International action on Just Transition: what’s been accomplished, and proposals for the future

ituc logoJust Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? A Guide to National Policies and International Climate Governance  was released on September 19 by the International Trade Union Confederation, summarizing what has been done to date by the ITUC and through  international agencies such as the  ILO, UNFCCC, and the  Paris Agreement.  It also provides short summaries of some transition situations, including the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Hazelwood workers in the LaTrobe Valley, Australia, U.S. Appalachian coal miners and the coal mining pension plan, Argentinian construction workers, and Chinese coal workers.  Finally, the report calls for concrete steps to advance Just Transition and workers’ interests.

The report defines Just Transition on a national or regional scale, as  “an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, emissions are at net zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” But the report also argues that Just Transition is important for companies, with social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to manage the necessary industrial transformation at the organizational level.  To that end, the ITUC is launching “A Workers Right To Know” as an ITUC campaign priority for 2018, stating, “Workers have a right to know what their governments are planning to meet the climate challenge and what the Just Transition measures are. Equally, workers have a right to know what their employers are planning, what the impact of the transition is and what the Just Transition guarantees will be. And workers have a right to know where their pension funds are invested with the demand that they are not funding climate or job destruction.”

The ITUC report makes new proposals. It calls on the ILO to take a more ambitious role and to negotiate a Standard for Just Transition by 2021, carrying on from the Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies forAll  (2015).   The ITUC also states “expectations” of how Just Transition should be given greater priority in the international negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), so that:  Just Transition commitments are incorporated into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries; Just Transition for workers becomes a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement, and Just Transition is included in the 2018 UNFCCC Facilitative Dialogue. It also calls for the launch of a “Katowice initiative for a Just Transition” at the COP23 meetings to take place in Katowice, Poland in 2018, “to provide a high-level political space”.  Finally, the ITUC calls for expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Green Climate Fund to allow  the funding of Just Transition projects.

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? is a Climate Justice Frontline Briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and is based upon Strengthening Just Transition Policies in International Climate Governance by Anabella Rosemberg, published as a Policy Analysis Brief by the Stanley Foundation in 2017.

Other Just Transition News:  In Calgary in September, the  Just Transition and Good Green Jobs in Alberta Conference took place, sponsored by BlueGreen Alberta, with updates on national and provincial developments and with a global perspective from Samantha Smith, Director of the ITUC’s Just Transition Centre as the keynote speaker.  A companion event, the 3rd Annual Alberta Climate Summit, hosted by the Pembina Institute and Capital Power,  also included a session on  “Just Transition: Labour and Indigenous Perspectives” which featured Andres Filella (Metis Nation of Alberta), Samantha Smith(Just Transition Centre) and Heather Milton-Lightening ( Indigenous Climate Action Network).

In advance of these events, the Alberta government had announced  on  September  11  the launch of  the Coal Community Transition Fund to assist Alberta communities impacted by the mandated coal-phase out in the province.   Municipalities and First Nations can apply for grant funding to support economic development initiatives that focus on regional partnerships and economic diversification.  Further funding is anticipated from the federal government, with retraining programs also expected after the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities  provides its recommendations in a report to the government, expected this fall.

International Trade Union Confederation unveils a Just Transition Centre at COP22

marakkeshThe 22nd meeting of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakesh Morrocco concluded on November 18, having made dogged progress despite the looming  spectre of President Donald Trump . (see “7 things you missed at COP22 while Trump hogged the headlines“).    150 trade union members from 50 countries comprised a delegation led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).  On November 18, the ITUC released their assessment of COP22: “ Marrakech Climate Conference: Real Progress on economic diversification, transformation and just transition, but more ambition and more finance needed”   .

The  three “top line” ITUC demands  going in to the meetings can be summed up as:  greater ambition and urgency for action; commitments on climate finance, especially for vulnerable countries, and commitment to just transition for workers and communities. The summary of demands  is reproduced at the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy website and described in detail in the ITUC Frontlines Briefing: Climate Justice COP 22 Special Edition . (Note that one of the case studies in the Special Edition highlights the president of Unifor Local 707A in Fort McMurray, Alberta, who describes the union’s efforts to lobby government, to bargain for just transition provisions, and to sponsor job fairs for displaced workers.)  The union demands are  consistent with the issues  raised in Setting the Path Toward 1.5 C – A Civil Society Equity Review of Pre-2020 Ambition .  The  ITUC is a signatory to the Setting the Path document – along with dozens of other civil society groups, including  Canada Action Network,  David Suzuki Foundation, and Friends of the Earth Canada.

The ITUC Special Edition statement announced “…the ITUC and its partners are establishing a Just Transition Centre . The Centre will facilitate government, business, trade unions, communities, investors and civil society groups to collaborate in the national, industrial, workplace and community planning, agreements, technologies, investments and the necessary public policies.”  The “partners” mentioned include the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the B Team  , an international network of business executives who believe that  “the purpose of business is to become a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit” and We Mean Business,   a coalition of business, NGO and government policy organizations promoting the transition to a low-carbon economy.

As an aside:  The CEO of We Mean Business  wrote A Just Transition to defeat the populist politicians  (Nov. 5), summing up the business point of view about Just Transition.  See excerpts here.

The European Trade Union Congress, a member of ITUC, promoted five demands in its own Position Statement ,  adopted by the Executive Committee on the 26-27 October.  The ETUC demands largely mirror those of ITUC but also call for concrete action to move  the issue of Just Transition from the Preamble of the Paris Agreement, ( where it landed by compromise ) . “The COP 22 must now urge Parties to integrate just transition elements into their national contributions, notably by mandating the Subsidiary Bodies Implementation (SBI) and for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), for they define the terms of this integration.”  The ETUC urges that the ILO   Principles for a just transition to environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all  provide an internationally recognized reference for governments and social partners concerning just transition.

