Union Should Embed Climate Change in their Core Agenda, says TUED Report

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is convening a 40-person strategy discussion on September 20 as part of the People’s Climate March activities in New York. The meeting will discuss “central political issues facing the global labor movement around energy, climate change, impacts of pollution, and the need to develop an inspiring vision of a truly sustainable political economy based on solidarity and sufficiency”.

To focus discussion, TUED has released a working paper, written by Sean Sweeney of the Cornell Global Labor Institute, taking stock of what he calls “the great inaction” – UN-led climate negotiations and labour’s participation in them. He advocates that “social dialogue and social partnership need to be replaced by a new trade union narrative around movement-building and alliances, coupled with a new agenda or program grounded in economic democracy and popular power”. He concludes: “Focusing on climate change as a distinct and separate issue is counterproductive. To connect with their own members unions will need to embed climate protection into the work they are presently doing to defend and promote workers’ rights, fight privatization, austerity, and defend public services…By integrating climate protection into their present battles, unions can broaden the social base of support for what they presently regard to be their ‘core agenda’. Furthermore, they can play a role in articulating a clear and inspiring alternative that mounts to a new ecological and economic development paradigm”.

Sweeney cites Naomi Klein’s speech at the founding convention of UNIFOR in September 2013 as a statement of a desirable approach. Ms. Klein will also speak at the TUED event about her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.


Climate Change and the Great Inaction: New Trade Union Perspectives by Sean Sweeney is at: http://unionsforenergydemocracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/TUED-working-paper-2-Final.pdf

Agenda for the TUED meeting, Power to the People: A Strategy Discussion on Advancing Social Ownership of Energy is at: http://unionsforenergydemocracy.org/tued-strategy-discussion-sept-20-draft-agenda

Naomi Klein’s website is at: http://www.naomiklein.org/main; see the book review of This Changes Everything in the Globe and Mail at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/naomi-kleins-this-changes-everything-a-convincing-case-that-global-warming-is-the-defining-issue-of-our-era/article20700657/, and an excerpt at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/naomi-klein-the-price-of-free-trade-is-unchecked-climate-change/article20578823/

No Contradiction Between Climate Progress and Economic Growth

In September 2014, with the U.N. Summit on the horizon, the Global Commission on the Climate and the Economy released a consultation document, Better Growth, Better Climate, which culminates in a 10-point plan of key recommendations, aimed at the international community of economic decision-makers.

According to The Guardian newspaper, this report is the most significant intervention in climate politics for Lord Nicholas Stern since his 2006 report. “The report from the international commission concludes that making progress on the climate would not come at the expense of the global economy, but that there will have to be a sharp shift away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels if the world is going to avoid the worst impact of a changing climate”. See reaction at The Guardian at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/16/barack-obama-report-economy-grow-fight-climate-change-un-summit?CMP=EMCENVEML1631.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reaction honed in on the implications for Canada’s oil and gas industry of the report’s call for higher carbon pricing and the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies – see http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/oil-reliant-firms-at-risk-report/article20607843/#dashboard/follows/. Paul Krugman wrote an OpEd in New York Times on Sept.18 at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/19/opinion/paul-krugman-could-fighting-global-warming-be-cheap-and-free.html.

The Global Commission on the Climate and the Economy was commissioned in 2013 by seven countries, with its programme of work conducted by eight research institutes, led by Washington-based World Resources Institute. The Commission is chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, and includes Nicholas Stern amongst its other prominent members. Read Better Growth, Better Climate: the Synthesis Report at: http://static.newclimateeconomy.report/TheNewClimateEconomyReport.pdf.


U.K. Union Makes Green Progress on Three Fronts

A new report by the Public and Commercial Services Union of the U.K. outlines how that union is pursuing its green goals on three fronts: greening the union administration and operations through policies regarding energy use, waste reduction, green procurement and staff travel policies; at the workplace, supporting the green representatives through networks and online training; and in the community, through national and local campaigns, for example, against fracking, the Energy Bill Revolution and energy poverty, and through fair trade and trade justice campaigns. The report also summarizes the union’s Green Forum in November 2013, and its new participation in the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) network, based at Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute in New York. It will relaunch its One Million Climate Jobs campaign in 2014.


