Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung releases studies of “radical realism” for climate justice

Radical realismIn September, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung of Berlin  released a  compilation of eight reports, titled Radical Realism for Climate Justice   – “ a civil society response to the challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5°C while also paving the way for climate justice. Because it’s is neither ‘naïve’ nor ‘politically unfeasible’, it is radically realistic.”  Individual chapters, each available from this link , are written by a variety of international organizations and individuals.  Of particular interest are the two from Canadian authors:  System Change on a Deadline. Organizing Lessons from Canada’s Leap Manifesto and  Modelling 1.5°C-Compliant Mitigation Scenarios without Carbon Dioxide Removal,  by Christian Holz of Carleton University in  Ottawa.  Also of especial relevance for Canadians:  A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production : The Paris Goals Require No New Expansion and a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production   by Oil Change International,  and Another Energy is Possible by Sean Sweeney.

In Chapter 5,  System Change on a Deadline. Organizing Lessons from Canada’s Leap Manifesto  authors Avi Lewis, Katie McKenna and Rajiv Sicora provide a broad-brush summary of the history and growth of The Leap movement, beginning with its launch in Toronto in 2015, tracing the need for coalition building, and concluding with a statement of its international potential, and its application in Los Angeles.

Chapter 8 , Modelling 1.5°C-Compliant Mitigation Scenarios without Carbon Dioxide Removal,  is by Christian Holz, a post-doctoral fellow in Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University. His chapter  reviews the recent technical studies about Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Bioenergy combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technologies, which some see as the route to  achieving the  1.5°C global warming target. Holz’ assessment is that 1.5°C  can be achieved without relying on on these technologies, “if national climate pledges are increased substantially in all countries immediately, international support for climate action in developing countries is scaled up, and mitigation options not commonly included in mainstream climate models are pursued.”

Chapter 1, A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production : The Paris Goals Require No New Expansion and a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production   by Oil Change International is an update of its 2016 publication, The Sky’s the Limit , which makes the “keep it in the ground” case. For Canadians still reeling from the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, this new report is a timely reminder of the dangers of continued investment in exploration and expansion of oil, coal and gas and the need for Just Transition policies.

Another Energy is Possible by Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is a tight summary of his assessment that current energy policies are allowing energy consumption to continue to grow. Sweeney calls for  a two-pronged solution: “ a shift in policy towards a «public-goods» approach that can liberate climate and energy policy from the chains of the current investor-focused neoliberal dogma, where the private sector must lead….  and … a shift towards social ownership and management so that energy systems can be restructured and reconfigured to serve social and ecological needs.”  Sweeney states: ” The next energy system must operate within an economic paradigm that is truly needs-based and sustainable.”

The other worthy chapters of Radical Realism for Climate Justice  are:  Zero Waste Circular Economy: A Systemic Game-Changer to Climate Change by Mariel Vilella of Zero Waste Europe;  Degrowth – A Sober Vision of Limiting Warming to 1.5°C by Mladen Domazet of the Institute for Political Ecology in Zagreb, Croatia; La Via Campesina in Action for Climate Justice by the international peasants movement La Via Campesina, and Re-Greening the Earth: Protecting the Climate through Ecosystem Restoration by Christoph Thies of Greenpeace Germany.

TUED conferences: A Social Power vision of Just Transition, and U.K. Energy Democracy

The international alliance of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy  convened two meetings over the summer of 2018, summarized in  Just Transition: A Revolutionary Idea – TUED Bulletin 73 , which summarizes an international conference held in New York in late May, and  Reclaiming UK Energy: What’s the Plan? – TUED Bulletin 75  , which summarizes meetings in the U.K. on June 28 and 29 to discuss different approaches to reclaiming the power sector, while honouring climate commitments and addressing energy poverty.

The Just Transition international conference brought together representatives of 31 unions as well as 15 environmental, community-based, research and policy allies from both the global North and the South.  The Program is here  ;  links to videos of the presentations on YouTube  are here  . In Opening Remarks, Paula Finn, Associate Director of the Center for Labor, Community & Public Policy at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies  “highlighted the necessity of confronting frankly and honestly the divisions within the global trade union movement—in particular divisions over “whether unmitigated economic growth and extractive capitalism must be challenged, or we can somehow ride the wave of ‘green jobs’ towards a solution of the climate crisis.”  Much of the discussion was based on the TUED’s Working Paper #11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Transformative Politics ( April 2018) by Sean Sweeney and John Treat and available from the Rose Luxemburg Stiflung  as part of its Climate Justice Dossier .   The Sweeney/Treat paper argues for a “Social Power vision” of Just Transition, which “ must be radically democratic and inclusive, and it must hold at its center a recognition that nothing short of a deep socioeconomic and ecological transition will be sufficient for the challenges our planet currently faces.” Watch Sean Sweeney summarize and discuss the paper in a video of Session 2: Broadening the Just Transition Debate: The Search for a Transformative Politics . Donald LaFleur, Vice-President of the  Canadian Labour Congress,  appears as a discussant to the paper at approximately minute 29 of the video.

The second TUED meeting of the summer of 2018 is summarized in Reclaiming UK Energy: What’s the Plan? – TUED Bulletin 75  .  The forty delegates attending  included GMB, UNISON UNITE, PCS, TSSA, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, National Education Union,  and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), along with allies including the Greener Jobs Alliance, Friends of the Earth Europe and Scotland, Transnational Institute and others from across Europe.  The Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the U.K. Labour Party presented their current energy platform which focuses on establishing a number of regional public energy companies, and participated in a discussion of union policies and opinion.  In addition to the summary from the TUED Bulletin, a summary also appears in the July/August Newsletter of the Greener Jobs Alliance .  Documents on which discussion was based include:

From the TUED: All, or Something? Towards a “Comprehensive Reclaiming” of the UK Power Sector, which argues for  establishing a new national public entity that would encompass generation, transmission, distribution and supply.

