Green New Deal – an opportunity for the U.S. and for Labour

As the U.S. Congress returned for its 116th Session in January 2019, newly-elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal  have become the symbols of the “freshmen” class in Washington. The term is now everywhere – as shown green new deal tweetsby  “What’s the Deal with the Green New Deal” from the Energy Institute at Haas, University of California at Berkeley, which coins the acronym “GND” and shows a graph of the Twitter traffic on the topic.  More substantially, the article critiques the economic, job creation proposals in the Green New Deal proposal, as does economist Edward B. Barbier in “How to make the next Green New Deal work” in Nature.com on January 1. From a Canadian, much less conservative viewpoint, Thomas Clayton-Muller discussed a Canadian version called the “Good work Guarantee”, as proposed by 350.org.  in “Canada needs its own Green New Deal. Here’s what it could look like” in the National Observer (Nov. 29) , and Matt Price urged unions to follow the lead in “Unions Should Go Big on a Green New Deal for Canada” in an Opinion piece in The Tyee  (Dec. 10) .

Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein of the  Labor Network for Sustainability write “The Green New Deal provides a visionary program for labor and can provide a role for unions in defining and leading a new vision for America” in “12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal” in Portside. The article reviews the history of the original U.S. New Deal, but more importantly, shows how the Green New Deal can help U.S. labour unions reclaim bargaining power, political power, and good jobs.  They conclude with a long list of Labour goals for any Green New Deal, including: Restore the right to organize: Bargain collectively and engage in concerted action on the job; Guarantee the Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly in the workplace; Restore the right to strike; Guarantee the right to a safe and healthy work environment; Provide a fair and just transition for workers whose jobs may be threatened by economic change; Establish fair labor standards; Establish strong state and local prevailing wage laws; Encourage industry-wide bargaining; Establish a “buy fair” and “buy local” procurement policy. They conclude with suggestions for how unions can support a Green New Deal .  Héctor Figueroa ,  President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union also urges other unions to support the GND, and describes its importance for his union in “For the Future of Our Communities, Labor Support for The Green New Deal” in Common Dreams (Dec. 13) .

The political story of the Green New Deal revolves around the negotiations to form a House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, summarized in a great article from Inside Climate News, “New Congress Members See Climate Solutions and Jobs in a Green New Deal” (Jan. 3).  HR-1, the first Bill tabled by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party in the new House of Representatives is a  60-page statement, which establishes the mandate of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in Section 104, (pages 46-49). Reaction from the Sunrise Movement  stated:  “The mandate for @nancypelosi‘s Climate Select Committee is out, and it’s everything we feared. No mandate to create a plan on the timeline mandated by top scientists; No language on economic & racial justice, or a just transition; Allows members to accept fossil fuel money. As well, it lacks power to supoena.” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash is extensively quoted in  “They Failed Us Once Again’: House Democrats Denounced for Dashing Hopes of Green New Deal”  from Common Dreams (Jan. 3), and though disappointed, she states: “In losing this fight on the Select Committee, we have won the biggest breakthrough on climate change in my lifetime.”

The Select Committee is  not the only political avenue to deal with climate change. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Democractic Representative Frank Pallone, announced it will hold its first hearing on climate change, as reported by The Hill  . And prospective Democratic presidential candidates are under pressure, as described in “Green Leftists Prepare to Give Democratic Candidates Hell” in the New Republic (Jan. 4) .

COP24 Updates and Week 2: Voices of unions, business, the U.S., and youth

COP24-table of delegatesThe official meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) in Katowice began optimistically, with  over 40  countries, including Canada,  adopting the host country’s Solidarity and Just Transition  Silesia Declaration . On the same day, December 3,   IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll European Trade Union issued a joint declaration demanding a Just Transition for workers  .  The week ended with a diplomatic stand-off on whether delegates would “welcome” or “recognize” the landmark IPCC Scientific report – with four obdurate fossil fuel countries – U.S., Russia,  Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait –refusing  to use the word  “welcome”;  The Energy Mix summarizes those weekend negotiations and why the outcome is important – the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a statement that they are “deeply alarmed” by the U.S. position.    DeSmog UK sums up some of the concerns from Week 1 in  ‘We Cannot Accept an Unjust Energy Transition’: Future of Coal Communities Becomes Crucial Issue at Climate Talks”  .   The good news, according to an ITUC policy officer quoted in the article, is that “never, ever, before had climate negotiators debated so much about the impacts of the energy transition on workers and their communities”.

