Just Transition Initiative among positive developments at U.N. Climate Action Summit 2019

UN summit climate action 2019The United Nations 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York at the end of September has been viewed as a disappointment by many because it failed to deliver new and dramatic commitments from the major polluting countries, as summarized by Inside Climate News in “Small Countries Step Up While Major Emitters Are Silent, and a Teen Takes World Leaders to Task” . But CBC provides a more optimistic view in its summary of the “Big Takeaways” from the meetings, including news that the Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, composed of  pension fund managers and insurers (and including La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec) committed to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050  . A  compilation of UN Press releases reveals many new initiatives announced at the Summit.

Climate Action Jobs Initiative to promote Just Transition

One important such initiative:  the Climate Action Jobs Initiative, aimed at the creation of decent jobs and protecting livelihoods as part of climate action. The Initiative will be led by the International Labour Organization (ILO), along with  International Trade Union Confederation and the International Organisation of Employers, and will build on the ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition, released in 2016.   According to the press release of September 18, almost 50 countries have committed to forming Just Transition Plans, with suggested specific measures including skills development and upgrading, social protections, and mechanisms for inclusive social dialogue to achieve consensus for transformative change.

“The commitments represent a significant engagement by governments, employers organizations, trade unions, UN agencies and civil society to pursue a common agenda to advance a just transition to environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.”

Other Reports announced before and during the U.N. Climate Summit included:

UN the heat is onThe Heat is On: Taking Stock of Global Climate Emissions,   released by the UNFCC and the U.N. Development Program in advance of the Summit meetings. It analyses trends in the international progress to “ratchet” the emissions reductions goals under the Paris Agreement and emphasizes the urgency for countries to put plans in place for the 5-year review of the Paris targets in 2020… “While climate action has accelerated since Paris, it still falls far short of an unprecedented transformation needed to limit impacts of climate change. …Many developed economies are mapping out long-term plans to eliminate GHGs by 2050, even as they have yet to clarify plans for shorter-term NDC revisions.” Regarding “Long Term Strategies”: “12 countries have submitted LTS to the UNFCCC since 2016 – Canada, Germany, Mexico, the United States, Benin, France, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Marshall Islands, Fiji and Japan.”

The United in Science report, which is composed of a number of reports from such agencies as the World Meterological Organization, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Carbon Project, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The reports state that the world is currently on track for a more than 10 per cent rise in emissions above 2016 levels by 2030, and concluded that governments must triple their 2015 pledges to keep global warming well below 2 C by 2100, or increase them fivefold to hold it to 1.5 C . The WMO’s greatest concern is with sea level rise, which has averaged 3.2 millimetres per year since 1993 but hit 5.0 millimetres per year between 2014 and 2019. It also found that the oceans had the highest heat content on record in 2018.

Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC)  : this IPCC report presenting the work of 104 scientists from 36 countries, synthesizing 7,000 publications – the most comprehensive study to date of the current and future impacts of the climate crisis on Earth’s oceans and the cryosphere (the parts of the planet that are covered in ice). Rising ocean temperatures means more intense tropical cyclones, with more powerful storm surges and downpours, leading to more extreme weather along the coasts and potentially devastating loss of marine ecosystems. Summaries are provided by the National Observer  , Inside Climate News  and international NGO OneOcean

ILO Report projects 18 million net new jobs in a green economy, and highlights policy role for social actors, including unions

ILO 2018 Greening with JobsThe International Labor Organization released its annual World Employment and Social Outlook Report for 2018 on May 14, with the theme:  Greening with Jobs.   In an economy where global warming is limited to 2°C , the report projects job losses and job creation, both within and amongst sectors, to 2030.  A net increase of approximately 18 million jobs globally  will result from  adoption of sustainable practices, such as changes in the energy mix, the projected growth in the use of electric vehicles, and increases in energy efficiency in existing and future buildings.

This landmark report also includes analysis and  discussion of climate impacts on working conditions, job quality, and productivity, (including estimates of impacts of extreme weather conditions),  and the need for social dialogue and a legal and policy framework which  promotes just transition. Of particular interest is the discussion of the role of social dialogue, which includes examples of green provisions in international and national agreements – and on page 94, highlights green provisions in Canadian collective agreements, based on the database compiled by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project.

Other key findings from the press release :

Of the 163 economic sectors analysed, only 14 will suffer employment losses of more than 10,000 jobs worldwide –  hardest hit: petroleum extraction and petroleum refining (1 million or more jobs).

