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.

Strong community advocacy brings landmark climate legislation to New York State

New YorK RenewsOn June 18, the New York State Assembly passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act   – what the New York Times calls  “one of the world’s most ambitious carbon plans” (June 18) . Originally tabled in 2016 as the Climate and Community Protection Act , the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act calls for the state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  The final legislation was a compromise – stripped of measures on prevailing wages, apprenticeship programs, preferences for women- and minority-owned businesses, and investment for disadvantaged communities. The NY Renews coalition, comprised of  unions, community and environmental groups issued a statement  which reads, in part: “Ultimately, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is a partial victory for New Yorkers. The fight for true climate justice demands transformative change, and we will bring that fight until our communities win…We stand strong knowing that as recently as last week, the Governor dismissed any funding for frontline communities, and in his Climate Leadership Act, refused to set a timeline for economy-wide emission reductions. This new legislation does both, and that is a direct result of years of tireless organizing by the members of the NY Renews coalition.”

New York Is About to Pass One of the Most Ambitious Climate Bills in the Land” in The Nation (June 19)  describes the political battles and compromises involved, and states “the real heroes of the fight for the CCPA are the hundreds of protesters who stormed the state Capitol on a recent Tuesday in June, and the dozens who staged a “die-in” outside the governor’s office to illustrate the consequences of failing to pass climate legislation.”  An article by David Roberts in Vox (June 20) also summarizes the nitty gritty of the bill and its evolution.

Planning under the new legislation will be led by a 22-member Climate Action Council, composed of the heads of various New York state agencies, along with members appointed by the governor, the Senate, and the Assembly. The Council will convene advisory panels on, for example, transportation, land use and local government, and will also convene working groups on Just Transition and Climate Justice.

Climate apartheid and chaos – U.N. official warns that only the rich will escape poverty, disease and displacement

mumbai floods 2019It appears that Greta Thunberg is not the only person willing to speak truth to power. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights for the United Nations, officially tabled a report at the U.N. on June 28.  Although the title, Climate Change and Poverty, sounds like another bureaucratic exercise, his language is urgent and blunt.

The full report is available from this link at the U.N. press release.   Some excerpts :

 

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. …It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work….

We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer… The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex…

…Staying the course will be disastrous for the global economy and pull vast numbers into poverty. Addressing climate change will require a fundamental shift in the global economy, decoupling improvements in economic well-being from fossil fuel emissions. It is imperative this is done in a way that provides necessary support, protects workers, and creates decent work.

Governments, and too many in the human rights community, have failed to seriously address climate change for decades. Somber speeches by government officials have not led to meaningful action and too many countries continue taking short-sighted steps in the wrong direction…..Although climate change has been on the human rights agenda for well over a decade, it remains a marginal concern for most actors. Yet it represents an emergency without precedent and requires bold and creative thinking from the human rights community, and a radically more robust, detailed, and coordinated approach.

… incremental managerialism and proceduralism ..are entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat. Ticking boxes will not save humanity or the planet from impending disaster.”

Summaries from the media appear in: “To Prevent ‘Climate Apartheid Scenario’ Where Rich Escape and Poor Suffer, UN Report Issues Urgent Call for Global Economic Justice” in Common Dreams (June 25) and  “‘Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive” in The Guardian .

The potential of worker ownership to finance Just Transition – and other inspiring Canadian examples

briarpatch special issueSaskatchewan’s Briarpatch magazine has published a Special Issue on Just Transition. It is a treasure trove of inspiring on-the-ground perspectives and information from Canadians working for an economic  Just Transition. 

All the articles are worth reading, but here are some highlights:

How will we pay for a Just Transition”   expresses doubt that we can rely on the usual government policies to finance meaningful transition – for example, it reviews the One Million Climate Jobs campaign of the Green Economy Network and the inadequate response by the Trudeau government.  Instead, the article provides examples of more innovative models of worker ownership and cooperation which support redistribution of wealth and financial capital. First,  The Working World, which launched in 2015 in Buenos Aires to finance employee ownership of non-extractive businesses, and now administers a “financial commons” Peer Network .  The Working World has inspired other projects, such as the Just Transition Loan Fund and Incubator and the Reinvest in Our Power projects , being launched by the U.S. Climate Justice Alliance . The article discusses the role of philanthropy, specifically the U.S. Chorus Foundation, which states that it “works for a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States.” In Canada, a much smaller similar philanthropic initiative is the Resource Movement,  a project of Tides Canada, which gathers “ young people with wealth and class privilege working towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power.” 

Other articles:

B.C. Municipalities urged to take fossil fuel giants to court

In January,  West Coast Environmental Law and over 50 other environmental, health, human rights, women’s rights, and faith-based organizations sent an Open Letter  to local municipalities in British Columbia, urging them  1.) to write to fossil fuel companies, demanding accountability for the climate change costs being borne by citizens , and 2.) To consider participating in a class action lawsuit against the big polluters.  As part of their new  initiative, called   Climate Law in Our Own Hands  , West Coast Environmental Law is offering legal research and support to interested local governments, as well as template letters and fossil fuel company addresses to facilitate the  letter-writing campaign.  WCEL argues that fossil fuel companies will only start working towards climate change solutions when they are held to account to pay their fair share for the damage being caused.   According to one of the Open Letter signatories, Sierra Club B.C. , “The Province of BC has estimated that Metro Vancouver Municipalities will need to spend $9.5 billion between now and 2100 to address rising sea-levels (about $100 million per year on average).”  The list could continue to add wildfires, the destruction of forests by the mountain pine beetle, drought, and extreme weather.