Away from the official agenda, in all-important side meetings:  on December 6, the Polish trade union Solidarność signed a joint declaration  with the U.S. Heartland Institute, aligning itself with the climate denying group and rejecting climate science.  A series of meetings were co-organized by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)  ,  Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA)Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung-New York Office, the UK’s Public and Commercial Services UnionFriends of the Earth Europetransform! europe. The Agenda of the meetings is here ; discussion focused on the TUED discussion paper  written by  Sean Sweeney and John Treat,   When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing Up to the Failures of Profit-Driven Climate Policy,  which is described as  “a discussion paper highlighting the failures of profit-driven climate policy and making the case for an alternative approach that focuses on the public good and meeting basic human needs, and that embraces the struggle for public / social ownership and democratic control over energy resources and use.”   It concludes with the observation that at the moment, everyone is being left behind. “This is not a scenario that unions can accept. Only a coordinated, public-goods approach allows us to escape the contradictions of commodified energy systems that pit some workers against others.”

Week 2, which runs from December 10 to 17th, has seen the arrival of political leaders, including Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.  An interview with McKenna on her first day in Katowice appears  in the National Observer,  “McKenna says climate targets could be law in future” .  One of the issues addressed in the interview: a new report from Stand.earth and Environmental Defence, Canada’s Oil and Gas Challenge: A Summary Analysis of Rising Oil and Gas Industry Emissions in Canada and Progress Towards Meeting Climate Targets ,  which  shows how oil and gas emissions in Canada are rising, and documents examples of how oil and gas companies have influenced  Canada’s climate policies. It calls for phasing out subsidies to the oil and gas sector on an accelerated timeline, and extending just transition policies , especially to oil and gas workers. McKenna did not commit to any such new policies.

In its only official event, the  U.S. Administration attempted to lead a session on December 10,  called “US innovative technologies spur economic dynamism”, which promotes “ clean coal”.  As reported by Common Dreams  and DeSmog UK , protesters – mostly young people – disrupted the meeting  with laughter and speeches before they walked out.  Think Progress summarizes the event and the U.S. presence at COP24 in “Anger, protests greet U.S. fossil fuels side event at U.N. climate talks”.  In contrast to the positions of the U.S. Administration, We are Still In  , the coalition of U.S. state and local governments and organizations, is presenting a full slate of presentations and panels supporting the Paris Agreement – their agenda is here .  Included under this umbrella are the positions of the U.S. business community, including the We Mean Business coalition .  Their  blog, “Why we need a Just Transition to a Low Carbon World” summarizes their report, released at COP24:  Climate and the Just Transition: The Business Case for Action   .

From an international business view,  Climate Change and the  Just Transition: An  Investor  Guide was released on December 10   by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, in partnership with the the Initiative for Responsible Investment at the Harvard Kennedy School.    The International Trade Union Confederation is also listed as a partner in this publication.  The Guide endorses the need for Just Transition and illustrates a review of academic research and reveals the viewpoints of the financial community on the value of Just Transition. The release of the report coincides with the release of a Global Investor Statement  by some of the world’s largest pension funds, asset managers and insurance companies, which calls for governments to phase out thermal coal power, put a meaningful price on carbon, and phase out fossil fuel subsidies. It’s significance is described  in The Guardian article, “Largest ever group of global investors call for more action to meet Paris targets”   .  The Investor Group Briefing Paper  includes an endorsement of the Powering past Coal Alliance, and states: “Investors encourage governments to transition to a low carbon economy in a sustainable and economically inclusive way. As stated in the Paris Agreement, this must include “the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”, by providing appropriate support for workers and communities in industries undergoing transition . Additionally, governments should work with investors to ensure that the benefits and opportunities created by acting on climate change and the increased adoption of clean energy technologies are accessible to all”.

For COP24 News  from a trade union perspective , read a blog by Philip Pearson appear in “Breaking News” at the Greener Jobs Alliance website or the  COP24 Blog by IndustriALL  .

