On January 10, 2018, the U.K. union UNISON launched a campaign to encourage members of local government pension schemes to push for changes in the investment of their funds – specifically, to “explore alternative investment opportunities, allowing schemes to sell their shares and bonds in fossil fuels and to go carbon-free.” A key tool in this campaign: Local Government Pension Funds – Divest From Carbon Campaign: A UNISON Guide, which states: “Across the UK there are nearly 50 divestment campaigns targeting local government pension funds ….. In September this year, it was revealed that a total of £16 billion is invested in the fossil fuel industry by Local Government Pension funds.” The new Guide explains how the U.K. pension system works for local government employees, and provides case studies of existing divestment campaigns. In addition, it provides “Campaign Resources”, including a model campaign letter, a glossary of pension and investment terms, and it reproduces the Pensions and Climate Motion passed at the 2017 UNISON Delegates conference. The Guide was written by UNISON, in collaboration with ShareAction – a registered U.K. charity that promotes responsible investment practices by pension providers and fund managers.
Information about the divestment campaign, as well as information about the National Auditor’s Report re the U.K. Green Investment Bank, is included in the January-February issue of the newsletter of the Greener Jobs Alliance , a U.K. partnership of “trade unions, student organisations, campaigning groups and a policy think tank.” The Greener Jobs Alliance is part of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, which is organizing an event on March 10 in London: Jobs & Climate: Planning for a Future that Doesn’t Cost the Earth.
Facing criticism for recent policy reversals which have resulted, for example, in falling investment in clean energy in the U.K. in 2016 and 2017 , the government has recently attempted a re-set with its policy document: A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment , released on January 11. “Conservatives’ 25-year green plan: main points at a glance” (Jan. 11) in The Guardian summarizes the initiatives, which focused on reducing use of plastics (in line with a recent EU decision), encouraging wildlife habitat, and establishment of an environmental oversight body. Specifics are promised soon; the Green Alliance provides some proposals in “Here’s what Theresa May should now do to end plastic pollution” (Jan. 11). George Monbiot is one of many critics of the government policy, in his Opinion Piece.
In the lead-up to the long-term Green Future policy statement, other recent developments have included: 1. Changes to investment regulations to encourage divestment. “Boost for fossil fuel divestment as UK eases pension rules” appeared in The Guardian on December 18 , stating: “in what has been hailed as a major victory for campaigners against fossil fuels, the government is to introduce new investment regulations that will allow pension schemes to ‘mirror members’ ethical concerns’ and ‘address environmental problems.’ The rules are expected to come into force next year after a consultation period and will bring into effect recommendations made in 2014 and earlier this year by the Law Commission. ”
2. Coal Phase-out: Also, on January 4, the British government responded to a consultation report by announcing CO2 limits to coal-fired power generation. By imposing emissions limits, the government seeks to phase out coal-fired power by 2025, but still to allow flexibility for possible carbon capture operations, and for emergency back-up energy supply. The consultation report, Implementing the end of unabated coal: The government’s response to unabated coal closure consultation , capped a consultation period which began in 2015. The government’s policy response is summarized in the UNEP Climate Action newsletter here (Jan. 5).
The British Government released its Clean Growth Strategy on October 12, outlining how it intends to reduce the country’s carbon emissions by 57 percent between 2020 and 2032. The Guardian summarizes the main provisions in “Draughty homes targeted in UK climate change masterplan” – describing it as “about 50 policies supporting everything from low-carbon power and energy savings to electric vehicles and keeping food waste out of landfill.” Highlights of the plan are £3.6 billion in funds to support energy efficiency upgrades for about a million homes, and subsidies for offshore wind development. Also included: £1 billion is promised to encourage use of electric cars, £100m to fund research on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and £900 million for energy research and development, almost half of which will go to nuclear power. The controversial issue of fracking is omitted completely. For reaction and context, read “UK climate change masterplan – the grownups have finally won” in The Guardian, or the Campaign against Climate Change response, which notes that the policies will be insufficient to reduce emissions enough to stay within the UK’s carbon budgets after 2023.
The Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress reacted with this statement: “It has a bunch of targets, but lacks the level of public investment in low carbon infrastructure needed to achieve them. And there is a major blind spot towards working people who will create the clean economy.
“It doesn’t say how workers will get support to retrain if their job is under threat from the move to a low carbon economy. And it doesn’t set out how the government will work in social partnership with trade unions and business – this will be vital to a successful industrial strategy, building carbon capture and storage, and generating green growth.”
Trade Unions in the UK: Engagement with climate change is a new report, based on research conducted between September 2016 and January 2017 by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group . The report asks: what are the driving forces behind trade union engagement in climate change issues, and what are some of the barriers and difficulties for trade unions? It summarizes the results of interviews with policy officers and environmental activists from the largest 15 unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), as well as two smaller but active unions: Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). The report is also based on the results of systematic searches of the unions’ websites and relevant policy documents (with links to key documents). It reveals an overview of the diversity and context of trade union climate policy, focusing on issues such as environmental representatives, energy supply, airport expansion, fracking and divestment from fossil fuels. The report summarizes the positions on these issues, union by union, but for those who want even more detail, there is a supplementary inventory .
This first-ever report was released in August 2017, and since then, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment and the TUC adopted an historic motion for public ownership of energy at its September Congress. Also at the Fringe Meeting of the September Congress, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group presented its discussion paper ‘Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate‘. And most recently, the U.K. government at long last released its Clean Growth Strategy, to limited union approval.
According to a September 13 press release from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy : “The annual congress of the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) has passed a historic composite resolution on climate change that supports the energy sector being returned to public ownership and democratic control. The resolution—carried unanimously—calls upon the 5.7-million-member national federation to work with the Labour Party to achieve this goal, as well as to: implement a mass program for energy conservation and efficiency; lobby for the establishment of a “just transition” strategy for affected workers; and, investigate the long-term risks to pension funds from investments in fossil fuels.” The “composite resolution”, Resolution 4, along with discussion and videos of the debate are here . The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) submitted the first resolution; the final composite resolution incorporated amendments by the Communication Workers Union, Fire Brigades Union, the train drivers union ASLEF, and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association.
A previous climate change resolution had been defeated at the 2016 annual congress. What was different this time? Speakers in the debate mentioned Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the chaos of Brexit, and also Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, fresh evidence of the disasters of climate change. Trade Unions for Energy Democracy credits the influence of the Labour Party, and in advance of the vote, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn received an enthusiastic response to his speech to the Congress. The Labour Party Manifesto, For the Many, not the Few , had been released during the 2017 General Election, and highlighted the issue of energy poverty, committing to “take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control.” It further called for the creation of “publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers.” Another influential document, “Reclaiming Public Service: How cities and citizens are turning back privatization,” was published in June 2017 by the Transnational Institute, providing global case studies of “re-municipalization” of public services, including energy.
The Trades Union Congress 2017 Congress website provides videos, reports, and an archive of documents from the meetings. This blog post summarizes the General Council statement on workers’ rights and Brexit.