The 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 Union, Friends of the Earth Europe, transform! 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”.
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.”