Leading up to COP26: U.S. and China make important pledges; activists demand fossil-free future

As the IPCC Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow approaches on Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, international leaders are grabbing microphones, activists are lobbying, and important new reports are being released .  A chronology of some important highlights:  

On September 13, an Open Letter was delivered to the UN General Assembly, calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty. Signed by over 2000 academics and scientists from 81 countries, the Letter calls  for international cooperation on climate change and an end to new expansion of fossil fuel production in line with the best available science, and a phase-out of existing fossil fuel production of fossil fuels “in a manner that is fair and equitable”. 

On September 16, World Resources Institute and Climate Analytics released  Closing the gap: The impact of G20 climate commitments on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, which offers hope. The report argues that if G20 countries set ambitious, 1.5°C-aligned emission reduction targets for 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, then global temperature rise at the end of the century could be limited to 1.7°C.  This hinges on the fact that G20 countries account for 75% of global GHG emissions.

A new, related report from the UNFCC is far less hopeful – in fact, Greta Thunberg , as quoted in Common Dreams, states that “this is what betrayal looks like”. The Synthesis Report of Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement compiled the emissions reduction pledges of 191 countries as of July 31 2021, and evaluated and analyzed their targets and plans .  The bottom line: “The total global GHG emission level in 2030, taking into account implementation of all the latest NDCs, is expected to be 16.3 per cent above the 2010 level.”  Such a course would lead to a “catastrophic” increase in average temperatures by 2.7 degrees C. by the end of the century. While Argentina, Canada, the European Union, United Kingdom and United States strengthened their 2030 emission reduction targets (compared to the NDCs they submitted five years ago),  China, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have yet to submit their updated NDCs. The latter countries are responsible for 33% of global greenhouse gases.

On September 18, the EU and U.S. launched a Global Methane Pledge, promising to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 – which is a step in the right direction, but fails to meet the target of 45% reduction in this decade , as called for by the UNEP in its Global Methane Assessment Report released in May 2021.  However, according to Inside Climate News, “Global Methane Pledge Offers Hope on Climate in Lead Up to Glasgow “, and The Conversation U.S. describes “Biden urges countries to slash methane emissions 30% – here’s why it’s crucial for protecting climate and health, and how it can pay for itself”  ( Sept. 17). It remains to be seen if Canada will join the eight countries already signed on to the new Methane Pledge; in Canada, the existing regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry  target a reduction by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025. The Liberal election platform pledged to “Require oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions by at least 75% below 2012 levels by 2030 and work to reduce methane emissions across the broader economy.”  (More Canadian context appears in The Energy Mix,  and from the WCR here, which explains the federal-provincial equivalency agreement re methane regulations.

The opening of UN General Assembly on September 20, began with a fiery speech by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres about global inequality, saying that the world is “sleepwalking”  to climate change disaster and pleading yet again for urgent action and  international cooperation.  Discussions around Covid-19, racism, and climate change are creating the “sombre mood” of the meetings . Yet speeches by U.S. president Biden and China’s Xi Jinping offer hope for climate change actions:

On September 21, US president Biden’s address to the General Assembly included a pledge that the US will become the world’s leading provider of climate finance, promising to double U.S. aid to $11bn by 2024.  Some reaction to the pledge was sceptical, given that the $100 billion in aid already pledged by developed countries has not been achieved. Canada is one of the worst offenders, with an average contribution only 17% of its fair share in 2017 and 2018, according to  “Climate Finance Faces $75-Billion Gap as COP 26 Looms 1,000 Hours Away” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 21).

Also on September 21, China’s leader Xi Jinping announced to the United Nations General Assembly that China “will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.”  The impact, as explained here by the New York Times, can be huge, given that  “China built more than three times more new coal power capacity than all other countries in the world combined” last year. “‘Betting on a low-carbon future’: why China is ending foreign coal investment” (The Guardian, Sept. 22) highlights two important points: 1. the announcement signals that China is serious about climate action even though it hasn’t confirmed attendance at COP26, and 2. Real climate progress lies in reduction of China’s domestic coal production, which is 10 times higher than foreign production according to the report in Germany’s DW . So far, China has not specified plans re domestic production, nor re the timing of its commitment to end coal financing.