And for another view of the “unofficial” side of COP24, check Democracy Now, which is reporting from Katowice.   “Thousands Protest at U.N. Climate Summit in Coal-Heavy Poland, Facing Riot Police & Intimidation ”   was posted on December 10,  and Amy Goodman interviewed Swedish teenager and “climate hero” Greta Thunberg  on December 11.  December 8 was officially dedicated to Youth voices , with Greta being the most publicized, but certainly not alone.  Last words to Greta and the  young people she represents:   “… we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future,” …. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge.”  And from video of a speech posted by the UNFCC , she states: “The first thing I have learned is that you’re never too small to make a difference.”greta speech cop24

Talking Just Transition in the heart of coal country: COP24 delegates gather in Katowice, Poland

cop24 just transitionRepresentatives of almost 200 nations are meeting  at the 24th annual Conference of the Parties (COP24)  in Katowice, Poland from December 3 to 17.  Their goal is to negotiate a “rulebook” to turn the Paris Agreement pledges of 2015 into reality – basically, trying to find agreement on a host of implementation details so that the world can limit warming to 2, preferably 1.5 degrees C.

Katowice coal museum

Museum to coal mining in Katowice, Poland

With Poland as the host country and the  location of the meetings in the centre of the country’s coal region, it was inevitable that Just Transition would have a high profile at COP24 . The first day of the meetings at the Polish Pavilion was devoted entirely to discussion of the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration  which has been signed by Poland’s President and heads of 44 other countries. The Declaration states that social approval of changes is essential for the transition to a  low-carbon economy and the social security of workers in affected communities is the first and foremost policy goal. Although the International Trade Union Congress is meeting for its 4th World Congress in Copenhagen in the week of December 2,  it released a statement of support for the Silesia Declaration, stating “This declaration means that workers and their unions will have a seat at the negotiating table and workers’ voices will be heard when climate policies are developed and implemented. Good social dialogue processes are a crucial factor to make the changes to industries, sectors and national economies that will stop dangerous climate change and unleash a 65 million low-carbon jobs dividend by 2030. ”

Also at the ITUC World Congress, Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff delivered a speech (radio broadcast here ) on December 5 about on how Canadian unions are dealing with climate change.  The European Trade Union Confederation is also participating in the discussion on Just Transition –notably with participation in the  December 3 session  ‘Game changer for the future of work: Towards a just transition with gender equality’ . A list of ILO sessions and events regarding Just Transition and Decent Work is here .

December 10 has been designated as “Ambition and Just Transition Day”, and on December 13, Canada and the U.K. , as co-founders of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, will co-host a Side-event  to showcase the PPCA progress and to launch a new report on global coal economics by Carbon Tracker . mapping just transition 2018Already  launched at COP24:  Just Transition: Mapping Just Transition(s) to a Low Carbon World , published by the Just Transition Research Collaborative (JTRC), part of the U.N. Research Institute on Social Development (UNRISD). It focuses on Brazil, Germany, Kenya, South Africa, the United States, and Canada – with contributions from Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.  The report discusses how differently Just Transition has been framed, and provides case studies of how it is being implemented in the six countries.

The Climate Action Network- Canada (CAN-Rac) is participating at COP24 and released a Brief which sets out five goals for the meetings, including  Just Transition goals. CAN-Rac calls for stronger institutional recognition of just transition – by  including a Just Transition commitment  in the official Nationally Determined Contribution, and by including it as a permanent theme within the COP meetings (which guarantees it status as an agenda item and as part of the official work programme). CANRac  supports the Polish Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, recognizing the need for a carefully planned process built on social dialogue.  Within the Canadian context,  the Brief calls for an ongoing mandate for the federal Just Transition Task Force and an expansion beyond coal phase-out, to include all fossil fuel sectors. Finally it states: “The contribution of Indigenous communities in the creation and implementation of just transition policies and national plans is essential.”

What will Canada do at the COP24?  The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) makes its predictions in “The End of Coal? What to Watch for at the Upcoming UN Climate Conference (COP24)” . Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna will not arrive at the meetings until December 9 ; December 10 has been declared “Ambition and Just Transition Day”, and December 13,  “Coal-free Day”. On December 13,  McKenna , along with the other co-founder, U.K.’s Claire Perry, will co-host a Powering Past Coal Side-event to showcase the PPCA progress and spotlight a new report, Powering Down Coal  by Carbon Tracker.

