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COP 17 Updates

COP 17: Farther From Science, Farther from Equity, by Laura Martin Murillo, Sustainlabour

Madrid, 13 December 2011 (Sustainlabour Online): Legal Instrument with no commitments, too unbalanced and too late.  Durban delivers a new legal instrument, but distances us from the path of emissions reductions recommended by science and global justice.

There will not be a just transition without urgent and ambitious reduction of emissions and without a commitment to equity. The path should be legally binding and include compliance mechanisms. The Durban agreements advance on this second point, but do not contribute anything in terms of the first two. They permit inaction until 2020 and, from the framework they propose, countries whose contribution to the problem has been completely different are equalled out.

In Durban the countries that won were those that that did not want action, whose strategy has been to obstruct the negotiation and wait until the urgency and change of rhythm in the development, progressively reduced their commitments, leaving behind along the way the lives of thousands of people.

The negotiation of a new instrument opens. We can have little trust that the same countries which since Bali have not been able to agree on common and differentiated targets will do so in the coming years. Countries have negotiated for years placing an emphasis on how to distribute the burden, but have not done much to promote an agenda of opportunities for their people, an agenda that creates jobs by changing the production system. Everything that is difficult remains uninitiated by the end of 2011, and if this is the approach, we can expect little success.

The agreement on the Green Climate Fund also advances on instruments, but not on commitments. There is no money on the table, and with the cuts agenda in the developing world, it hardly seems probable that this will change in the mid-term. In addition, the misleading commitment of 100 billion dollars that includes private and public funds, grants and loans, multilateral and bilateral funds, in practice abandons the poorest, between countries, but also the poorest within countries, that will never receive private nor bilateral financing in an important manner unless it is conditioned. The Fund does not have money, but it already has open access for companies.

In Durban institutions and instruments are made up and the negotiation of new ones is opened; in terms of the objectives to meet the challenge and how to achieve them, no progress has been made. Our commitment from the union movement is needed more than ever.

Durban Outcome: No Guarantees for the Climate as Governments Again Delay, ITUC

Brussels, 12 December 2011 (ITUC Online): The international trade union movement expressed its disappointment as climate negotiators in Durban had agreed a platform to continue negotiations, but without any guarantees that will make the cuts to emissions demanded by science to stop a climate disaster.

Trade Unions in Durban demanded the extension of the Kyoto Agreement, a globally negotiated legally binding agreement and a plan to operationalise and fill the Green Climate Fund.

"The Kyoto Protocol, a critical piece in the climate agreement, survived the talks but without key countries, without commitments on emissions reductions and with major loopholes.  A Green Climate Fund was agreed, but without commitments to fill the fund.  And a new negotiating round was launched aimed at being implemented in 2020," said Sharan Burrow.

Scientists, environmental groups have warned the delay to 2020 puts the planet, and people at great risk of irreversible damage from rising temperatures.

"Governments must not abandon the principles of equity, social justice and historical responsibilities, as they start the new round of negotiations."

"This delay must not distract from the immediate action governments need to take to invest in low-carbon economy and create green jobs and a Just Transition," said Sharan Burrow.

"Unions will not wait until 2020 for action to reduce emissions and reshape economies.  In Rio in 2012 and beyond, workers will call for a renewed, more ambitious mandates from our governments, for green and greener jobs, and for social justice to prevail over the current economic order, that once again won in Durban."

"One trillion dollars of investment is now being directed towards the green economy, but too many nations are left out.  Instead of waiting for an agreement to be negotiated and implemented in 2020, nations need to act now to deliver green jobs for the future," said Sharan Burrow.

The ITUC represents 175 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 308 national affiliates.



Demand for Climate Jobs Grows at UN Climate Meetings in Durban, South Africa, by Lara Skinner, Cornell GLI

Durban, 8 December 2011: Trade Unions, Civil Society Organizations and Social Movements Support Creation of Public Sector Climate Jobs Programs to Address the Economic and Environmental Crises

In response to the global economic and jobs crisis and the need to drastically reduce emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change, an International Climate Jobs Conference was held Sunday, December 4 in Durban, South Africa.  More than 500 people gathered for the conference, “Cool it with Peoples Power:  1 Million Climate Jobs Now!  The conference coincided with the UN climate negotiations (COP 17) and was sponsored by the One Million Climate Jobs coalitions of the UK and South Africa, the Public and Services Union (UK), the University and College Union (UK) and the Cornell Global Labor Institute (US).

