Labour’s role in pandemic response – now and in the future 

As the world reacts to the urgent and terrible demands of the global pandemic, the labour movement is also on crisis footing as it fights for health and income protection for workers in the short term.   An earlier WCR post describes the Covid-19 Resource Centre maintained by the Canadian Labour Congress, which compiles links and documents by Canadian unions – much of it focused on the immediate information needed by individual workers. Unions are also advocating at the national and provincial levels for improved income supports, employment insurance, guaranteed sick leave for the short term crisis, as well as for sustainable long term economic solutions. The Covid19HELP_Demands_ftWorkers’ Action Centre and the Fight for $15 and Fairness in Ontario issued a press  release on March 26,  in response to the federal benefits announcement . The complete statement of demands appears in Covid-19: Health Emergency Labour Protections: Urgent comprehensive action is needed to protect workers, communities . Such lobbying and organizing has resulted in a number of emergency-related changes to legislated employment standards across Canada, as described by  Michael Fitzgibbon in  “The Right to Refuse in a COVID-19 World” in the Canadian Law of Work Forum (March 27) .

In the United States, the Labor Network for Sustainability provides information on rank and file reactions to Covid-19. On April 2,   Jeremy Brecher’s Strike column, ” Strike for your Life”  summarizes how U.S. and Italian workers are protesting and walking out due to lack of workplace protections.  Brecher’s column cites many U.S. examples, expanding on Steven Greenhouse’s article in the New York Times: “Is Your Grocery Delivery Worth a Worker’s Life? ” (Mar. 30). Brecher also summarizes and  cites “The Italian workers fighting like hell to shut down their workplaces” (Mar. 24) .  Other overviews of U.S. union actions are:  “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections” in Labor Notes (Mar. 26);  “The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices” in Common Dreams (Mar. 30); and “The New Labor Movement” (Axios, April 1). 

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)  has compiled Pandemic News from Unions around the world, including their own documents and those of international affiliates.  The ITUC  also  published 12 governments show the world how to protect lives,  jobs and incomes  (updated March 30), which ranks the policies of  Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the UK on their pandemic policies related to paid sick leave, income support, wage support, mortgage, rent or loan relief, and free health care .

After the pandemic subsides

Larry Savage and Simon Black, professors at Brock University, are pessimistic that short term gains will survive a return to “business as usual” in Canada. In  “Coronavirus crisis poses risks and opportunities for unions” in The Conversation, they reference Naomi Klein’s theory in The Shock Doctrine to argue: “Moving forward, unions are likely to find it incredibly difficult to negotiate gains for their members who will be expected to “share the pain” of an economic recession not of their making” – even public sector workers such as health care workers.  To avoid being branded as selfish, Savage and Black urge unions to: “become champions of converting new temporary income supports, social protections and employment standards into permanent measures designed to rebuild Canada’s tattered social safety net…. oppose bailouts of big corporations that don’t also bail out workers and give employees more say over how industries deemed “too big to fail” are run…. continue to lead the resistance to service cuts and demands to privatize health-care services..”

Other recent articles also emphasize the importance of protecting the voice of workers in the post-pandemic world.  Thomas Kochan  , Professor and Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research  has written that  “By working together in these ways in this time of crisis, business and labor might just lay the groundwork for building a new social contract that fills the holes in the social safety net and forges relationships that will serve society well in the future.” His article,  “Workers left out of government and business response to the coronavirus” appeared in The Conversation (U.S. edition) (March 20).

The National Labor Leadership Initiative at the Cornell University ILR School convened an online forum titled  “Labor’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic “(Mar 31)  . The purpose of the forum, and a continuing initiative, is to facilitate the long-term vision of the labour movement.  The April   press release quotes participant Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice  who states: “This is a moment for us to think about what the new normal is, because I frankly don’t want to get back to the old normal. It wasn’t working for most of us.”  The press release also reflects the immediate impacts of the current crisis on a range of workers in the U.S.: “Seven TWU members who work in the NYC public transit system have died from the virus, while their co-workers still go to work every day to keep the system running, without adequate assurances that they will be kept healthy and safe. The IATSE members whose work powers the entertainment and festival scene including Austin’s South by Southwest, one of the first major cancellations of the pandemic, are now out of work indefinitely. Teachers and paraprofessionals have rushed to transition their curricula to online formats, even while coping with the emotional impact of missing their students and the school environment. Nurses are on the frontlines and tending to patients without adequate PPE.”

