GreenWorkplaces News - December 2014
Wishing you a “sustainable Christmas”
Prospect’s Christmas briefing here for green reps is a light hearted look at Christmas through a sustainability lens.....and with a fair amount of poetic licence.
It’s full of useful advice on reducing seasonal waste and energy consumption associated.
The threat of TTIP – the controversial trade deal
The EU and US are currently negotiating a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – a trade agreement widely promoted as the biggest bilateral free trade agreement in history.
But TTIP could give unprecedented power and influence to transnational corporations and risks undermining vital pillars of European social, health and environmental protection - regulations which industry argues are simply barriers to trade. TTIP also poses a threat to the ability of national governments to regulate in the public interest.
Thanks to policy officers from Prospect, PCS and UNISON for contributions to the following briefing:
TTIP – concerns and a call for action
Prospect’s TTIP briefing argued that across the EU there are very strong opinions for and against the deal. Business and industry groups believe TTIP will be a game changer for the positive. Others believe the agreement will remove all barriers that protect employee’s rights to defend themselves including removal of rights to workplace representation.
But with the recent Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement signed in September between the EU and Canada, and with civil society awareness and mobilisation on the subject, anxiety is growing about TTIP and its implications for labour standards, deregulation and the environment.
The European Environment Bureau has identified the follow concerns:
Climate and energy policies
At a time when Europe is struggling to find the political will to tackle climate change, a number of provisions negotiated under TTIP threaten existing policies and the ability to develop new ones.
Examples of ‘trade barriers’ listed by negotiators and industry groups pushing for the deal include:
Chemical policies – REACH under threat
The EU’s chemical policy of Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) has been fiercely debated and is seen by the US chemical industry as the largest trade barrier for US chemical manufacturing. The Health & Safety Executive have produced an excellent factsheet on the chemicals policy.
Two presentations relating to chemicals and the environment in relation to TTIP are available at Prospect’s on-line library.
Agriculture and food safety
A report by the American Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy which works locally and globally to ensure fair and sustainable food, farming and trade systems says it all - 10 reasons T-TIP is bad for good food and farming
Agribusiness in both the US and the EU is pushing to rollback regulations that limit their profits at the expense of food safety and the welfare of farmers, ranchers, consumers and animal welfare.
And then the bees!
The die-off of bees and other pollinators poses an enormous threat to our food and agriculture system and environment. A growing body of scientific evidence points to neonicotinoids (“neonics”), a class of systemic pesticides, as a primary cause of the massive decline of bees.
Last year, the EU imposed a moratorium on certain neonics, and a broader review of harmful pesticides is underway. In the US, environmental and agriculture organisations are pushing for a ban on neonics. But this progress could be undermined by T-TIP as it harmonises standards down to the lowest level.
Threat to “Precautionary Principle”
Crucially, negotiations also threaten the EU’s use of the Precautionary Principle, which strengthens our ability to protect public health and the environment when there is scientific uncertainty.
The principle “implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result”.
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
A key element of the TTIP is the introduction of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). ISDS procedures create a special status for foreign investors, and disadvantage everyone else. They have been inserted in trade agreements to protect foreign investments from totalitarian or failing regimes lacking the rule of law.
The American union, AFLCIO, describes them as giving “foreign investors in the U.S. (and U.S. investors operating in foreign countries) the opportunity to skip traditional methods of complaining about laws and regulations they don’t like, and sue nations directly in private arbitration tribunals made up of for-profit arbitrators rather than full-time judges.”
TTIP, through an ISDS mechanism, would allow corporations to sue sovereign states, elected governments and other authorities legislating in the public interest where this limits their ability to maximise their profits. Egypt has been sued by Veolia for raising the minimum wage, Germany is in court for abandoning nuclear power, and Canada has been challenged by US pharmaceutical giants for restricting the use of high price drugs.