The Canadian Labour Congress, Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux and Centrale des Syndicats Democratiques in Canada, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) are ITUC affiliates.   Details, pictures, videos are posted on Twitter at #unions4climate.

COP21: Labour union actions and Reactions

On December 3, the Canadian Labour Congress, along with the Climate Action Network, and the Green Economy Network, convened the One Million Climate Jobs event,  bringing together Canadian labour and green groups. The background discussion document, One Million Climate Jobs: A Challenge for Canadians, estimates costs and job creation in a new economy, where public investment supports four strategic priorities: clean/renewable energy; energy efficiency/green buildings; public transit; and higher speed rail. Also at the December 3 event, the National Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) spoke, arguing that “Public Services are at the Heart of a Just Transition”. And Ken Smith, a heavy equipment operator from Fort McMurray and the head of Unifor Local 707A told the audience that oil sands workers “get” climate change, concluding with “We want to be full partners because we have no choice”. See “At COP21, Oil Sands Worker Urges Smooth Transition Off Fossil Fuels” in The National Observer.
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Labour’s responses to the final COP21 agreement were mainly disappointed but constructive. In  “Collaborative Approach will be Key to Realizing Canada’s Climate Change Obligations” (Dec. 12), the Canadian Labour Congress expressed disappointment that the sections protecting human rights – including indigenous rights – and the right to a just transition for workers appeared only in the non-binding preamble of the agreement. But President Hassan Yussuff states “Canadian unions are committed to doing their part to fight climate change; and we will work with governments and employers to ensure a just transition to a carbon-free economy that supports displaced workers and creates millions of decent, green jobs”.
Similar sentiments came from the U.S., in “BlueGreen Alliance Lauds International Climate Agreement”, which states “we will continue to fight for just transition-along with human rights, gender equality and the other core social issues that were in the text going into COP21-to become an operational item within the structures created in the Agreement and the UNFCCC. Still, the inclusion in the preamble is without a doubt a call to action to all nations to take on climate change in accordance with the needs of their people, and we plan to hold them accountable”.
From the U.K., Philip Pearson, Senior Policy Advisor at the Trades Union Congress wrote a blog on December 11 which reproduced a Joint Letter to the French Presidency, protesting that “civil society is highly disappointed that references to the protection of rights, equality and ecosystems have been removed from the core of the climate agreement”. And in a December 12 blog, Pearson summarizes the overall deal, and concludes that “it’s up to us to make sure that union voice, just transition and decent work are central to the transformation that lies ahead”.
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The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) had issued a Call for Dialogue: Climate Action Demands Just Transition (Nov. 26), which was signed by representatives from ITUC,   environmental groups (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF), faith groups and charities (Actionaid International, Oxfam, ChristianAid), and, unusually, businesses (We Mean Business, the B Team). The ITUC response to the final COP agreement states that the commitment to securing a just transition for workers and communities is just a first step, requiring further work. ITUC states that another of its goals, to raise ambition and realize the job potential of climate action, is missing in the final agreement.
And from Philip Jennings, General Secretary, UNI Global Union, in Saving people and the Planet in a World of Unprecedented Changes (Dec. 14), “after this new global climate deal, unions will advance progress in the millions of workplaces around the world through all the negotiating platforms we have from local to national and global levels. We will make it happen. This is our human right to a safe planet”. UNI hosted a dedicated website for Climate Change which includes a brief assessment of strengths and weaknesses.

 

INTERNATIONAL UNIONS LOBBYING FOR CLIMATE ACTION

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) continued its Climate Change campaign with a Global Week of Action, from June 1 – 7, 2015. To support the campaign, the ITUC has released two Frontlines Briefing documents: Climate Justice: There are no Jobs on a Dead Planet (March 2015), and Climate Justice: Unions4Climate Action (May 2015)    .   In May, the ITUC also posted a Sustainlabour report, Reducing emissions from the Workplace and Creating Jobs: 4 European case studies, which describe commitments and proposals from British, Spanish, Belgian and German trade unions. As part of the Global Week of Action, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) sent a letter to Canada’s Environment Minister , urging Canada to participate ambitiously in the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, restating a commitment to a Just Transition for workers, and urging a national energy plan for a low-carbon economy.   The ITUC is organizing a Union Climate Summit in Paris on September 14 – 15.

Labour Voices on the International Scene: G20 and Lima Climate Conference

In November 2014, following the G20 Leaders Summit in Brisbane, Australia, the Labour 20 (L20) issued a statement calling on the G20 to take action on climate change and green growth, and to implement a plan for jobs and growth that reduces inequality. From the statement: G20 leaders should “commit to an ambitious and fair share in reducing emissions” to ensure the success of the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations; should  contribute to the Green Climate Fund and support green bond development; commit to investing one percent of gross domestic product in infrastructure in every country, especially that which supports a transition to a low-carbon economy; support industrial transformation measures to protect the livelihoods of those in climate-vulnerable and energy-intensive sectors; support sustainable economic activities; and set attainable food and energy security targets. In addition, the L20 called for measures to promote inclusive growth by enabling women and youth to participate in secure jobs; responsible, green investment strategies; and trade and supply chains that help create decent work and safe work places. The L20 is convened by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). See L20 website and read a summary of the L20 statement.