The Global Stage

The ILO’s Bureau for Workers’Activities (ACTRAV) published “COVID-19: what role for workers’ organizations?  arguing that  ILO Recommendation 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (R205) is an effective instrument for governments, employers and workers organizations to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This recommendation was adopted with an overwhelming majority of all – governments, employers and workers. It is an international law instrument and Governments are expected to respect its guidance: Workers Organisations can request that it is taken into account.”  The ILO maintains an ongoing collection of documents monitoring  Covid-19 and the World of Work .

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation takes up the theme of a social contract: “As many governments scramble to pay for sick leave, provide income support or other measures, they have found themselves putting in place the building blocks of a social contract. Let’s keep these in place.” (in “New Social Contract can rebuild our workplaces and economies after COVID-19 in The Medium, (March 18)) . To flesh out that objective, the ITUC will convene virtual and in-person meetings on 24 June, on the theme, “Climate and Employment Proof our Future — a vision for a post-pandemic world”.

In the meantime, the ITUC and the International Organisation of Employers have issued a  Joint Statement on COVID-19 which issues an urgent call for coordinated policies, including :

Business continuity, income security and solidarity are key to prevent the spread and protect lives and livelihoods and build resilient economies and societies.

We stress in the strongest terms the important role that social dialogue and social partners play in the control of the virus at the workplace and beyond, but also to avoid massive job losses in the short and medium term. Joint responsibility is needed for dialogue to foster stability.

 

 

Canadian government commits to a Just Transition Act, but COP25 deemed a failure

COP25 entranceThe 25th gathering of the UN Conference of the Parties (COP25) took place from December 2 to 15 in Madrid, and despite official UN press releases and statements (curated by IIDS here ),  a general feeling of frustration was present almost immediately. Early on, Greta Thunberg labelled the meetings “clever accounting and creative PR” in her speech to delegates  . Demonstrations and discontent by youth, Indigenous, and other civil society activists  on December 11 are described by Common Dreams ;  an article in The Guardian newspaper  describes the “unfortunate  security incident” on December 11 when civil society demonstrators were expelled by COP security guards. The article quotes #FridaysForFuture member Angela Valenzuela, who stated that the rough treatment was typical of  the treatment of women, Indigenous people, and workers in a COP process dominated by government officials and corporate cop25 reject teckvested interests. “The doors closed in our faces were a very powerful metaphor for what is happening here and what has happened for the last 25 years”.  Reinforcing this theme, Common Dreams highlights new research  by Corporate Accountability,  The Big Polluters Bankrolling COP25, which names the corporations sponsoring and lobbying COP25 and concludes: “Enough is enough — we cannot let corporations use the climate talks as a marketing campaign to greenwash without accountability.”

In the end, after the longest sessions in COP’s long history, the final result achieved nothing regarding the main purpose: international carbon markets and greater ambition for national emissions reductions targets.  The Canadian government official press release casts a positive light on the results, and general reaction and summary appears in The Guardian in  “The UN climate talks are over for another year – was anything achieved?”.  Good COP Bad COP   by Kate Aronoff and David Adler was published by Data for Progress on December 11, with a detailed summary of the proceedings from a U.S. point of view.  Inside Climate News explains the carbon markets discussion in  UN Climate Talks Stymied by Carbon Markets’ ‘Ghost from the Past’ .

Canadian headlines reflect strong disappointment: 

Even mainstream Toronto Globe and Mail states: “Madrid climate talks end in near failure as crucial decisions are bumped into 2020” (Dec. 15). In The National Observer  Chris Hatch and Barry Saxifrage ask  “Global climate summit. COP or Cop-out?” on Dec. 12 , followed by  “UN climate negotiations end in ‘demoralizing, enraging’ failure” on Dec. 15.   In The Energy Mix:  “U.S. Declared ‘Climate Criminal’ as ‘Stalemated’ COP 25 Limps to a Close” (Dec. 13) and  “Disgraceful COP 25 Shows Big Emitters ‘Betraying People Across the World’ in The Energy Mix (Dec. 16).

Climate Action Network Canada compiled  statements from some of its member organizations on December 15 under this headline: “COP25 derailed as polluters prioritized over people and planet” . Among the statements:

from Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada : On every issue of significance, COP25 has delivered a mediocre or non -outcome that betrays the millions of people around the world calling for real climate action. While Canadian negotiators were largely constructive on the ground, Canada has a lot of work to do at home to address the gap between its climate goals and its ongoing commitment to expand the fossil fuel industry, which got a lot of international attention here in Madrid. Minister Wilkinson must increase Canada’s climate finance contributions and deliver on his government’s election promise to bring a new, more ambitious Paris pledge to COP26 in 2020.”

Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager, Environmental Defence Canada
“It wasn’t just that the COP25 outcome was a disaster. It was also demoralizing and enraging to see countries erase human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, not only in the text but in reality, and erode the environmental integrity of the Paris Agreement. It will be up to people in Canada and around the world to continue to mobilize and push governments to take real climate action.”

 Denis Bolduc, secretary general of the FTQ (Quebec Federation of Workers)
“We see once again the lack of ambition of States to respond to the climate emergency. The Quebec Federation of Workers (FTQ) demands that the voices of billions of people be heard. …. We demand a robust framework in which the Just Transition can take place. Workers and their communities must be at the heart of the solutions. Only a social dialogue where everyone has an equal voice will allow us to get out of this crisis. Although the states failed to answer the call, the FTQ joins all the groups of civil society to implement a real energy transition. What we want is a Just Transition and there will be no Just Transition without the workers.”

Julee Sanderson, 1st National Vice-President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers
“… Stuck in the past and unwilling to act on ambitions, governments that have aligned themselves with industry and capital have shown once again how simple it is to sidestep responsibility. In the face of all humanity and on a global stage it appears marching orders have come from the petroleum industry lobbyists rather than the millions watching from around the globe. Governments have managed to commit only to infinite growth and colonialism models. It is evident the message of civil society, its workers, its youth, its scientists, human rights groups, and Indigenous land, water, and air protectors have been inconvenient afterthoughts. Civil society must redouble its efforts on the front lines. There can be no ambition without human rights and a sustainable just transition for everyone.”

Labour achieves public promise of a Just Transition Act from  Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change 

cop25 just transitionThe Canadian Labour Congress Twitter feed  has been active in posting –  especially December 11 events regarding the Workshop on Just Transition. Sharing the stage with CLC’s Tara Peel, Canada’s New Minister of Environment and Climate Change publicly committed to the election promise of federal legislation: a Just Transition Act at that event.

CLC Twitter feed also highlights the Powering Past Coal Just Transition Task Force, launched in July 2019 with these Terms of Reference  . This is an international group, unrelated to the Government of Canada’s Just Transition Task Force which has already reported. Members include academics, including Linda Clarke, (ProBE, University of Westminster and Co-Director, ACW) and Lori Thorlakson (University of Alberta)  as well as unionists, including Hassan Yussuff, (president of the Canadian Labour Congress), Samantha Smith ( ITUC Just Transition Centre), Bill Adams ( Trades Union Congress), Suzanne Jeffreys (One Million Climate Jobs/Campaign against Climate Change).

During COP25, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) released a new series of three Backgrounders with the theme:  We must all be part of the solution on climate change  .  The series consists of: Governments must take ActionThe Public Sector will be Part of the Solution , and The National Union will be Part of the Solution , the union’s commitment for its own action, as presented at the 2019 Triennial NUPGE Convention in June 2019.

ituc logoInternationally, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) maintained a COP25 blog .  Going into the meetings, the ITUC Topline Demands for COP25 were published as a  Frontline Briefing. They consist of “1. Greater ambition for Just Transition, with greater ambition in the new government climate plans, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that are due in 2020;  2. Governments must sign on to the “Climate Action and Jobs Initiative”   launched at the September 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York in September 2019; 3. Commit to financing for the most vulnerable: governments must live up to their promise to mobilise US $100 billion annually by 2020.”

From the ITUC Frontline Briefing:

“Our message for all country leaders: we have just 10 years. Talking is no longer enough – ambition and Just Transition plans are urgent to secure the trust of people in every nation. • Stop the delaying measures, increase ambition in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) • Start implementing the social dialogue vital for agreements that deliver Just Transition for all. • Legislate for climate action including procurement rules. • Green New Deals must mean a new social contract in every country with labour rights, climate ambition and Just Transition at the core.”

Canadian kids out in force for the global Fridays for Future climate strike on March 15

March 15 montreal

Montreal climate strike

The global movement that is the #Fridays for Future climate strike, inspired by Greta Thunberg, exceeded all expectations for the number of demonstrators and the number of locations on March 15.  In Canada, students marched in 55 cities, with the greatest showing in Montreal –   150,000 strikers  – a greater turnout than Paris, London, Sydney , or almost any of the hundreds of cities and towns which participated.  The Energy Mix highlights the global successes in   “1.4 million students in 128 countries make March 15 #schoolstrike a global phenomenon” (March 15) .