On September 22, a statement by over 200 civil society organizations from around the world called on progressive governments and public finance institutions to launch a joint commitment to end public finance for fossil fuels at COP26.  According to the spokesperson for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said: “While a growing number of governments are turning away from coal and oil, international financial institutions are still providing four times as much funding for gas projects as for wind or solar.”  The full statement and list of signatories is here and includes 28 Canadian organizations – including the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and the Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ).

#Wemaketomorrow is an activist campaign coordinated by the Trade Union Caucus of the COP26 Coalition. Planning and actions for COP26 are already underway at https://www.wemaketomorrow.org/ . The main COP26 Coalition website organizes The People’s Summit, “a global convergence space for movements, campaigns and civil society”, which this year, because of Covid-19, will feature in-person and virtual events.

More to come!

Canadian press coverage of pipelines lacks workers’ voices

ccpa-bc_jobsvsenvironment whose voices are missingJobs vs the Environment? Mainstream and alternative media coverage of pipeline controversies  examines how the press—classified into corporate and alternative outlets —treats the relationship between jobs and the environment, and how frequent and influential are the voices of workers and labour unions. The report uses two sophisticated methods of communications analysis – content analysis and critical discourse analysis – to examine two samples:  The first sample comprises 129 articles about Canadian pipeline projects from the Vancouver Sun, the Edmonton Journal  and the Toronto  Globe and Mail  representing corporate media; articles from Ricochet, The Tyee, and the National Observer  represent alternative media.  The second examination was slightly different, made up of 170 articles about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion which appeared in the Vancouver Sun and two commuter tabloids in Vancouver, and including Rabble.ca  to the previously examined alternative sources of  Ricochet, The Tyee, and National Observer.

The analysis is detailed and makes many interesting observations. Briefly, the authors conclude from these samples that both  mainstream and alternative media frequently reinforce the assumption that there is a trade-off between environmental protection and job creation. Though alternative media are more critical  of pipeline projects and provide more of the  perspectives of Indigenous people and environmentalists, the authors conclude that  “neither corporate nor alternative media gave much voice to the perspectives of workers and their unions.” And  “while job creation is often touted as a rationale for pipeline projects, the actual workers and their unions—the presumed beneficiaries of fossil fuel expansion—appear to be largely missing from news reportage.”

To sum up, they write that : “… alternative media provide analyses and sources that help counterbalance the apparent extractivist orientation of the corporate press. They make a valuable contribution to well-rounded public discussion and offer perspectives on energy, climate and economic policies that are evidently under-represented in the corporate press.

The authors briefly discuss the labour press – mentioning Rank and File.ca  specifically, and see a role for the labour media in the climate and energy debate. They state: “….. labour’s voice in the media system is muted. There are many reasons why a movement for a just transition has not gained greater traction. Governments have not sufficiently committed to retraining and other supportive measures, and thus there are few working examples for just transition advocates to highlight. But part of the problem lies in the lack of public arenas for exploring the common ground between workers and environmentalists regarding a low-carbon economy. Engaging the public imagination about such a necessary transition would be a valuable goal for corporate and alternative media, as well as media produced by the labour movement itself.”

The authors are Robert A. Hackett, a professor emeritus, and  Philippa R. Adams, a PhD student, both from the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.  The publisher is the Corporate Mapping Project, a research and public engagement initiative investigating the power of the fossil fuel industry,  jointly led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ BC and Saskatchewan Offices and the Parkland Institute.

How are U.S. Unions Working Toward a Climate-Safe Economy for All Workers?

Joe Uehlein, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), has written A Climate Protection Guide to Organized Labor, which summarizes the issues and arguments regarding the role of U.S. labour in the fight against climate change. Joe’s essay also introduces the Labor Landscape Analysis, a “set of tools” compiled by the LNS and consisting of several units. For climate activists not familiar with the labour movement, The Labor-Climate Landscape: A Guided Tour for Worker- and Climate-Protection Advocates explains decision-making in labour unions, relationships in the movement, and the climate change policies of 42 U.S. unions, as well as the role of more than 800 local, regional and national labour leaders. It updates and expands on Labor and Climate Change: A Briefing Paper for Activists (2010). In his introductory essay, Joe Uhelein states: “The threat of global warming requires a different concept of solidarity, one which recognizes the common interest of all workers in climate protection. That concept gives all unions a legitimate role in shaping labor’s climate policy. But it also gives them an obligation to protect the livelihoods and well-being of any workers who might be adversely affected by climate protection policies through a just transition to a climate-safe economy”.