TUC Congress 2014 opposes TTIP
Some commentators argue that TTIP will boost jobs but the TUC is sceptical of this. In September, TUC Congress resolved that the trade union movement should call for the TTIP negotiations to be halted and for the union movement to adopt a clear position of outright opposition to TTIP and other trade agreements currently being negotiated.
Congress called for progress to be monitored, for the promotion of decent jobs and growth and for the safeguarding of labour, consumer, environmental and health and safety standards through lobbying, campaigning and negotiating.
All pending and future trade agreements entered into by the EU should be subject to a vigorous and transparent regime of scrutiny and consultation, ensuring that they are of benefit and acceptable to the millions of people affected by their content. You can’t assume that what is good for trade and business is good for everyone, the full impacts on society and the environment must be taken into account.
Take action against TTIP
The movement against TTIP is building in the UK and abroad. There are plenty of organisations, unions and civil society movements active in the fight to prevent this corporate tidal wave. You can join this growing movement and take action in a number of ways:
TTIP Day of action 18 April 2015
An international day of action against TTIP and other trade agreements has been called for 18 April next year. Get ready and watch this space for more information on how to get involved.
Resources: find out more
Be informed, keep up to date and be ready to take action at the following sites:
UCU sets new record for reps network
UCU have smashed their own target for increasing the number of environment reps in the union. At its annual congress in May, UCU set a target of increasing the number of green reps in their ranks by 10%. Five months down the line, and the unins has doubled that target – increasing environment rep density by 20%.
“We still have a way to go before we get to one rep in every branch but this trend shows the level of interest in making this a core union issue” said Graham Peterson, UCU Environment Co-ordinator.
Sharing green skills in Dorchester
by Keith Hatch, South-West Unionlearn
This autumn, Dorset’s county town, Dorchester, was buzzing with over 40 different free learning sessions as the “Try This” community skills share festival entered its second year. It is fast becoming a regular fixture on the county calendar and green skills and health and well-being featured heavily among the sessions on offer.
The idea was the brainchild of local student Hettie Burn, and she roped together a group of organisations including unionlearn, West Dorset District Council (WDDC) and Dorset Community Action to put on a full program of activities. These ranged from morris dancing to energy saving, and from bike maintenance and recycling to bee keeping.
Last year, unionlearn’s Keith Hatch sat on the events steering group. This year, unionlearn increased its involvement and sponsored the event to help even more learning opportunities to take place. Unionlearn also used its links with unions and providers to set up a number of sessions – including a ULR from the Royal College of Midwives running a “tie-dye” activity to recycle old clothes, and a UNISON rep organising an energy saving at work session.
Two more sessions focused on encouraging people to leave the car behind and cycle while others promoted walking for health and fitness. Those who wanted to try out the “good life” were well catered for with introductions to keeping bees and chickens, as well as growing your own food.
All the sessions were free, with many full and waiting lists for the most popular. Emma Scott, community development officer with WDDC said “I am really happy to be involved in this project again. Last year we ran 36 activities during the week on subjects as diverse as ‘how to start researching your family history’ to ‘a beginner’s guide to poultry keeping’, with over 250 bookings taking place”.
This year’s event was even bigger with over 500 attendees booking in advance for 42 sessions. The feedback has been really positive and local unions have already expressed an interest in increasing their involvement next year.
Many people started by trying an activity and ended up taking it on as a hobby, joining existing projects such as Transition Town Dorchester.
Keith said: “unionlearn is there to support workplace and community learning, and “Try This” is a brilliant initiative. It brings together people with skills, offering them an opportunity to share their knowledge with people across Dorchester.”
“The week itself was amazing and we were happy to support it and promote it to workplaces across the county town, as well as encourage union members to run their own sessions. With money tight at the moment, learning skills that allow people to grow their own food, recycle clothes to give them a new lease of life or improve computer skills to get the best deal on their bills by switching is more important than ever.”
TUC: Can we ever build a green economy? Conference report
The TUC’s national climate conference (6th November 2014) focussed on taking international and national action to address climate change.
