Progress at COP23 as Canada’s Minister pledges to include the CLC in a new Just Transition Task Force

cop23An article in the Energy Mix reflects a widely-stated assessment of the recently concluded Conference of the Parties in Bonn: “COP23 Ends with solid progress on Paris Rules, Process to Push for Faster Climate Action” :  “It was an incremental, largely administrative conclusion for a conference that was never expected to deliver transformative results, but was still an essential step on the road to a more decisive “moment” at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.”  A concise summary of outcomes  was compiled by  the  International Institute for Environment and Development, including a link to the main outcome document of the COP23 meetings – the Fiji Momentum for Implementation .  Germany’s Heinrich Böll Institute also issued a checklist and assessment titled  We will not drown, we are here to fight  . The UNFCCC provides a comprehensive list of initiatives and documents in its closing press release on November 17. And from the only Canadian press outlet which attended COP23 in person, the National Observer: “Trump didn’t blow up the climate summit: what did happen in Bonn?” .

What was the union assessment of COP23? The International Trade Union Confederation expressed concern for the slow progress in Bonn, but stated: “The support for Just Transition policies is now visible and robust among all climate stakeholders: from environmental groups to businesses, from regional governments to national ones. The importance of a social pact as a driver to low-carbon economics means we can grow ambition faster, in line with what science tells us. ”  The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also expressed disappointment, reiterating the demands in its October  ETUC Resolution and views on COP 23  , and calling for a “Katowice plan of action for Just Transition”  in advance of the COP24 meetings next year in Katowice, Poland.

The biggest winner on Just Transition was the Canadian Labour Congress, who pressed the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change outside of formal negotiations at Bonn and received her pledge for federal support for the newly-announced Just Transition Plan for Alberta’s Coal Workers –  including flexibility on federal  Employment Insurance benefits,  and a pledge that  Western Economic Diversification Canada will  support coal communities.   Importantly, “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year”, according to the CLC press release “  Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers” .  The background story to this under-reported breakthrough  is in the National Observer coverage of the Canada-UK Powering Past Coal initiative, on November 15 and November 16.  Unifor’s take on the Task Force is here .

This global alliance is the biggest COP23 news story for Canadians, coming near the end of meetings. Canada, along with the U.K. and the Marshall Islands, announced the “Powering Past Coal” global alliance to phase out dirty coal power plants around the world.  See the government press release for Canada  and the U.K. , and see the Official Declaration, which states:

  • “Government partners commit to phasing out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and to a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage within their jurisdictions.
  • Business and other non-government partners commit to powering their operations without coal.
  • All partners commit to supporting clean power through their policies (whether public or corporate, as appropriate) and investments, and to restricting financing for traditional coal power without carbon capture and storage.”

Amongst the 20-some jurisdictions already signed up to the alliance are Canada , the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, the city of Vancouver, and the states of Washington and Oregon.  Noticeably absent so far are the major coal polluters – the U.S., Germany, China and India. The stated goal is to grow the alliance to 50 members jurisdictions.  The Energy Mix provides a summary and related interviews;   Climate Action Network-Canada reacted with “Powering Past Coal Announcement Shows Rise of International Collective Action; Domestic Implementation will Bring it Home” (Nov. 16);  DeSmog UK calls the alliance the “start of a journey” ;  German news source DW provides an international viewpoint of the alliance, especially focused on the politically-charged debate about coal in Germany.

There were other breakthoughs at COP23, including on  Gender Equality, Indigenous Rights, and Agriculture.   Delegates adopted the first Gender Action Plan  .  As reported in “To combat climate change, increase women’s participation”  in DW  (Nov. 20), for the first time,  there is a plan which  sets out specific activities, with a timeline for implementation, and allocation of responsibilities.  National governments are responsible for reporting back on progress on these activities in 2019.

COP23-It takes roots Indigenous NetworkThe Guardian reported “Indigenous groups win greater climate recognition at Bonn summit”   (Nov. 15) citing the improved language from the 2015 Paris Agreement.  ” The technical document approved at COP23 states:  countries “should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”  In response, the Indigenous Environmental Network states: “… while progress has been made on the UNFCCC traditional knowledge Platform for engagement of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not fully recognized in the final platform document of COP 23. The burden of implementation falls on local communities and indigenous peoples.”  News and reports released by It Takes Roots, the Indigenous Environmental Network COP23 delegation, are here, including their report in opposition to carbon pricing: Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistancereleased at COP23.

Finally, regarding agriculture:   As reported by the  International Institute for Environment and Development  “After years of fraught negotiations on this issue, the COP23 decision on agriculture  requests the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC to simultaneously address vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change and approaches to tackle food security. Breaking the deadlock on issues connecting agriculture and climate change was a big win for COP23.”

 

Updated: Keeping up with COP23 in Bonn – what should Canadians know? what should workers know?

As anyone who reads the news must know by now, much of the  world’s climate change community has assembled for the 23rd annual “Conference of the Parties” (COP) in Bonn, Germany – from November 6 to 17. Following the flood of daily press releases and tweets from official meetings, side events, and protests can be overwhelming. Here are some helpful sources of events – most of which also provide Facebook and Twitter updates:  official COP23 press releases and documents in English  and in French ; Climate Action Network-International (CAN-I) daily coverage in English  and French . The International Institute for Sustainable Development formal  COP23 coverage of negotiations and side events , with more spontaneous  news at their  Climate-L site.  The official Canadian government statement of what Canada hopes to achieve at COP23 is here, and the government website for Environment and Climate Change Canada produces updates in English and French . Minister McKenna’s Twitter feed @ec_minister  is a fuller record of Canadian activity  .