 

New Evidence About the Climate Impacts of Methane Leaks Sparks a Union Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

The January 28 meeting of the Global Advisory Group of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy considered a  draft paper concerning fracking. The paper, prepared by the Cornell Global Labor Institute states, “This paper has been prepared to assist unions and their close allies who wish to better understand the impacts of shale gas drilling, or ‘fracking’, and want to develop a position or approach to fracking that protects workers, communities and the environment…” It is an extensive review of the core issues driving anti-fracking activism, and the current  activities of social movement  groups and unions (chiefly in the U.S. and Canada, but also in Europe and Argentina). It highlights the pro-fracking position of the AFL-CIO Building Trades union in the U.S. and the anti-fracking statements of Canada’s Unifor and CUPE. About Unifor and CUPE, the paper states: “their perspective on fracking combines a social movement approach that prioritizes solidarity with other movements but it is also grounded in a pragmatic approach to Canadian energy policy involving the use of their natural resources in ways that are responsible and beneficial for the Canadian economy as a whole”.

In a separate document, the Trades Union Congress of the U.K. reiterated its 2012 position in its February 13, 2014 presentation to an Inquiry of the House of Lords into shale gas. It encapsulates two competing interests of trade unions on the issue: the TUC “… wishes to focus on two issues of concern…the need for reliable forecasts of economic and employment benefits; and setting the highest standards for occupational health and safety at work”. It follows up on the TUC policy statement which is based on the precautionary principle and effectively calls for a moratorium on fracking.

Although water consumption and contamination were the initial concerns of anti-fracking activism, the TUED paper states that recent scientific research reveals that methane (the major component of natural gas) is “34 times stronger as a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale, and 86 times more powerful over a 20-year time frame”. Reinforcing the TUED summary, a new paper published in Science in February analyzed more than 200 technical publications examining methane leakage in the natural gas industry, and by expanding the focus to include the production and delivery stages, the authors conclude that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is underestimating the amount of methane emitted in the United States by about 50 percent.

The TUED draft paper argues that natural gas can no longer be promoted as a “bridging” fuel towards a lower carbon energy system, and it is no longer appropriate for the fight against shale gas production to be led by local groups at the level of local government. The paper calls for a “global conference sponsored by one or more global trade union bodies”, [to] “work towards a common trade union approach, with the ‘precautionary principle’ as a point of departure”. The paper concludes by proposing a draft resolution for a global moratorium.

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LINKS

Global Shale Gas and the Anti-Fracking Movement: Developing Union Perspectives and Approaches is available from the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy website from a link at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/professor-robert-w-howarths-presentation-for-trade-unions-for-energy-democracy/
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An additional summary of scientific research on methane leakage in natural gas and fracking is at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/professor-robert-w-howarths-presentation-for-trade-unions-for-energy-democracy/

TUC press release regarding the House of Lords Inquiry into Shale Gas is at: http://www.tuc.org.uk/node/119642

“Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems” by Brandt et al. in Science (Feb. 14, 2014) is available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6172/733.summary?sid=7f1c6729-6268-488d-9c49-88bdd0b553a1, or summarized in “Study Finds Methane Leaks Negate Benefits of Natural Gas as a Fuel for Vehicles”, (New York Times, Feb. 14) at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/us/study-finds-methane-leaks-negate-climate-benefits-of-natural-gas.html?_r=1

For those involved in community-level action in Canada, see the February publication by the Council of Canadians, The Fractivist’s Toolkit, at: http://www.canadians.org/publications/fractivists-toolkit

International Meeting Addresses the Role of Labour in Reducing Climate Change

Labour, Climate Change, and Social Struggle was the theme of the international conference in Toronto from November 29 to December 1, organized and hosted by the Work in a Warming World project at York University. The presentations at the 3-day event reflected the participants: trade unionists, academics, and representatives of social justice organizations from Canada, U.S. U.K., EU, Sweden, India, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Asia. Keynote addresses made by David Miller, former Mayor of Toronto and now CEO and President of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, and Philip Jennings, General Secretary of UNI Global Union, the international union federation which includes 20 million members. The plenary speakers were Hassan Yussuff, Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress and Chris Tollefson, Professor and Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre in Victoria, British Columbia. Other union speakers and panellists included representatives from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Public Service Alliance of Canada, British Columbia Federation of Labour, and the Labour Network for Sustainability (U.S.).