Frances O’Grady: a just transition for working people
The TUC General Secretary, called for a legally binding 50% reduction in carbon emissions for 2030 “no ifs, no buts, no opt outs”.
Climate change “cannot be left to the market alone,” and that any transition to a low-carbon economy must be done with working people – not to them. Involving union green reps in changes to working life remains central to the union movement’s vision of a “Just transition” to a green economy.
Britain as a green world leader
If Britain is to become a world leader in low-carbon technologies of the future, three demands must be met:
“Unburnable carbon” - facts and action
Sir David King, Special Representative for Climate Change, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, spoke on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the actions urgently required to reduce energy use and make energy use clean.
King gave an overview of the latest IPCC report, leaving delegates in no doubt of the urgency of building the new green economy.
So far, we have burned half of our “useable” CO2 budget – the amount we can burn before we face disastrous climate change (more than a 2°C rise in average global temperature). If we continue with “business as usual” we will have burned all our CO2 budget by 2040. Time is running out. We have less than thirty years to act and break our dependency on fossil fuels.
But to kick fossil fuels into touch, King stated that “one thing would be enough to make this happen: if clean energy became less costly to produce than energy based on coal, oil or gas”. A shift to renewables would create work, less dependence on imports and tackle climate change. But this would require a major focus from scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.
King is calling for a new “Global Apollo Programme”. The programme would propose:
King also recognised the impact of the trade union movement on the campaign to tackle climate change calling for closer working between governments, civil society and business. King commented that the people’s Climate March in New York last September had put climate on the front pages: “civil society, including the trade union movement, was a critical part of taking this forward”.
Other speakers included:
The event was chaired by Sue Ferns, Director of Research & Communications at Prospect and TUC General Council lead on climate change and the environment.
Workshops also launched two expert essays:
To make sure you don’t miss any future TUC climate events and workshops, be sure to sign up to the bi-monthly GreenWorkplaces Newsletter
Two new courses for green reps in the south west
by Keith Hatch, South-West Unionlearn
With the European Green Capital setting up base in Bristol for 2015, it’s an ideal time to encourage new green reps in workplaces across the region. With this in mind, South West TUC Education and Weston College have programmed two of the highly successful “Trade Unions and the Environment” courses for the New Year.
Trade union representatives have a critical role to play in changing employer attitudes towards ‘greening’ the workplace and campaigning for a safer, healthier working and living environment.
Reps are achieving energy savings and huge cost benefits for their employers. Small steps, such as recycling paper or turning off lights, can make an enormous difference. Raising awareness and educating members will give everyone a better understanding of environmental issues.
Union support officer Keith Hatch said: “These courses will be held in Bristol and Yeovil and are perfect for new green reps, shop stewards or health and safety reps with an interest in the green agenda at work. They also suit green reps that have been in post for a while, but never had an opportunity to attend a training course”.
“They also offer an ideal opportunity to engage with members at work who are interested in greening the workplace, and hadn’t realised that unions have been leading the way on environmental issues at work.”
The “Trade Unions and the Environment” course will help union reps to:
• identify environmental changes affecting the workplace
• research and identify appropriate environmental legislation, policies and information
• identify environmental problems and opportunities for trade union action.
The courses start in late January and anyone interested can find out more information by contacting Weston College on 01934 411 774 or [email protected]
For any reps or members interested in getting more involved in environmental issues at work or interested in setting up learning opportunities for colleagues please contact Keith at [email protected] .
UCU is supporting a new initiative launched by the National Union of Students aimed at embedding sustainability into tertiary education across the UK.
UCU will be involved in piloting the ‘Responsible Futures’ accreditation mark for a whole institution approach to environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
It aims to put staff and student engagement at the heart of the process and is being trialled in seven universities and five colleges. If successful, it will be available to all institutions in 2015-16.
‘Responsible Futures’ will provide the framework of 50 criteria through which institutions can embed sustainability into their courses and be measured against over time.