 

Here are some accounts of the strike in Canada:  From the National Observer: “Canadian children school adults about climate crisis” (March 15), which reports particularly on Montreal and Vancouver; “Quebec students join global marches to demand climate change action” (March 17) which reported that 150,000 students were on strike, representing 120 student associations.  This amazing number is widely confirmed – including  by an article in La Presse  (in French). Also,  “CCL Youth join March 15 youth strike for climate”  from the Citizens Climate Lobby;  “We know we are at a crossroads” in The Tyee (unique photos of the Vancouver strike); “Students in Canada prepare to strike for the climate” (March 14) in Rabble.ca  .

march 15 vancouver2CBC coverage consisted mainly of photos and brief interviews from across Canada, including: “Tens of thousands rally in Montreal”, and “Montreal students block schools ahead of climate protest”    (which prompted the school board to cancel classes). From  Halifax ;  New Brunswick ; Ottawa  ;Regina St. John’s Newfoundland ; Toronto; and Vancouver here   and here .  

 

Who are these young Canadian strikers?  Of the many youth organizers across Canada, two  have received special attention. Sophie Mathur of Sudbury, aged 11, was the first Canadian to take up the call of Greta Thunberg and has been profiled several times, even before the March 15 global strike. Early articles:  “Strike For Climate: Fridays For a Future” appeared in Below 2C on  October 31 2018  and “Young climate activist to strike Friday in Sudbury” in the Sudbury Star  on November  2, 2018 . Most recently, on March 8,  Sophie was one of five climate strikers interviewed by  Sierra Club International, for International Women’s Day.

Rebecca Hamilton of Vancouver, aged 16,  is a founding member of Sustainabiliteens  , which organized the school strike in Vancouver. She is profiled in a new Greenpeace Canada series “12 Questions with #YouthClimateStrike organizer Rebecca Hamilton”. Both Sophie Mathur and Rebecca Hamilton were interviewed by CBC Radio in “Ignoring climate change is like ‘putting off homework,’ says teen in School Strike for Climate” on The Current on March 15   (transcript and audio), and also on CBC radio Day 6 on February 2, along with Dominique Deveaux of  Fredericton, here  .

march 15 trudeau tweetPoliticians Reactions and support for student strikers:  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the strikers on Twitter, as did Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna on her personal  Facebook account,  but there was no official reaction from the Canadian government. George Heyman, British Columbia’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change also used  his Twitter account to express that he is “inspired by the concern and commitment of the students”. Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, issued a statement of support  which lists Green Party candidates who are supporting strikes in their local ridings.

Reactions from Unions:  In Canada,  the B.C. Teachers Federation tweeted a thanks to the students from their  Annual Meeting , and at that AGM,  activist Seth Klein addressed March 15 seth kleinthe meeting  about the role of teachers in fighting climate change.  The international confederation of teachers’ unions, Education International, has also supported the student climate strikers, with this Statement of Support (Feb. 28, 2019) and this blog post of February 22.  A CBC report of March 1 also states that staff and faculty of Laurentian University in Sudbury have signed a letter of support for the strikers.

The International Trade Union Confederation issued a statement of support  which states that “Unions in Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, the UK and elsewhere are taking part and many others are active in mobilising their members” and “Taking inspiration from young people, union representatives in workplaces will, in the last week of June, invite employers to sit down with the workers in workplaces to discuss plans to reduce emissions and climate proof workplaces.”

canada may 3 climate strikeCanada’s next big student protest has been set for  May 3.  Updates will be posted on the Facebook Events page hereIn the meantime, 350.org has posted “5 ways you can support the school climate strikes”.

greta thunberg yellow

And last word goes to Nobel-nominee Greta Thunberg, from her Facebook post following the March 15 strikes:

Once you have done your homework, you realize that we need new politics. We need a new economics, where everything is based on our rapidly declining and extremely limited carbon budget.

But that is not enough. We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win. To get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other. We need to start cooperating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way. We need to start living within the planetary boundaries, focus on equity and take a few steps back for the sake of all living species.
We are just passing on the words of the science. Our only demand is that you start listening to it. And then start acting.

So please stop asking your children for the answers to your own mess.

Labour union voices at the Global Climate Action Summit

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), which brought together the world’s politicians, business leaders, and civil society organizations in San Francisco, concluded on September 14 .  The final Call to Global Climate Action calls on national governments to urgently step up climate action, including by enhancing their UNFCC Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020.The GCAS final press release summarizes the many announcements and 500+ commitments that were made; even more comprehensive is  A Chronology of Individual Summit and Pre-Summit Announcements , in which Summit organizers list all important actions and documents, dating back to January 2018.  Plans were announced to monitor actions flowing from the Summit  at a revamped Climate Action Portal, hosted by the UNFCC –   focused  around an interactive map as the key to aggregated  data about  climate action by region and sector.

richard-l-trumkaLabour unions at the Summit:    Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, delivered a speech to the Summit on September 13, “Fight Climate Change the Right way” , in which he highlighted the passage of Resolution 55 at the AFL-CIO Convention in October 2017. He emphasized that the climate change/clean energy resolution was adopted unanimously…”with the outspoken support of the unions whose members work in the energy sector. That part is critical–the workers most impacted by a move away from carbon fuels came together and endorsed a plan to save our people and our planet….”