Becoming a Greener Union is available from a link at the Public and Commercial Services Union website at:http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/resources/green_workplaces/index.cfm, which also gives a link to the full report and a video from the 2013 Green Forum

New Evidence About the Climate Impacts of Methane Leaks Sparks a Union Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

The January 28 meeting of the Global Advisory Group of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy considered a  draft paper concerning fracking. The paper, prepared by the Cornell Global Labor Institute states, “This paper has been prepared to assist unions and their close allies who wish to better understand the impacts of shale gas drilling, or ‘fracking’, and want to develop a position or approach to fracking that protects workers, communities and the environment…” It is an extensive review of the core issues driving anti-fracking activism, and the current  activities of social movement  groups and unions (chiefly in the U.S. and Canada, but also in Europe and Argentina). It highlights the pro-fracking position of the AFL-CIO Building Trades union in the U.S. and the anti-fracking statements of Canada’s Unifor and CUPE. About Unifor and CUPE, the paper states: “their perspective on fracking combines a social movement approach that prioritizes solidarity with other movements but it is also grounded in a pragmatic approach to Canadian energy policy involving the use of their natural resources in ways that are responsible and beneficial for the Canadian economy as a whole”.

In a separate document, the Trades Union Congress of the U.K. reiterated its 2012 position in its February 13, 2014 presentation to an Inquiry of the House of Lords into shale gas. It encapsulates two competing interests of trade unions on the issue: the TUC “… wishes to focus on two issues of concern…the need for reliable forecasts of economic and employment benefits; and setting the highest standards for occupational health and safety at work”. It follows up on the TUC policy statement which is based on the precautionary principle and effectively calls for a moratorium on fracking.

Although water consumption and contamination were the initial concerns of anti-fracking activism, the TUED paper states that recent scientific research reveals that methane (the major component of natural gas) is “34 times stronger as a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale, and 86 times more powerful over a 20-year time frame”. Reinforcing the TUED summary, a new paper published in Science in February analyzed more than 200 technical publications examining methane leakage in the natural gas industry, and by expanding the focus to include the production and delivery stages, the authors conclude that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is underestimating the amount of methane emitted in the United States by about 50 percent.

The TUED draft paper argues that natural gas can no longer be promoted as a “bridging” fuel towards a lower carbon energy system, and it is no longer appropriate for the fight against shale gas production to be led by local groups at the level of local government. The paper calls for a “global conference sponsored by one or more global trade union bodies”, [to] “work towards a common trade union approach, with the ‘precautionary principle’ as a point of departure”. The paper concludes by proposing a draft resolution for a global moratorium.


Global Shale Gas and the Anti-Fracking Movement: Developing Union Perspectives and Approaches is available from the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy website from a link at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/professor-robert-w-howarths-presentation-for-trade-unions-for-energy-democracy/
An additional summary of scientific research on methane leakage in natural gas and fracking is at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/professor-robert-w-howarths-presentation-for-trade-unions-for-energy-democracy/

TUC press release regarding the House of Lords Inquiry into Shale Gas is at: http://www.tuc.org.uk/node/119642

“Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems” by Brandt et al. in Science (Feb. 14, 2014) is available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6172/733.summary?sid=7f1c6729-6268-488d-9c49-88bdd0b553a1, or summarized in “Study Finds Methane Leaks Negate Benefits of Natural Gas as a Fuel for Vehicles”, (New York Times, Feb. 14) at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/us/study-finds-methane-leaks-negate-climate-benefits-of-natural-gas.html?_r=1

For those involved in community-level action in Canada, see the February publication by the Council of Canadians, The Fractivist’s Toolkit, at: http://www.canadians.org/publications/fractivists-toolkit

Resist, Reclaim, Restructure: The Trade Union Struggle for Energy Democracy

“The Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is a global, multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of both land and people, and the repression of workers’ rights and protections.” Now available on their website: Resist, Reclaim, Restructure: The Trade Union Struggle for Energy Democracy, a framing discussion document written for the 3-day global trade union roundtable which launched the initiative in October 2012, convened by the Cornell Global Labor Institute and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of New York City. Representatives from several Canadian public sector unions and the Canadian Labour Congress participated. “The Trade Unions for Energy Democracy initiative focuses on three main concerns; the recognition that there is a global energy emergency; the needed transition to renewable energy is not happening, and the need for energy democracy led by public sector unions. 


Resist, Reclaim, Restructure: The Trade Union Struggle for Energy Democracy.

(October 2012) Roundtable discussion document, by Sean Sweeney, is available at: http://energyemergencyenergytransition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Resist-Reclaim-Restructure.pdf

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy website, with news and further documents at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/about-initiative/

Statements from many international union federations are at:  http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/category/resources/trade-union-statements/