Gil McKeown Just Transition at COP23

CLC Side Event re Just Transition at COP23, Nov. 13 2017

For more opinion and analysis, follow  Climate Action Network- Canada newservice CanRaction , which  produced a November 9 issue: “Paris Implementation Depends on a Just Transition for Fossil Fuel Workers” .  The National Observer has reported on Canadian activity from COP23 here .  Follow trade union updates via Twitter at #unions4climate  – the only way to find out about side events such as the Canadian Labour Congress event re #Just Transition on November 13.  Follow the flood of tweets from all points of view at #COP23.  For the progressive U.S. presence, follow #wearestillin on Twitter or visit the We are Still In website.

The meetings, although in Bonn, are officially hosted by Fiji, and will be governed by the principle of “talanoa” –  described by the Prime Minister of Fiji as “ a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue that builds empathy and leads to decision-making for the collective good.”  This aspiration for transparency and consultation will be applied to the key points of contention:  1).  “the “ratchet” – the means by which the national Paris pledges for emissions reduction will be increased in future years,  ( referred to in UN-speak as the “facilitative dialogue”; and 2).  Issues of adaptation and financing (with adaptation now being re-phrased as “resilience”).  As the first COP meeting since the Paris Agreement, the Bonn talks must begin to build the formal implementation structure – referred to as “The Paris Rulebook.”   For context, read:  “The COP23 climate change summit in Bonn and why it matters” in The Guardian ( a very quick overview laden to links with more information), or “Bonn climate talks must go further than Paris pledges to succeed”  .  The Heinrich Boll Foundation has published a very complete discussion, which includes the topics of human rights, just transition, and gender climate change, in The Fiji UN Climate Summit 2017, COP23: what is at stake in Bonn?  .

Below are a few documents relevant to Canada and working people:

Climate Action Network Canada Brief to the COP23 Meetings:  This policy paper specifies goals from the Canadian point of view, including #4, explicitly about Just Transition:  “Canada should work to ensure that global pursuits for just transition and decent work have a prominent place in relevant components of the Paris work programme as well as FD2018. Just transition for workers should be maintained as a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement. It is critical to have a dedicated technical space, where good practice or challenging situations can be presented and debated and then find a reflection in the work programme. Future work on this issue should be recommended to SBI/SBSTA as the Paris work programme is developed and implemented. As FD2018 invites parties to enhance NDCs, Canada should incorporate just transition commitments into its NDC and encourage other parties to do the same. NDCs supported by zero-carbon development roadmaps are critical for building a longterm vision for transforming our economy, as well as for driving sustainable investments. Factoring-in employment and just transition will align them with broader social priorities in each country.”

The ITUC Frontlines Briefing Climate Justice: COP 23 Special Edition. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is leading a delegation of 130 trade union members from 40 countries at COP, and posting updates from the meetings at  #unions4climate on Twitter. The  COP 23 Special Edition  (which includes special note of  the Columbia Institute Jobs for Tomorrow – Canada’s Building Trades and Net Zero Emissions report ) fleshes out the top-level statement of  3 Trade Union Demands for COP23  : “• Raise ambition and realise the job-creation potential of climate action; • Deliver on climate finance and support the most vulnerable• Commit to securing a just transition for workers and their communities. ”

Disclosure of Climate-related Financial Information: Time for Canada to Act  a Policy Brief by the Centre for International Governance Innovation: presented at COP 23 and urging strong implementation of the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. It  provides a plan on how to integrate climate change into existing risk management and disclosure practices in Canada.

We Mean Business Blog:   Watch this blog for news and press releases representing the views and policies of the We Mean Business coalition, which represents over 620 multinational companies which support a low carbon transition.  Making the Paris Vision a Reality summarizes their policy goals.

UNEP The Emissions Gap Report 2017 . This 8th edition by the UNEP underlines the urgency and scale of the task at COP23 by stating that currently pledged emissions reductions, even if met, would result in  no more than a third of the emission reductions needed.  “If the climate targets in the Paris Agreement are to remain credible and achievable, all countries will need to contribute to significantly enhancing their national ambitions, augmenting their national policy efforts in accordance with respective capabilities and different circumstances, and ensuring full accounting of subnational action.”   The UNEP reviews recent studies to score the countries which are on track to meet their 2030 NDC targets – Brazil, China, India and Russia.  Those “likely to require further action in order to meet their NDCs, according to government and independent estimates” include Canada, along with  Argentina, Australia, the European Union, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, the Republic of Korea and the United States. Much of the UNEP report is based on data  from The Climate Action Tracker ; the New York Times interactive summary also relies on the Climate Action Tracker in the November 6 article, “Here’s how far the world is from meeting its climate targets” .

United States Fourth National Climate Assessment . Most attention went to the surprise that the Trump administration didn’t suppress this report , which represents a comprehensive, authoritative documentation of climate change science worldwide, with an emphasis on U.S. statistics and experience . It was released by the U.S. government, and in direct opposition to the Trump administration stance,  stated:  “This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

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.