climate finance and the issue of global vaccine disparity are being conflated, for example in a quote from a senior advisor to Climate Action Network International:  “The G-7 meeting will be a test for international solidarity. This implies solidarity on both ensuring equitable and rapid access to vaccines globally, as well as on finance and support for the climate crisis”.  “World Climate Deal Could Fail unless G7 Solves Vaccine Disparities” (June 8, The Energy Mix)  quotes the head of the international Chamber of Commerce: “We can’t have global solidarity and trust around tackling climate change if we do not show solidarity around vaccines.”   The Guardian writes: “Share vaccines or the climate deal will fail rich countries are told” (June 5) – which points out that “Canada has the highest number of procured doses per head, with a total of 381 million procured vaccine doses for a population of just over 37 million.”  – and contrasts Canada with the low vaccine availability in such countries as Columbia, Indonesia, South Africa, and Pakistan.

Climate Change is one of the priorities of the G7 meetings. Reports released in anticipation of the G7 meeting include:

Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs  published by the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress, which shows that the U.S. had the highest level of green jobs and recovery investment per person, followed by Italy and then Canada. The U.K. ranks sixth, with Japan 7th.  The report critiques specific U.K. policies and makes recommendations for improvements.

Oxfam International posted analysis on June 7 which estimates that the economies of G7 nations contracted by about 4.2 per cent on average in the pandemic, and compares that to the greater economic impacts which will result from extreme weather, the effects on agricultural productivity, and heat stress and health.  The report includes estimates of GDP losses by 2050, assuming 2.6°C of warming, using the modelling of the Swiss Re Insurance Economics of Climate Change Index , and predicts the worst affected countries will be  India, Australia, South Africa, South Korea, The Phillipines (with a 35% loss of GDP), and Columbia. Canada’s GDP loss is estimated at 6.9%.  The report is summarized in  “Covid shrunk the economy but climate change will be much worse” (The Guardian, reposted in The National Observer, June 8) and also in  “Climate inaction will cost G7 countries ‘billions’” in  Deutsche Welle .

The official G7 Ministers meeting website is here and will post official documents/news.  The Resist G7 Coalition will present different information, and aims to coordinate protests on their Facebook page and their website.  A Reuters article states that police will number 6,500, and Extinction Rebellion alone estimates 1,000 protestors will be present. 

A framework of six essential policies for the U.S. to THRIVE

A new report by Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) was released in May. Making “Build Back Better” Better: Aligning Climate, Jobs, and Justice is a cast as a “living document” to provide a framework for discussion by the labour and environmental movements.  Common Dreams summarizes it here.  Brecher begins by identifying the range of climate-related policy proposals in the U.S.:   “There are many valuable plans that have been proposed in addition to Build Back Better. The original Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Agenda   ; the Evergreen Action Plan; the Sierra Club’s “How to Build Back Better” economic renewal plan; the AFL-CIO’s “Energy Transitions”proposals; the BlueGreen Alliance’s “Solidarity for Climate Action,” and a variety of others. All offer contributions for overall vision and for policy details.” 

The contribution of this report from LNS is to frame these policy proposals around “six essential elements” : • Managed decline of fossil fuel burning • Full-spectrum job creation • Fair access to good jobs • Labor rights and standards • Urgent and effective climate protection • No worker or community left behind.  The new report links to many of the previous LNS reports which have discussed these elements in more detail.  

Labor Network for Sustainability has endorsed the THRIVE Agenda, with its strong emphasis on climate justice.  At the end of April, The THRIVE Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress, spearheaded by Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and supported by progressive Democrats, environmentalists, and unions.  The Rolling Stone summarized the provisions  here , stating:  “Bold” may be an understatement. While President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan calls for spending $2 trillion over the next 10 years, the THRIVE Act green-lights the investment of $1 trillion annually. The money would go toward creating an estimated 15 million “family-sustaining” union jobs, rebuilding the nation’s physical and social infrastructure, and cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030.”

The Green New Deal Network has compiled extensive documentation of the economic studies behind the THRIVE Agenda here , based heavily on the work of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), led by Robert Pollin.  

Vancouver approves Climate Emergency Action Plan and promises a Climate Justice Charter

On November 17, Vancouver City Council approved a Climate Emergency Action Plan, a roadmap for the city to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, with a focus on  the biggest local sources – fossil fuels use in vehicles (39% of city emissions) and in buildings (54%). According to the official Summary, goals for 2030 include 50% of the km driven on Vancouver’s roads to be by zero emissions vehicles, and 40% less embodied emissions from new buildings and construction projects compared to 2018. The plan will cost $500 million over the next five years, according to reporting from Business in Vancouver .

Detailed documentation is available here , and the 318-page staff proposal presented to City Council on November 3rd is here . As reported by Business in Vancouver  and  The Georgia Straight , all 19 action items proposed by staff did not survive debate. The most contentious issues related to plans for a “walkable city” and a proposal for congestion pricing for the city centre. Staff were directed to prepare a report for Council by 2022 on that issue. The Georgia Straight  reproduces all the motions from the debate, indicating next steps, and how the final approved plan differs from the staff proposals.