The NUS hopes that the “result will be a robust and respected accreditation mark which demonstrates commitment to a responsible future, creating graduates which are part of the solution to our current social, environmental and economic problems”.
Lessons from Lima: Unions must influence country commitments
by Philip Pearson, TUC
In solidarity and shared purpose, the international trade union delegation and its Peruvian hosts worked their socks off inside the Lima climate conference. Outside it, the Peoples Summit enriched the city centre, and 20,000 marched on the UN for climate justice. But the UN climate conference largely turned its back on civil society, with governments failing not only to agree a climate deal on our behalf that was worthy of its name, but ensuring that in the so-called Lima Call for Climate Action “civil society” gets barely a mention.
So, with massive ground to make up before the ultimate UN conference in Paris in December 2015, what was achieved, and what should unions do now?
First, the Lima Call for Climate Action knows it must address the existential challenge of “dangerous climate change”. It noted “with grave concern” the “significant gap between the aggregate effect of [governments’] mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020, and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”.
This means “carbon neutrality” by 2050, as UNEP now argues.
A huge gap remains between pledged cuts and what is required to prevent dangerous climate change.
Second, governments have to submit their climate change plans – the so-called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” – by March 2015. These country-by-country commitments must take effect in 2020. They must include domestic targets for emissions reductions and plans to increase resilience against the impacts of climate change that cannot now be prevented.
Third, national strategies are expected to be measurable and verifiable
Fourth, the UN’s $10bn target for the Green Climate Fund was met – but the $100bn promised annually by 2020 remains largely unfunded.
Finally, as to consulting the “people”, the UN Secretariat must:
“Provide meaningful and regular opportunities for the effective engagement of experts from Parties, relevant international organizations, civil society, indigenous peoples, women, youth, academic institutions, the private sector, and sub-national authorities nominated by their respective countries.” And unions?
So how do unions re-engage in 2015?
These Intended Nationally Determined Contributions seem to be the place for unions to re-engage in 2015. What trade unions were looking for at #COP20 was union recognition. That means the right to be consulted on climate change strategies that will impact heavily on the world of work and require adapting to unavoidable change already in the system.
Four years ago, the UN agreed that governments should take account of “Efforts to ensure a Just Transition, which will create decent work and good quality jobs.” That’s our focus still.
In the UK you could imagine a role for the current Green Economy Council in overseeing the UK’s “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” to the UN treaty.
Where do we go from here?
As the French trade unions prepare to host a resilient ITUC delegation next year, here’s a five point plan for trade unions and “civil society”:
After Lima, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:
“Governments have decided to ignore our calls to promote ambition before 2020 – a critical aspect for growing jobs in climate- sound sectors. Despite numerous governments raising the importance of including a message for the world’s workers around the need for decent work and just transition in the Paris draft text, chairs have ignored these demands, raising questions about who actually leads this process.”
There’s no escaping the urgency – the planet has to be carbon neutral by 2050 . Instead of allowing ourselves to be marginalised as “civil society, indigenous peoples, women, youth, academic institutions”, we have to work together nationally and internationally to bring governments to the table in Paris with a deal worthy of its name.
No budget for a green economy
by Philip Pearson, TUC
This year’s Autumn Statement, December 2014, was no budget for a green economy.
Osborne focussed instead on high carbon ticket items including new tax breaks for north sea oil and gas, new government funds to help the shale gas industry sell itself to the public, re-freezing fuel duty, and plans to exempt air passenger duty for children.
As Paul Nowak, the TUC’s Assistant General Secretary observed at the Environmental Industries Commission recent conference, zero hours contracts and low wages have no place in a sustainable, forward looking economy. We need a bold vision of what a dynamic green economy looks like, with investment in high quality, high skilled manufacturing employment a top priority. This includes “strategic re-balancing both towards green manufacture and towards strong regional growth.”
Rising inequality is driving climate change, as A Convenient Truth has shown. Yet in the UK wages continue to stagnate for many employed in low paid, insecure or self employed jobs.