WCEL  is not new to this issue, but rather have been active since the 2015 landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands , when they released their report  Taking climate justice into our own hands  , which included a draft Climate Compensation Act .  The new website,  Climate Law in Our Own Hands maintains a blog about legal actions around the world, including a November 2016  report about  420 “grannies”  in Switzerland who are working with  Greenpeace Switzerland to launch a legal challenge  against the Swiss government for inadequately addressing threats to their health and future generations from climate change.  Other high profile court cases underway include the challenge to stop Arctic drilling  by  Norweigian youth and Greenpeace in Norway ,  and the ongoing cases led by  Our Children’s Trust   against the U.S. federal and state  governments.  The federal case,  Juliana v.United States  first launched in 2015,  and most recently (November 10, 2016) has been permitted to proceed to trail, after Judge Ann Aiken issued an opinion and order denying the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry’s motions to dismiss .  The 21 plaintiffs, mostly teenagers, are suing for the constitutional right of future generations  to live in  a healthy and safe environment.

Just Transition: U.S. viewpoints and 2 new Policy proposals

Just Transition: Just What Is It?”: An Analysis of Language, Strategies, and Projects   is a paper published by the  Labor Network for Sustainability, along with  Strategic Practice: Grassroots Policy Project.  It traces the history of the Just Transition concept from a U.S. point of view, starting with  the Jobs for Peace movement post-WW2, to the Super Fund for Workers initiated by Oil Chemical, and Atomic Workers leader Tony Mazzocchi, to the adoption of the idea by the environmental movement, the resistance that has developed to the “just transition” idea within much of organized labor, and finally to the adoption of the term and its reinterpretation by the environmental justice and climate justice movements.  An analysis of policy is followed by  seven “mini-case studies”  of concrete social experiments, and the paper concludes with a series of questions which aim to bring a common vision to the fight for Just Transition.  The report  is based on 17 interviews conducted between October, 2015 and March, 2016. Leaders of the following organizations reflect on their experiences and interpretations of “ Just Transition”:  Climate Justice Alliance; GreenWave; National People’s Action; New Economy Coalition; ALIGN: The Alliance for Greater New York ; Asian Pacific Environmental Network; Buffalo PUSH; Kentuckians For The Commonwealth; Movement Generation; AFL-CIO; Black Workers for Justice; BlueGreen Alliance; Labor Network for Sustainability; Oregon AFL-CIO; North Carolina League of Conservation Voters; and Sierra Club.

A related paper, jointly published by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), is another example of the many  policy proposals to achieve Just Transition.  The unique aspect in  Beyond a Band-Aid: A Discussion Paper on Protecting Workers and Communities in the Great Energy Transition , is the  proactive approach to  Just Transition strategy, calling for direct investments to be  made in local economies dependent on fossil fuel jobs before devastating economic disruption begins.  A Community and Worker Protection Fund (CWP Fund) is proposed to replace the taxes and fees paid by fossil fuel facilities; it would make targeted investments designed to create jobs, before or at the pace that fossil fuel jobs are declining.  Job creation would be directed at such initiatives as renewable energy, HVAC conversion, decommissioning fossil fuel facilities, and economic diversification.  The paper also discusses possible ways to pay for the CWP Fund, including: levying a “modest” carbon fee or tax, or eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks.

Also, from the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley , comes Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition .  (Executive Summary here  ). This paper, directed at advocacy groups, lawmakers and regulators,   proposes  a  “Climate Policy Equity Framework”  and uses it to evaluate California’s climate policies to date,  using  three principles:  Environmental Justice; Economic Equity; and Public Accountability.  It also applies the Framework  to two cases of statewide GHG reduction strategies, one in the area of energy efficiency and the other in renewable energy. Finally, the report recommends strategies to build a social contract as part of the effort to restructure to a greener economy, “to move beyond   a “lowest common denominator” approach towards a proactive equity agenda” with greater public accountability.

Do Governments have a Legal Obligation to Protect their Citizens from Climate Change? Yes, say the Oslo Principles and Citizens in Netherlands and Belgium

In March, a group of experts in international, human rights, and environmental law released the Oslo Principles on Global Obligations to Reduce Climate Change. “These Principles set out the legal obligations of States and enterprises to take the urgent measures necessary to avert climate change and its catastrophic effects”. Based on a network of local, national and international laws, the Oslo Principles outline specific measures and assert that these should be undertaken “without regard to cost”. The lack of an international agreement does not relieve nations from their duty to their citizens.

The brief Principles document is accompanied by a more extensive Commentary (94 pages). The members of the Oslo Principles group are supporting a court challenge in the Netherlands, the first case in Europe in which citizens attempt to hold a state responsible for its inaction against climate change, and the first case in the world in which human rights are used as the legal basis for its arguments. The Urgenda Climate Case opened  on April 14, and a verdict is promised on June 24th. The plaintiffs are asking the Court to order the Dutch State to reduce its CO2 emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. A similar case is under preparation in Belgium.