Consultation process included a Climate and Equity Working Group

The Climate Emergency Action Plan drew on a citizen consultation process, described in detail in the staff  proposal document .  One of the key features of the consultation process:  a Climate and Equity Working Group (as described in Appendix N at page 251) which included “a rich mix of perspectives including new immigrants, people with disabilities, people with low income, urban Indigenous. The majority of participants were racialized people.” However, the report also notes that the process lacked voices from some Indigenous nations, as well as seniors, youth LGBTQ2+ community, and  “While the majority of participants were women, there was no voice specific to gender equity. These gaps need to be addressed in future engagement as part of implementation work and in the reformation of the Climate and Equity Working Group.” The Emergency Action Plan approved by Council on November 17 promises:  “Our equity work on climate policies and programs will be shaped by the forthcoming Climate Justice Charter, the Equity Framework, the Reconciliation Framework, the Healthy City Strategy, Vancouver’s Housing Strategy, and the Women’s Equity Strategy.”

SEIU cleaners stage the first union-authorized climate strike in the U.S.

Strike logo yellowTo launch his new column,  Strike: Jeremy Brecher’s Corner at the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) website, Jeremy Brecher  began with the theme “The Future of Climate Strikes”.  On February 29 , he posted “First U.S. Union-Authorized Climate Strike?” (re-published in Common Dreams as  “Did we just witness the first union-authorized climate strike in the United States?”). The article describes a one day strike on February 27 by members of Service Employees International Union Local 26 , employed by over a dozen different subcontractors to clean corporate buildings in Minneapolis.  He states that it is, “as far as I have been able to discover, the very first—union sanctioned strike in the U.S. for climate protection demands. ”

Brecher gives voice to many of the low-wage and immigrant workers who are the backbone of the strike, and traces their climate activism back to 2009, when Local 26 won contract language:  to establish an Ad Hoc Committee of union and company representatives at each company, to “review the use of green chemicals”, to provide training to employees on the “use, mixing and storage” of cleaning chemicals, and that “The employer “shall make every effort to use only green, sustainable cleaning products where possible.”  The SEIU Local 26 collective agreement for 2016-2019 is here , with climate-related clause 18.13 on pages 39-40.  Other examples of clauses related to toxic chemicals in Canadian collective agreements are available from the ACW Green Agreements database here ; clauses regarding green procurement are here , and the full searchable database of 240 clauses  is here .

seiu strikeAlthough the main focus of  First U.S. Union-Authorized Climate Strike?  is on the climate-related demands, the strike is also important for its success in coalition-building and community support. Brecher characterizes it as exemplary of the growing trend toward “Bargaining for the Common Good, ” as outlined in a September 2019 article in The American Prospect , “How Workers Can Demand Climate Justice”  .  An article by Steve Payne reported on the broader community justice issues in the strike in “Twin Cities Janitors and Guards Feature Climate and Housing in Their Strike Demands” in Labor Notes (Feb. 20) .

UPDATE: 

Since Brecher’s article, the union has released a press release on March 14,  announcing agreement with most employers and members’ approval of  a contract which includes funding towards a Labor-Management Cooperation Fund for green education and training.  Notably, given that these are the workers keeping airports and commercial buildings clean in the Covid-19 crisis, the agreement also provides for an increase for all full-time workers to six paid sick days by the second year of the contract.

Harvard scholars propose labour law reforms including the right to bargain over our shared environment

clean slate coverClean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy  is a far-reaching analysis and set of recommendations for labour law reform, released in January 2020 by the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program.  Its purpose is to offer “an intervention that promises to help stop the vicious, self-reinforcing cycle of economic and political inequality. By proposing a fundamental redesign of labor law, we aspire to enable working people to create the collective economic and political power necessary to build an equitable economy and politics.” The report – the result of discussions with 70  academics, union leaders, workers, activists and others over a period of two years – offers detailed and specific recommendations for changes to labour laws in the U.S., starting with the fundamental premise that “Labor law reform must start with inclusion to ensure that all workers can build power and to address systemic racial and gender oppression.” In its long list of recommendations comes basic freedoms such as the right to organize and protection from strikebreaking, as well as more innovative proposals for sectoral bargaining, worker representation on company boards, support for digital organizing and cyber-picketing – and of most interest to those working for environmental  progress –  this recommendation:

“Workers deserve a voice in the issues that are important to them and their communities….To ensure that workers can bargain over the corporate decisions that impact their lives, Clean Slate recommends that the new labor law: • Expand the range of collective bargaining subjects to include any subjects that are important to workers and over which employers have control, including decisions about the basic direction of the firm and employers’ impact on communities and our shared environment.” 

More detail comes on page 69, where the report states:

“Accordingly, and taking inspiration from the Bargaining for the Common Good movement, Clean Slate recommends that when an employer has influence beyond the workplace over subject matters that have major impacts on workers’ communities, such as pollution and housing, the bargaining obligation ought to extend beyond the terms and conditions of employment and encompass these “community impact” subjects. Moreover, when bargaining over community impact subjects, the workers’ organization involved in collective bargaining should have the right to bring community organizations—those with members and expertise in the relevant area—to the bargaining table. … for example, the worker organization would be entitled to bring community environmental justice groups to bargain over pollution controls and abatement and to bring housing groups and tenants unions to bargain over affordable housing development.”

Clean Slate for Worker Power is a project of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, led by Professor Benjamin Sachs and  Sharon Block, Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program.  The 15-page Executive Summary is here ; the 132-page full report is here  .  The report is summarized by noted labour journalist and author Steven Greenhouse in  “Overhaul US labor laws to boost workers’ power, new report urges”  in The Guardian (Jan. 23), and also in “‘Clean slate for worker power’ promotes a fair and inclusive U.S. economy” from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth  (Jan. 29), which includes links to a range of academic articles related to the Clean Slate proposals. The authors are interviewed about the Clean Slate framework in a Harvard press release here.