International Climate Change Text: The Struggle for Just Transition

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International Climate Change Text: The Struggle for Just Transition

1 December 2010

'It begins by protesting the cancellation of NGO interventions in the opening plenary yesterday..... the struggle to keep definite space for civil society engagement was unsettling enough. But this was doubly so when word about the disappearance of just transition from the negotiation texts got confirmed.'

Kingsley Ofei Nkansah, General Secretary of General Secretary of the General Agricultural Workers Union in Ghana

12 December 2010

'Cheering in the Cancun conference hall, not least from the union delegation, as the UN reached an agreement on climate change in the small hours of Saturday 11 December. For trade unions, the UN's Shared Vision for long-term co-operative action recognises the importance of:

'Promoting a just transition of the workforce, the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities and strategies and contributing to building new capacity for both production and service-related jobs in all sectors, promoting economic growth and sustainable development.'

Strong text, too, on stakeholder engagement. Music to our ears. After two weeks of intense, round-the-clock lobbying of governments in Cancun, our emails whizzing round the globe this weekend spoke of joy and solidarity.'

Philip Pearson, TUC Senior Policy Officer blogging on the TUC Touchstone blog

Group protesting against climate change

(copyright TUCA)

Three TUC delegates and three trade unionists from TUC sponsored trade union project partners, from Bangladesh, Ghana and Sierra Leone, made up part of a 179 strong International Trade Union Confederation delegation to the UNFCCC climate change talks in Cancun from 1- 12 December 2010. The delegation also included Unison-supported representatives from South Africa and Korea.

The outcome of the talks where a number of decisions on limiting global temperature rises, cutting CO2 emissions, climate finance, low carbon technology and deforestation were adopted and where the UN finally regained its leadership position are well documented by the TUC and the ITUC.

However, from a trade union perspective, the talks were something of a roller coaster ride whereby the opening position seemed neo-liberal by maintaining language in support of 'market mechanisms' to tackle climate change and deleting hard fought for core union demands a year earlier in Copenhagen of decent work and a 'just transition'. The UN had initially argued that it needed to 'focus' their decisions and therefore leave aside language relating to social issues or other principles.

The ITUC delegation was anticipating broadening its lobbying strategy to cover the major themes that will feature in the new climate treaty - CO2 reduction commitments, climate finance, technology transfer to the South and other issues. But given the initial disappointment over the just transition (JT) language, embarked on an intensive period of lobbying primarily on the decent work/JT agenda ensued. Below is an account taken from the diaries of the TUC's project partners and its Senior Policy Officer with responsibility for climate change of what happened.

1 December

'The news of the disappearance of 'Just Transition' from the Shared Vision Document which we'd all lobbied hard to get the parties to agree to at the COP-15 greeted me when I arrived in Cancun on 1 December. However it provided a signal to the trade union delegation to get involved in extensive lobbying actions with different governments to obtain their official support to get the just Transition text back in the Shared Vision document again......

Repon Chowdhury, Executive Director, Bangladesh Occupational, Safety, Health and Environment Foundation

2 December

Repon continues

The initial position and reaction from the end of head of the delegation of Bangladesh (Dr. Mihir Kanti Majumder, Secretary Ministry of Environment) at Cancun was very much welcoming.

Prior to come in COP-16, Dr. Mihir attended in the opening session of a National TOT Course on 'Trade Union and Climate Change' held in Dhaka on October 2010 organised by the TUC/OSHE/Sustainlabour Project. So, he was quite aware what we are doing on Labour and CC issues in Bangladesh and also aware that, I would attend the COP-16 from Bangladesh as part of the TU delegation.'

29 November

For Max Conteh, Head of Education at the Sierra Leone Labour Congress his contact with Government was surprising:

'It was my first experience participating at such a conference of big stakeholders gather to discuss an issue that determines human survival issues. Because tackling Climate Change has been a new issue for the Sierra Leone Labour Congress my participation feels geared towards learning and understanding the deliberations of the conference. I had not met with the Sierra Leone Government on this issue before and I didn't actually meet face to face with the head of delegation at the talks either. Instead, after a Nigerian trade unionist I had met, met him at an event, we managed to make contact over the telephone and I was given assurance that they would support the workers position. After that, he called me every morning by telephone and we swapped news. It was heartening, if unusual not to meet but when we return home I will make sure we do'.

African trade union grouping, include Max Conteh discuss lobby tactics

(copyright Bob Haugh)

Max Conteh (back, far left) takes part in an African trade union group meeting

4 December

Today saw the first workshop of the International Climate Change Project (ICCP) which is an informal North-South network within the ITUC 'family' to exchange views and experiences on climate change. Participants included TUC-UK, Unison, LO Norway, the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, Ghana TUC, Bangladesh's OSHE, Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers' Unions, the South African Municipal Workers' Association, Canada's National Union of Public and General Employees and Sustain Labour.

