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.

$1.5 billion will buy new renewable energy projects, good green jobs, and environmental justice in New York State

On  June 2, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that his state would invest $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects through the Clean Climate Careers Initiative.  The program has three elements:  “supercharge” clean energy technologies, create up to 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020, and  achieve environmental justice and Just Transition for underserved communities. Both the Governor’s press release and one from the Worker Institute at Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School attribute the inspiration for the new renewable energy initiative to the  “Labor Leading on Climate” program at the Worker Institute.

The  Institute has just published Reversing Inequality, Combatting Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State (June 2017),  in which Lara Skinner and  co-author J. Mijin Cha argue for an “audicious”  job creation plan which would create decent green jobs in the building, energy, and transport sectors.  The report provides case studies and specific proposals to reduce GHG emissions – for example, to retrofit all public schools in the state to reach 100 percent of their energy efficiency potential by 2025, reduce energy use in all public buildings by 40 percent by 2025, install 7.5 GW of offshore wind by 2050,  rehabilitate New York City public transit, and construct and improve the existing high-speed passenger rail corridor between Albany and Buffalo, and between New York City and Montreal.  The report also includes a recommendation to establish a Just Transition Task Force – a recommendation incorporated in Governor Cuomo’s plan.

In the plan announced  by Governor Cuomo, $15 million has been committed “to educators and trainers that partner with the clean energy industry and unions to offer training and apprenticeship opportunities, with funding distributed to the most innovative and far-reaching apprenticeship, training programs and partnerships.  ”  The state is also committed to the use of a Project Labor Agreement framework for the construction of public works projects associated with the initiative.

A Working Group on Environmental Justice and Just Transition has been appointed and staffed, with a first meeting scheduled for June.  It will advise the administration on the integration of environmental justice principles into all agency policies, and to shape existing environmental justice programs.  The press release includes endorsements from the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance and unions, including: Greater New York Building Construction Trades Council, New York State AFL-CIO, New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, IBEW Local 3, Transport Workers Union, Utility Workers Union Local 1-2,  United Association Plumbers & Pipefitters, and the past Secretary Treasurer of Service Employees International Union.

Governor Cuomo’s  Renewable Energy initiative was announced one day after Donald Trump’s  withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and after the Governor had signed an Executive Order  reaffirming New York’s  commitment to the Paris goals, and had launched a Climate Alliance with the states of California and Washington.

ILO Director-General report identifies key themes in the greening of work, and worker delegates respond

The 106th Session of the International Labour Conference convenes fromILO 2017 conference  June 5-16 in Geneva – see an overview here .  To open the annual Conference, Director General Guy Ryder presented his report, Work in a changing climate: The Green Initiative  , and for those who question the role of the workplace in the fight against climate change, the report states: “… if climate change is a consequence of human activity, then that activity is, for the most part, work or work-related. It is no coincidence that climate change tends to be benchmarked against pre-industrial levels. And if work is the predominant cause of climate change, then inevitably it must be central to strategies to prevent, mitigate and adapt to it.”

The main body of the Director-General’s Report describes and updates the accomplishments of the  ILO Green Centenary Initiative, which  was launched in 2013, “to promote the considerable potential for creation of decent work associated with the transition to a low carbon sustainable development path and to minimize and manage the inevitable dislocation that will accompany it.” The report emphasizes the need for research and policy analysis, and announces that the 2018 edition of the ILO World Employment and Social Outlook Report will focus on “greening with jobs”, with sectoral and country-specific information.

Some important themes:  The report emphasizes the need for tripartite responses to climate change, and offers the examples of countries with tripartite consultations:  Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru , South Africa, and Brazil, which developed its Intended Nationally- Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement with tripartite involvement.

Global carbon pricing is identified as “an outstanding question of the greatest magnitude –a political game changer in the eyes of some.” And, “Independently of the specific merits of taxing carbon, the general message is clear: predictable and appropriate regulation, together with informed tripartite involvement, are key ingredients for successful just transition.”

Regarding the greening of the work process, the report states: “The extraordinary process of structural transformation in production systems, made necessary by the fight against climate change, needs also to incorporate two further ingredients which have a proven record in facilitating socially acceptable and beneficial change at work: skills development and social protection.”

marie walker ILO VP 2017Canadian Labour Congress Secretary-Treasurer Marie Clarke Walker   was elected Vice-President (Workers) on June 5, and is a member of the ILO Governing Body.    Luc Cortebeeck,  Chairperson of the Workers’ Group, presented a Discussion of the Director-General’s report  on June 7. The 3-page discussion is generally constructive, for example, congratulating the ILO for its climate neutrality goals and its the recognition of the need to aim for zero emissions as soon as possible, and pledging support for Skills for Green Jobs initiatives.  However, it highlights differences about the goals for the future, stating:  “Such an ambitious assessment on the state of affairs does not seem to be followed by an equally ambitious take on future measures.”  Further, “The workers’ group regrets the absence of references to the importance of piloting in as many countries as possible the ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition, as a means to show they are a useful tool for tackling climate change in a socially progressive way.”  The Workers Group also considers it “vital” that the ILO develop and execute its own economic modelling research regarding the potentially negative distributional aspects of carbon pricing and regulation, and not rely on research by the  OECD  and other active agencies.