2.5 million jobs will be created in renewables-based electricity, offsetting some 400,000 jobs lost in fossil fuel-based electricity generation.

6 million jobs can be created by transitioning towards a ‘circular economy’ which includes activities like recycling, repair, rent and remanufacture.

A 5-page summary is available in English   and in French  . The full report, Greening with Jobs, is here   .

Do electric vehicles create good green jobs? An Amnesty International report on Supply Chains says No

Tesla TruckNovember brought  exciting news about electric vehicles:  BYD,  one of China’s leading electric carmakers, announced that it will open an assembly plant in a yet-to-be-announced location in Ontario in 2018, (though according to the Globe and Mail article,   the new plant will only create about 40 jobs to start ).  Also in mid-November, Tesla revealed a concept design for  an  electric truck in an glitzy release by Elon Musk , and the Toronto Transit Commission announced its plan to buy its first electric buses, aiming for an  emissions-free fleet by 2040.    Unnoticed in the enthusiasm for these announcements was a report released by Amnesty International on November 15:    Time to Recharge: Corporate action and inaction to tackle abuses in the cobalt supply chain  which concludes : “ Major electronics and electric vehicle companies are still not doing enough to stop human rights abuses entering their cobalt supply chains, almost two years after an Amnesty International investigation exposed how batteries used in their products could be linked to child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).” (That earlier report was This is what we die for   released in January 2016) .

Under the heading “The Darker side of Green Technology”, Time to Recharge states: “Renault and Daimler performed particularly badly, failing to meet even minimal international standards for disclosure and due diligence, leaving major blind spots in their supply chains. BMW did the best among the electric vehicle manufacturers surveyed.”   Tesla was also surveyed and ranked for its human rights and supply chain management; Tesla’s policies are described in its response to Amnesty International here.  And further, Tesla has come in for suggestions of  anti-union attitudes  in “Critics Suggest Link to Union Drive After Tesla Fires 700+ Workers” , in  The Energy Mix (Oct. 23), and in an article in Cleantechnica , and for discriminatory policies in “The Blue-Collar Hellscape of the Startup Industry“, published in In these Times and re-posted in Portside.

The Amnesty International report is a result of a survey of 29 companies, including consumer electronics giants Apple, Samsung Electronics, Dell, Lenovo, and Microsoft, as well as electric vehicle manufacturers BMW, Renault and Tesla.  Questions in the survey were based on the five-step due diligence framework set out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.  Detailed responses from many of the surveyed companies are here. 

Small steps for the miners behind electric vehicles and smart phones

Cobalt is a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric cars. 60% of the world’s supply is mined in  Congo, according to “The Cobalt Pipeline” (September 2016),  a Washington Post special report which documented the appalling working conditions of the “artisanal miners”.  Occupational health and safety concerns for  miners was also  expressed in  “The Battery Revolution is exciting, but Remember they Pollute too”, by Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods in The Conversation (June 2015).

In a December 20 article,  the Washington Post reports on two new initiatives to curb “the worst forms of child labor” and other abusive workplace practices in the supply chain for cobalt. The first, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, is being  led by  the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, and supported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with members pledging to follow OECD guidelines  which call for companies to trace how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured and sold. Apple, HP, Samsung SDI and Sony have signed on.

The second initiative, the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative (RRMI) has been launched by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition , a nonprofit group sponsored by more than 110  electronics companies, and  “dedicated to improving the social, environmental and ethical conditions of their global supply chains.” The EICC states that it “engages regularly with dozens of non-member organizations including civil society groups, trade unions and other worker’s groups, academia and research institutions, socially responsible investors, and governmental and multilateral institutions.”  Ford Motor Company is a member of the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative, by virtue of being the first auto manufacturer to join the EICC. ( Press release is here (February 2016). Ford has sought to brand itself as a leader in ethical supply chain management   ; see their report,  Going Further towards Supply Chain Leadership . Tesla, the most high-profile electric vehicle manufacturer, is said to be considering membership in the RRMI. According to a report from Energy Mix (June 24, 2016) “Tesla’s Ambitions Demand ‘Unprecedented Quantities’ of Key Minerals” , including lithium, nickel, cobalt, and aluminum to produce vehicle batteries.  As of January 2017, Energy Mix also reported  that  Tesla started mass production at its lithium-ion battery Gigafactory in Nevada, which will be the world’s largest when it is complete in 2018 .

tesla-gigafactory

Tesla Gigafactory, Nevada.  Photo from the Tesla website .