COP26 Diary: The Fight for a Just Transition

Published date
Wales TUC General Secretary Shavanah Taj reflects on a week at COP 26 in Glasgow and on Wales TUC's new research showing how workers can gain from the transition to Net Zero - if their voices are heard.

Sitting on the train heading back to God's own country, Wales, I'm taking a moment to reflect on what I have experienced at COP26 in Glasgow.

As a newbie to the scene, I must admit it, day one in the COP 'blue zone' on Monday was somewhat confusing. As an observer for the International Trade Union delegation, the first thing that I did was to join a union strategy meeting to discuss the political wrangling during COP’s first week.

It was clear that many countries were happy to drop the slogan 'just transition' into their press releases as a means to secure financial support, grab headlines or produce positive content for social media. But few seemed prepared to spend any political capital ensuring that a just transition was clearly embedded into their actual commitments.

As any good union negotiator will tell you, unless you are explicit in the core text of an agreement you leave yourself open to interpretation. And this can become the perfect excuse for 'get out clauses' for employers.

The devolved nations and union delegates needed to get organised and apply pressure on the UK Prime Minister to return to Glasgow. He needed to do his bit as the host for COP26 in setting an agenda for the workers and communities that will be directly impacted by the move to net zero.

Unions released a joint statement, directed at COP President Alok Sharma MP expressing how, despite repeatedly committing to a just transition, so far the UK presidency had invested little in including just transition in the negotiations.  

The good news was that a day later the PM did get back to COP and entered into a meeting with NGOs and union representatives.

I joined Richard Hardy, Prospect’s National Secretary for Scotland and Ireland, in raising issues of just transition, demanding countries bring forward improved commitments before 2023, factoring in human rights, workers’ rights, and women’s rights.

I then met with Lee Waters, Welsh Government Deputy Minister for Climate Change, and asked him to take on board the necessity for workers to be given a say on the vital decisions being taken by the Welsh Government as work continues towards net zero. We also discussed how the commitment for Wales becoming a ‘Nation of Sanctuary’ should include fighting for the rights and the voice of those workers across the globe who are closest to being forced into abandoning their homelands as a result of climate change.

I was proud to join union colleagues at the People's Summit Just Transition Hub for a number of events focussed on building worker and community power. This was an inclusive, accessible space (unlike COP itself - which wasn't disability friendly) to discuss, learn and plan for change.

I was delighted to chair a TUC panel on the Lucas Plan for Climate. We heard from Jacqueline Thomas from Community at Tata Steel in Port Talbot as well as colleagues from Rolls Royce in Glasgow and GKN Automotive in the English midlands on how workers are at the forefront of pushing for change across the manufacturing sector. And also how the map set out in the original Lucas Plan in the 1970s can still inspire progress today.

I was also invited to the launch of a transport unions report for 'A Vision for Scotland's Railways'. Scottish union leaders made a strong case for publicly owned, affordable, green, clean, accessible, safe travel for all.  Some great ideas many of which are equally relevant to Wales.

A highlight of the week was seeing my brilliant Scottish TUC sister, Roz Foyer, engage the Prime Minister, relay union demands, and take centre stage to address global leaders. Roz used her time well and emphasised the strength and power of trade unions and climate activists in working together to ensure that no worker or community is left behind.

There has been progress. Some countries like South Africa and Canada have recognised the fundamental importance of centring on a just transition. But sadly many countries like Columbia, the US, India and China continue to trail.

And despite its host status, the British Government failed to join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, launched yesterday under co-chairs Denmark and Costa Rica - with France, Ireland, Wales, Sweden, Greenland, Quebec, California and New Zealand alongside the founding members. Under the alliance, these regions have all signed up to setting a deadline on new oil and gas licensing - with plans to ban new oil and gas exploration. The alliance does not include the world’s biggest oil producers - the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Canada - or Europe’s largest producers, the UK and Norway. 

So as my time at COP26, draws to an end, I look forward now to joining partners from across Wales to set out our next steps at Wales Climate Week later this month. And ahead of this we have launched the new Wales TUC report, Negotiating the future of work: Net Zero.

Our report is aimed at our workplace reps and aims to help start the necessary conversations with employers and colleagues in order to address the big challenges that workers are facing.

We must not fall for any 'greenwashing' by employers. Union reps know their industry best. They are the experts in the future world of work. They have brilliant ideas on how their industry and workplace can deliver net zero and reduce emissions. As a union movement, we have a duty to ensure they are informed, confident and well prepared to negotiate the best outcomes for themselves and their colleagues. And, what ever the outcome from COP26 in Glasgow, supporting our reps to meet this challenge will be a top priority in the months and years to come.