How to phase out Alberta’s Oil Sands by 2040, including Just Transition principles

Gordon Laxer, Professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and founding director of the Parkland Institute, has released a new report, Act or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands .  He summarized the report  in an article,  “The case for phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands” , which appeared in Resilience  on May 23.   The full report reflects the author’s long and deep understanding of the political economy of Alberta. His fairly brief discussion of Just Transition principles occurs at the end of the report.

Syncrude_mildred_lake_plant

From Wikimedia, in the public domain. Syncrude Lake Mildred plant, Alberta.

Section 1 of Act or be Acted Upon discusses the market forces and policy environment in which the oil sands continues to operate – including a discussion of the cap on emissions put in place in the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan , and the issues of divestment and stranded assets. Looking for lessons to be learned, Section 2 examines the international and Canadian progress in banning coal-fired power, with a detailed look at Ontario’s experience and Alberta’s current efforts. The author emphasizes the importance of the health-based  arguments in Ontario’s campaign against coal, and suggests two possible motivators for an Alberta campaign against the oil sands: first,  the under-reported  health effects on residents and workers around Fort McMurray, the Peace River country, and the Aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan,  and second, the devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray in 2016.

Section 3: “Phasing out the oil sands”,  calls for a permanent moratorium on new projects and a schedule for shutting down older projects that have paid off their capital costs- starting with the Suncor and Syncrude projects  which are over 50 years old. Finally, the author calls for replacing the existing emissions cap under the Climate Leadership Plan with  “an annually lowering GHG ceiling on all remaining Sands projects until they collectively reach zero by 2040.”

The final section of the Green Paper states: “It’s vital that phasing out the Sands be accompanied by a well-thought-out plan to provide workers and communities in the Sands with alternative work and retraining…. A just transition is the right thing to do, but it is also needed because if workers involved in the Sands don’t see a sure-fire alternative, they will fight hard to hang on to the Sands jobs they currently have, which will hamper the changes Alberta and Canada need to make.”   Those looking for new approaches to Just Transition will have to hope that Professor Laxer writes another paper – in this one, he goes only so far as to endorse the Just Transition principles set out in the October 2016 paper from the UNFCCC,  Just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs  .  To recap, those are: • Develop skills and retraining for green jobs  • Develop green enterprises • Promote government programmes to help the unemployed find work • Provide social protection • Minimize hardship for workers and address their needs • Consult all stakeholders to plan for a just transition.

Recalling the huge federal and provincial government research subsidies in the 1960’s that launched the oil sands, Professor Laxer concludes with this:  “The same governments now need to devote as much research money in today’s dollars to plan useful employment for Sands workers necessitated by the shift to a low-carbon future.”

after the SandsAct or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands  is a “Green Paper”, commissioned by the Alberta Institute of Agrologists and presented to them in March 2017.  Related reading:  Gordon Laxer’s book from 2015 , After the Sands. Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians ;   and from the Parkland Institute:  Restructuring in Alberta’s oil industry: Internationals pull out, domestic majors double down (April 2017);  Five things to know about Alberta’s oil sands emissions cap   (Feb. 2017); Extracted Carbon: Re-examining Canada’s Contribution to Climate Change through Fossil Fuel Exports (Jan. 2017).

New green jobs policy adopted at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention-Updated with link to Policy document

clc-logoThe 28th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress was held in Toronto from May 8 to 12, 2017  under the theme “Together for a Fair Future”.  The agenda was packed – including  equity issues, younger workers, putting an end to precarious work, and the fight to implement a $15 minimum wage. Executive officers were elected, and Hassan Yussuff was acclaimed as President for a second mandate – all serving  from 2017 to 2020. On May 10th, the Convention addressed the issue of climate change, and heard from a Green Jobs Panel, consisting of  Sharan Burrow of the ITUC, Sheila Watt-Cloutier from Inuit Circumpolar Council, Matt Wayland of the IBEW, and Patrick Rondeau of the FTQ, with Rick Smith of the Broadbent Institute moderating.  Although no documents have been posted to the CLC website yet, a Unifor press release states:  ” … As one of the greatest challenges facing workers in Canada the Convention adopted a plan, outlined in the Green Jobs for a Fair Future policy, to guide the country through a necessary just transition to a green economy.  Unifor’s delegation voted overwhelmingly to support the position paper and delegates pledged to take action for just transition…The policy paper calls on the CLC to lobby and work towards green jobs in home and building retrofits, expand public transit, ensure responsible resource development, and at the core, just transition for workers whose lives are already dramatically changed by climate change.”

Updated on May 29:  By permission of the CLC, the 20-page policy statement is available here at the ACW Digital Library.  It lays out detailed proposals and establishes a Climate Change Task Force to carry the initiatives forward until 2020, with extensive lobbying for policy changes at the federal government level. Proposals include expansion of renewable energy, building retrofits, expanded transportation and transit infrastructure, and labour market policies to promote a Just Transition for workers and communities who are affected by the shift from oil and gas to clean energy. The document also announces an initiative for the CLC and local labour councils to create and train a network of environmental representatives at the workplace level, based on the occupational health and safety model.