In advance of leaving for COP24, the Minister pledged  that Canada will set more ambitious GHG emissions targets when the Paris Agreement begins in 2020 –  which is a good thing since recently released data from the Global Carbon Project shows Canada is one of the world’s top ten polluters, and the current target of reducing emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 is generally considered insufficient (even if we were to meet it).  The 2018 Emissions Gap Report from the U.N. documents just how insufficient the efforts of all countries have been.

How to  Keep up to date with COP24:  The United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) website has comprehensive coverage including highlights, official documents, photos, and webcasts from the meetings.  The  International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) also provides detailed daily coverage, including photos, in its Earth Negotiations Bulletin  (and has also written a Short Guide to COP24  as an introduction to how it all works).  For media coverage:  Climate Home News has extensive and expert coverage of all aspects and The Guardian, as always, has strong coverage.  For the latest  developments, follow Environment and Climate Change Canada’s  Twitter feed here ;  also   #JustTransition  ; #Climate Justice ; and for a variety of views ,  #COP24Katowice .

 

Position paper committed to centrality of unions in Just Transition and green industrial policy

New Economics Foundation 2018just_transition_briefing_coverWorking Together for a Just Transition  is a brief new position paper by the U.K.’s New Economics Foundation (NEF), in association with the London Office of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung . The report was  released on November 14, to launch a new, multi-year “programme of work” on just transition. Some highlights: Low carbon industrial policy, if done well, offers “an opportunity to deliver pioneering models for wider systemic reform – power, democracy and ownership – that would perhaps be impossible without that sense of urgency.”  The report cites the Scottish Government’s  Just Transition Commission, established in September 2018, as “an exciting model” which the U.K. should follow.  Further,  “NEF and FES are strongly committed to the centrality of the union movement in delivering a stronger, fairer and more sustainable economy . We believe that unions must be actively involved in shaping a programme of green industrial strategy, retraining and shaping. Individual and collective power in the workplace is a vital means to securing other ‘good job’ characteristics, and greater ownership by employees and meaningful corporate governance are central parts of the economic rebalancing that is essential for the UK’s long-term prosperity.”

Regarding the Just Transition project as a whole,  New Economics Foundation  states: “Our interest is in the practicality of change: the policies, processes, narrative and investment needed to accelerate the UK’s progress on ​just transition’, here and now. Over the coming months and years we will be working at local and national levels to explore what is needed to build common cause and provide the right mixture of incentives and critical challenge to all parties to help unlock a new momentum for a ​just transition’ for the UK. “

Just Transition is essential to a low carbon economy. How can unions contribute?

ILO 2018 JUST TRANSITIONOn October 22, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released   Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All,  which argues for the importance of  just transition policies –  not as an “add-on”, but an integral part of the climate policy and sustainable development policy framework.  This Policy Brief, aimed at a labour union audience,  reviews the history and fundamental principles of the Just Transition concept, provides case studies which  form an impressive catalogue of how just transition has (and in some cases, hasn’t) worked around the world,  and concludes with recommendations of how trade unions and workers’ organizations can contribute to the goal of Just Transition to a low carbon economy .

The Just transition case studies are drawn from both from the global North and the global South – specifically, Alberta; Australia; Brazil; California; Chiapas State, Mexico; Europe; India; Indonesia; Phillipines, Ruhr Valley;  South Africa; and  Vietnam. They reflect interventions at the regional, country, and  sectoral level – most frequently the coal industry. In the end, the author concludes that,  while a coherent strategy with clear objectives and targets is essential, it can only work properly if supported by the main stakeholders. Cooperation of environmental and labour advocacy groups is extremely important, as is the input of Indigenous people. He further judges that “ 10-12 years seems to be a realistic framework which would also allow time to build up well-founded just transition plans.”

What can trade unions do?:  The author’s recommendations are:  Be proactive and build just transition strategies for the future; Be involved at all levels; Build coalitions; Manage labour market transitions; and Develop future-oriented innovative approaches. To help unions, the author provides information for “Capacity and network building” on page 10,  including the network and databases  provided by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW)  project : specifically, the Green Collective Agreements database     and the Education and Training materials database .

Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All   was written by Béla Galgóczi, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute and an Associate of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW)  research project.   The new report is available in English  and in French , published by the ILO Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV), which also publishes the International Journal of Labour Research.   In May 2018, the ILO Employment Policy Department issued an Employment Research Brief,  Green Growth,  Just Transition and Green Jobs: There’s a Lot we don’t know , which summarizes and links to the most recent international studies on these three topics.