Nearly five million workers earn less than the living wage. According to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR), full-time wages grew by just 0.1 per cent last year, the smallest rate since at least 1988. Public finances weakened as a result and won’t recover well in a low wage economy.
Environmental levies and taxes appear increasingly to be just another revenue raiser. The OBR reports that environmental levies will raise £46.1 billion between 2013 and 2020, including £3.1bn this year.
Green levies were meant not only to tax environmental “bads” but support good investment. Yet the drift away from this principle is clearly reflected in that the government:
About £82 million (one-third) of the available relief has been paid out so far. £35m was allocated to eligible energy intensive firms last year. Just 53 firms have received £47m compensation this year – EU Emissions Trading Scheme relief at £41m and £6m for the UK’s standalone carbon tax.
Companies benefiting are still few in number. Sectors with high energy costs in production such as mineral products (cement and lime manufacture) and ceramics don’t feature at all, despite their concerns over carbon leakage.
The Treasury confirmed additional support for shale gas in the form of:
The Chancellor’s fossil fuel friendly statement came two hours before the Met Office and the WMO released the latest data showing the UK and the world are both on track for the hottest year on record.
News in Brief
IPCC: the final installment
by Graham Petersen, UCU
The final instalment of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was launched on 2 November in Copenhagen, Denmark - after a week of government negotiations to agree a Summary for Policymakers (SPM) .
The report unequivocally shows that climate change is here, man-made and already having dangerous impacts across all continents and the ocean.
The most exhaustive and authoritative climate study to date, the AR5 report also makes it clear that global warming can still be kept below the politically agreed limit of 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels, and that securing a safe climate future does not have to cost the earth.
The report marks the culmination of a 5-year-effort by 830 authors, 1200 other contributors and 3700 expert reviewers drawing on more than 30,000 pieces of research and 143,000 expert comments to produce an unprecedented body of evidence.
US – China Climate Deal
For a breakdown on the significance of the US – China Climate deal check out the latest report by Lara Skinner from TUED (Trade Union Energy Democracy).
G20 funding fossil fuels
According to a report from the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International an estimated £88 billion per year is being spent by G20 governments on locating oil, gas and coal reserves. This is despite evidence that most existing reserves must be left alone if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.
MPs, businesses and trade associations call for circular economy package to be saved and for action on air pollution
The European Commission is due to agree its work plans for 2015 and according to leaked drafts, the EU executive is planning to scrap planned rules on the circular economy and resource efficiency as well as shelving a review of EU air quality rules. Pressure is mounting to save these work programmes.
Shelving this work has implications for the EU’s ability to reduce its gas emissions. And in the UK, it has been widely reported that air pollution is now responsible for 29,000 extra deaths per year.
New TUC green publications
Green innovation: industrial policy for a low-carbon future . A report by UCL for the TUC shows how government can create a “dynamic and vibrant innovation system” that meets society’s environmental and economic aspirations.
The Union Effect: Greening the workplace presents the experiences of six organisations which have made a serious effort to lessen the environmental impact of their operations and the role of unions in the process.
Money to burn: driving energy efficiency in the commercial sector
Date: Thu 29 Jan 2015 - 11:00 to 13:00
Time: 11.00 to 13.00
Venue: Congress House, London.
A TUC seminar to launch this new TUC report including research commissioned from IPPR. Official data shows that the rate of improvement in energy efficiency in the commercial services sector – hotels, offices, supermarkets, other retail outlets and business premises - has flatlined for seven years.
It is still a common sight to see all lights blazing in city centre offices long after the last person has left for the day. Do these businesses have money to burn? Or, as this report argues, is a radical change needed in the way we encourage and tackle energy and resource use at work?
Money to burn? argues that a new drive to cut energy waste must focus on five different areas – better regulation, tax incentives, better access to finance, sharing best practice, and “greening the workplace”, through joint staff/union/management initiatives.
To register please email Silkie Cragg who is coordinating the event: [email protected]
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Issued: 17 December, 2014