Trumka also spoke on September 12  at  Labor in the Climate Transition:  Charting the Roadmap for 2019 and Beyond , an affiliate event sponsored by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center, along with the California Labor Federation, California Building and Construction Trades Council, Service Employees International Union, IBEW 1245, the International Trades Union Confederation, and BlueGreen Alliance.   In that speech,  titled Collective Action and Shared Sacrifice Key to Fighting Climate Change,  Trumka cast the AFL-CIO climate record in a positive light, repeated the success of Resolution 55 at the 2017 Convention, gave a 100% commitment to fighting climate change, and stated: “…we must be open to all methods of reducing carbon emissions—including technologies some environmentalists don’t like.” He concluded: “When the movement to fight climate change ignores the issue of economic justice, or treats it as an afterthought, when we seek to address climate change without respecting the hard work and sacrifice of workers in the energy and manufacturing sectors whose jobs are threatened—we feed the forces who are trying to tear us apart…. If we don’t get this right, we could find that our democracy fails before our climate…as rising fear and rising hate converge on us faster than rising seas.”

John Cartwright

The Berkeley event also featured panels on Just Transition, chaired by Samantha Smith, Director, Just Transition Centre of the ITUC, and included Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour,  as a speaker, and a panel on Energy Efficiency  in buildings , which included John Cartwright, President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council (pictured right)  as a speaker.  Videos of  the Berkeley event are here  , including one of the Trumka speech.

ITF statement 2018 green-and-healthy-streetsFinally, as part of the main Summit announcements, the International Transport Federation (ITF) released a statement in support of the Green and Healthy Streets Declaration by the C40 Cities, which  commits signatory cities to procure zero emission buses by 2025 and to ensure that major areas of cities are zero emissions by 2030. (Montreal and Toronto are the two Canadian signatories).  The ITF statement,  Green & Healthy Streets: Transitioning to zero emission transport , is motivated by the benefits of lowering air pollution and occupational health and safety for transport workers, as well as the economic justice of providing transit opportunities for workers to commute to work.

The ITF and its affiliates commit to: “Working in partnerships with mayors and cities to ensure that the transition to fossil-fuel-free streets is a just transition that creates decent jobs, reduces inequality, and drives inclusion and improvements in the lives of working class and low income people. • Building partnerships with mayors and city authorities to develop and integrate just transition plans that drive decent work and social action, including labour impact assessments, safeguards and job targets for men and women workers. • Mobilising workers knowledge and skills to shape and enhance the supportive actions needed to meet the commitments in the Declaration. • Working in partnerships with mayors and city authorities to deliver a just transition to zero emission buses, including developing plans for relevant worker training.”

Other progress for workplace concerns  at the Summit:

Amid the announcements from the formal meetings, one new initiative stands out: the Pledge for a Just Transition to Decent Jobs, which commits renewable energy companies to ILO core labor standards and ILO occupational health and safety standards for themselves and their suppliers, as well as social dialogue with workers and unions, wage guarantees, and social protections such as pension and health benefits. The BTeam press release “Companies step up to Deliver a Just Transition”  lists the signatories, and also  quotes Sharan Burrow, Vice-Chair of The B Team and General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, who states: “We will not stand by and see stranded workers or stranded communities.…  We have to work together with business, with government and workers. We can build a future that’s about the dignity of work, secure employment and shared prosperity.”  The BTeam press release also references  Just Transition: A Business Guide, published jointly by the B Team and the Just Transition Centre in May 2018.

Another announcement related to the workplace: 21 companies announced the Step Up Declaration, a new alliance “dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies and the fourth industrial revolution to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors and ensure a climate turning point by 2020.”  The press release   references “the transformative power of the fourth industrial revolution, which encompasses artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition, the declaration acknowledges the role its signatories can play in demonstrating and enabling progress both in their immediate spheres of influence and “collaboratively with others— across all sectors of society, including individuals, corporations, civil society, and governments.”    Signatories include several established climate leaders: Akamai Technologies, Arm, Autodesk, Bloomberg, BT, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lyft, Nokia, Salesforce, Supermicro, Symantec, Tech Mahindra, Uber, Vigilent, VMware, WeWork, Workday.

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.”