Speakers and workshops throughout the conference reflected a healthy balance and respect for both academic research and practical experience in striving for a worker-led strategic response to climate change. A broad range of topics were covered – to name a few: the role of worker capital and pensions funds, greening the built environment, the energy sector, power relationships between the global south and north, the emerging model of climate change law, gender and climate change, and greening the healthcare sector. A constant theme throughout the conference was the crucial leadership role that organized labour can play in the struggle for a sustainable, just economy, and the need for understanding and relationship-building with allies in the environmental movement.

A strategy meeting in Toronto in November brought together just such a gathering of like-minded union and environmental groups of the Green Economy Network: participants included the Council of Canadians, the Polaris Institute, the Climate Action Network, KAIROS, and unions including the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Unifor and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).

LINK 

Labour, Climate Change, and Social Struggle (W3 international conference):  full list of speakers and topics is now available at: http://www.workinawarmingworld.yorku.ca/w3conference/program/program-details/; Papers will be available online in 2014.

Activists Rally around Green Jobs press release (summarizing the Green Economy Network Strategy Meeting) is at the CUPE website at: http://cupe.ca/green-jobs/Rally-green-jobs

U.K. Trades Union Congress Holds its Climate Change Conference

Over 200 delegates took part in the TUC’s climate change conference, Green Growth: No Turning Back, on 21 October 2013. Videos of speeches and workshops are available at:   http://www.tuc.org.uk/node/118958.

Unifor Founding Convention Hears a Call for a Green Labour Revolution

Canada’s newest and biggest private sector union, Unifor, held its founding convention on August 31 and September 1, making official the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) and the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union (CEP). These two unions together represent approximately 300,000 workers, in almost all sectors of the economy, including auto and aerospace manufacturing, rail, energy, communications, forestry, fisheries, and mining – sectors which are on the front lines of climate change.

In her speech to the convention, Naomi Klein stated that the labour movement is needed to take the lead in the fight against climate change – environmentalists and political parties cannot do it alone. In outlining her own “genuine climate action plan”, she called for a democratically-controlled energy system and massive investment in public infrastructure. “I am not suggesting some half-assed token ‘green jobs’ program. This is a green labour revolution I’m talking about. An epic vision of healing our country from the ravages of the last 30 years of neoliberalism and healing the planet in the process.”… “Climate change – when its full economic and moral implications are understood – is the most powerful weapon progressives have ever had in the fight for equality and social justice.”

Environmental goals figure in some of the important official documents of the new union. Note Article 2.10 of the new Unifor Consitution: “Our goal is transformative. To reassert common interest over private interest. Our goal is to change our workplaces and our world. Our vision is compelling. It is to fundamentally change the economy, with equality and social justice, restore and strengthen our democracy and achieve an environmentally sustainable future. This is the basis of social unionism -a strong and progressive union culture and a commitment to work in common cause with other progressives in Canada and around the world.”

The Unifor Vision and Plan document strikes a more pragmatic note. The union promises to oppose the export of raw bitumen and the construction of massive pipelines, advocating for more “made in Canada” inputs and processing. It pledges to work with environmental allies to advocate for a Canadian energy policy which reduces GHG emissions, ensures a sustainable development of the oil sands and promotes value-added jobs in upgrading and refining petroleum products.

LINKS

Why Unions Need to Join the Climate Fight, Naomi Klein’s speech is at her website at: http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2013/09/why-unions-need-join-climate-fight

Unifor website is at: http://www.unifor.org/en (English) and http://www.unifor.org/fr (French), including the Constitution at:http://www.unifor.org/en/about-unifor/constitution  (English version) and http://www.unifor.org/fr/a-propos-unifor/statuts (French version).

A New Union for a Challenging World: Unifor’s Vision and Plan is available at: the convention website at: http://www.newunionconvention.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/682-New-Union-Vision-web-ENG.pdf (English version) and http://www.nouveausyndicatendirect.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/682-New-Union-Vision-FR-web.pdf (French version).