From Unison: The need to take into public ownership the customer and retail operations of big 6

From Professor Costas Lapavitsas,  the University of London spoke regarding the potential impacts of Brexit on energy nationalization, based on  his  arguments and observations in  “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour vs. the Single Market.”   in Jacobin (May 2018) .

The many activities and accomplishments of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy are summarized in New Unions and Regional Advances: A Mid-Year Report — TUED Bulletin 76 dated 30 July 2018.  Of note : “The first half of 2018 saw three important additions to the TUED network, with the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union(BCGEU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU; US and Canada) and the Nordic Transport Workers Federation (NTF; headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden). Together these unions represent 560,000 workers.”  64 trade union bodies are now members of TUED .

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“Historic” climate change resolution is passed unanimously at the 2017 Trades Union Congress in the U.K.

According to a  September 13 press release from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy :  “The annual congress of the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) has passed a historic composite resolution on climate change that supports the energy sector being returned to public ownership and democratic control. The resolution—carried unanimously—calls upon the 5.7-million-member  national federation to work with the Labour Party to achieve this goal, as well as to: implement a mass program for energy conservation and efficiency; lobby for the establishment of a “just transition” strategy for affected workers; and, investigate the long-term risks to pension funds from investments in fossil fuels.”   The “composite resolution”, Resolution 4, along with discussion and videos of the debate are here . The Bakers, Food and Allied  Workers Union (BFAWU) submitted the first resolution; the final composite resolution incorporated  amendments by the Communication Workers Union,  Fire Brigades Union, the train drivers union ASLEF, and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association.

A previous climate change resolution had been defeated at the 2016 annual congress.  What was different this time?  Speakers in the debate mentioned Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the chaos of Brexit, and also Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, fresh evidence of the disasters of climate change.  Trade Unions for Energy Democracy credits the influence of the Labour Party, and in advance of the vote,  Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn received an enthusiastic response to his speech to the Congress.  The Labour Party Manifesto, For the Many, not the Few , had been released during the 2017 General Election, and highlighted the issue of energy poverty,  committing to “take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control.” It further called for the creation of “publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers.”  Another influential document, “Reclaiming Public Service: How cities and citizens are turning back privatization,” was published in June 2017 by the Transnational Institute, providing global case studies of  “re-municipalization” of public services, including energy.

The Trades Union Congress 2017 Congress website provides videos, reports, and an archive of documents from the meetings.  This blog post summarizes the General Council statement on workers’ rights and Brexit.

U.K. Unions call for Transformative Transition and Energy Democracy

The Public and Commercial Services Union of the U.K. (PCS), with 180,000 civil service members, chose its annual delegate conference in late  May  to release  Just transition and Energy Democracy,  a thorough discussion of climate change impacts and solutions, which argues that “Far from being a distraction, climate change can reinforce trade union organisation, show their contemporary relevance particularly to young members, and start to place trade unions at the very centre of the crucial and urgent debate about what we mean when we talk of a just transition.”    The paper argues for energy democracy as a fundamental right, and  references a 2016 report  Public ownership of the UK energy system – benefits, costs and processes , which states that energy democracy is necessary for the development of renewable energy and financially possible to achieve .  Just Transition and Energy Democracy  sets out a framework for the public sector role in this energy transition, and states, “For PCS therefore we advocate that a just transition is also a transformative process for economic and social justice, going beyond market based solutions and negotiation within a framework of green capitalism.” In the transformative scenario a just transition “will address the inherent inequality and injustice of the capitalist system”.  Step one in the process would be the  creation of a National Climate Service similar to the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), to ensure there is a body to create the jobs needed to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The University and College Union (UCU) also debated and carried a resolution     concerning climate change and Just Transition at its convention in June, and adopted a  resolution to take to the TUC conference in September, enumerating actions, including support for energy democracy.

Jeremy_Corbyn_speaking_at_the_Labour_Party_General_Election_Launch_2017

Photo by Sophie Brown, from Wikipedia Commons

Reaction of unions to the surprise Labour surge in the U.K. election is summarized in the June/July newsletter of the Greener Jobs Alliance.  All cite the importance of the Labour Party manifesto, For the many, not the few ,  which included proposals for energy democracy through publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and cooperatives. It also proposed an industrial and skills strategy to drive investment in electric vehicles, home insulation, new low carbon technologies for heavy industries like steel, and a ban on fracking.

Are we deceiving ourselves about clean energy progress?

In a new discussion paper released in January by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), authors Sean Sweeney and John Treat argue that momentum has not really shifted away from fossil fuels, and the optimistic, “green growth” narrative is overstated.  Analysing a wide range of major data sources about the global energy system, the authors conclude that optimism in a clean energy revolution  is “misplaced, misleading, and disarming. It must therefore be rejected, and replaced with a more sober perspective that draws hope and confidence not from a selective and self-deceiving interpretation of the data, but from the rising global movement for climate justice and energy democracy, armed with clear programmatic goals and a firm commitment to achieve them.”

The authors of Energy Transition: Are we winning?  give credit to unions and activists for their demands to extend public control and social ownership to power generation,  and for opening up a global debate about the need for just transition measures.  However, they call for the union movement to address its “ambition deficit” towards the deep restructuring of the global economy required for  ambitious deployment of renewable energy.  Energy systems controlled by ordinary people in partnership with well-run and accountable public agencies are  needed to truly move the world away from fossil fuels.