The ICCP aims to assist in the exchange of experiences and inter-union and national trade union centre learning as participants seek to operationalise Just Transition in their own country and to provide a network for North South dialogue on key climate change issues, such as climate finance and technology transfer. In seeking to meet these aims, the project will endeavour to provide resources to enable participants and their union organisations to build in-country capacity to be advocates for just transition, support the formation of alliances with other civil society organisations and where appropriate, provide education and training opportunities in partnership with Sustain Labour.

7 December

Half way through Kingsley finally gets a meeting with his government:

'My own efforts to locate officials from Ghana took a considerable toll but as Philip from the TUC had intoned, sometimes it takes three hours of searching to get three minutes of a lobbying meeting. Difficult as it was after the first four days the lobby meetings turned out to be useful and warm meetings. This was helped by the Ghana TUC/TUC project which enabled the Ghana TUC to organise a two day workshop on trade unions and climate change where the principle resource person had been the leading technical expert in the Ghana delegation. As well as the follow up letters and press release on the even of the COP16. All these had been made possible as a result of the British TUC supported project on Climate Change which was only half way through implementation.'

That same day, at the UNFCCC High Level Segment, Sharan Burrow ITUC General Secretary on behalf of workers worldwide challenged governments to do better:

'The world's trade unions support strong and urgent climate action. Our governments hold the fate of the planet and the green economy jobs of the future in their hands. Here, today, we call on those governments to lift expectations and take home a result. Governments know the urgency. Millions of workers and their families face destruction of their lands and livelihoods from extreme weather events and some 220 million are unemployed and desperate for a secure green job. Yet it seems to us that governments remain timid in the wake of their failure at Copenhagen. The sense of urgency with the courage to act in solidarity is not on display.'

Sharan Burrow's and Kumi Naidoo share a platform

(copyright Lisa Bauch)

Sharan Burrow speaking at an ITUC side event with Kumi Naidoo, Head of Greenpeace International

8 December

In his blog, Philip sets the tone of the final days:

'A call to arms today, as we seem to be approaching the last few hours before the UN goes into a closed session to agree the basis of a statement from the conference. The lack of transparency is deeply worrying. We have not been able to identify a single government, reason or meeting objecting to the union's position. Is this therefore a UN-led blocking move?.... A new version of the Shared Vision text was issued on 7th December which does bring back elements of the original vision.... But principles of Just Transition and Decent Work are surprisingly omitted. This is despite what we understand to have been the EUs support for this text to be reinstated..... Environment Secretary Chris Huhne commented at the TUC's national climate change conference on 11 October 2010 in London that, 'we can only achieve the transition if we work in partnership. Unions and business each had a stake in this agenda'. These words need action in Cancun.

10 December

As Just Transition continues to fail to be inserted into the text, Kingsley shared his thoughts in an email to Gemma Freedman, Programme Officer at the TUC responsible for the TUC/GTUC project:

'As I walk around the Azteca building of the moon palace here in Cancun, I see disappointment all around; I feel a sense of frustration, a sense of despondency and wonder where we go from here and how we proceed to a destination set for Durban in South Africa, end of next year.... the good news is that there is strength around to tap into; from the ranks of the trade unions are a great deal of passionate determined people who also know how to laugh like nobody's business - and that is without Tequila.'

At the eleventh hour, the UN revised its stance. A new text on its 'Shared Vision' reinstated the necessary commitments on just transition, decent work, stakeholder engagement and human rights the TUC, its project partners in Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Ghana, as well as the whole Global Union Family has been campaigning for.

Much remains to be done to secure a legally binding agreement in by the time the UN reconvenes in Durban, South Africa, in December 2012. The Cancun agreement was good for the UN in re-establishing its authority, but leaves much to be done in the year ahead. It does not include legally binding emissions reduction commitments for developed nations and differences remain over the extent to which a successor to the Kyoto Protocol should resemble that agreement's distinction between developing and developed world commitments. Differences also remain over the Green Climate Fund. In the initial phases the World Bank is set to be a trustee. Developing nations aren't keen, as they see the bank as a tool of western foreign policy . During 2011, the ITUC will need to remain vigilant on the core labour and human rights demands, while definitely seeking to widen its lobbying efforts on a much wider agenda, including national CO2 targets and climate finance, including innovations such as the Transaction Tax to help ensure the banks pay their fair share towards climate change funding. And the TUC will continue to work in support of capacity building efforts among ITUC delegates from the South, notably from Africa, in the build up to the UN's conference in Durban in December 2011.

However, as Repon shows, in between the Cancun and Durban talks, trade unionists around the world, will continue their lobbying efforts at a national level:

'During my last meeting with the Bangladesh Head of Delegation, I conveyed a message to the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment that the trade unions and labour NGOs in Bangladesh will continue to engage interactions with his Ministry and that we expect the government to reconfirm their commitment to Just Transition, Decent Work and Green Jobs by taking immediate action to amend the 2009 Bangladesh Climate change Strategy and Action plan accordingly.'

Gemma Freedman

TUC Programme Officer

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