The conference highlighted the 1 Million Climate Jobs campaigns recently launched in the UK and South Africa, and discussed the need to create millions of good, union jobs in sustainable transportation, residential and commercial building retrofitting, renewable energy, energy efficiency and local food, waste and composting systems to address the climate crisis.

Drawing on speakers from the North America, Europe and Latin America, the conference explored the potential to implement and advance Climate Jobs programs in other countries.  A number of trade union and social movement organizations participated in the conference, including the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), National Union of Mine Workers (NUM), South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU), Trade Union Congress (TUC, UK), International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Transport Workers Union (TWU, US), LAN – ITF (Argentina – Aviation), Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (NUME, Norway), La Via Campesina (LVC), Jobs with Justice (US), groundWork and Bus Riders Union (US). 

A major theme that emerged from the conference is that public, direct-hire jobs programs, similar to the U.S. New Deal approach of the 1930s, are needed to address the current climate and jobs crises.  The pace and scale of work needed to transition to a low-carbon economy is massive, as is the number of jobs that need to be created to address the current jobs crisis.  A public, direct-hire jobs program would initiate a “jobs-led” economic recovery rather than the “jobless recovery” that most countries have been experiencing since the financial crisis of 2008. 

In contrast to private-sector, market-driven approaches to job creation and climate change, public direct-hire programs have proven to be a very effective and affordable method for governments to put unemployed people back to work in ways that meet important social and environmental priorities.  Many conference participants argued that, on their own, private sector, market-driven approaches to job creation and climate change, like tax breaks and other fiscal stimulus strategies, are not nearly ambitious enough in terms of their scope and speed of job creation and emissions reductions.

Facing unemployment levels approaching 40%, 40 South African trade unions and civil society organizations launched a Climate Jobs campaign in 2011.  Initial research by the South African One Million Jobs campaign shows that more than 3 million new climate jobs can be created in South Africa.  The campaign has called on the South African government to create or oversee the creation of at least 1 million climate jobs. 

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) has taken a lead role in campaigning for a climate jobs program for the South African transport sector.  Jane Barrett, Policy Officer at SATAWU, articulated SATAWU’s plan to create 460,000 new transport jobs at the conference.  SATAWU’s plans for climate job creation include:  shifting 10% of car commuters to public transport to create 70,000 jobs and reduce pollution by 24 Mt per year; expanding rail freight by 18% to create 8,208 jobs; and expanding South African owned and controlled ships to create 30,000 jobs, as well as a number of indirect jobs in construction and manufacturing activities. 

In addition to job creation and greenhouse gas reductions, Barrett pointed out that SATAWU’s climate jobs plan has a number of other benefits, including improving working conditions, increasing access to affordable and convenient transport for working people, less congestion, and decreasing road crashes and related fatalities.

Speakers from the U.S. included Roger Toussaint (Transport Workers’ Union), Francisca Porchas (Bus Riders’ Union), and Sean Sweeney (Cornell Global Labor Institute).

In the U.S., during the 1930s, government programs like the Works Progress Administration and Civic Works Administration created 11.4 million jobs that helped pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression.  These jobs were focused on socially-necessary work, like building schools, hospitals and parks, advancing communications, energy and waste systems, and initiating art and music projects in disadvantaged communities.  Speakers at the conference emphasized that millions of jobs are needed to transition the world to a low-carbon economy with massive expansion of renewable energy, public transportation, energy grid advancements, energy efficient industry, buildings and vehicles, zero waste systems, and much more.

A recent analysis of President Obama’s $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) found that it saved or created 3 to 4 million jobs.  However, it has been estimated that a public, direct hire program could create 1 million direct and 414,000 indirect jobs with an investment of only $46.4 billion.  Furthermore, having 1 million people working instead of being unemployed would generate additional government revenue and savings that would reduce the total cost of the program to $28.6 billion per million jobs.

Global Labor Movement Issues Warning as Hopes of Global Climate Agreement Fade in Durban, by Sean Sweeney, Cornell GLI

Game over for the Kyoto Protocol?

Durban, Dec 7, 2011:  The two-week UN Climate Conference taking place in Durban will close in just 48 hours, and trade unions have been in intense discussions regarding the presently precarious state of the talks.

The Kyoto Protocol (KP) expires in 2012 and there is no global agreement to take its place. The international labor movement had come to the talks urging that the KP at least be extended while a new agreement is being negotiated, and that a roadmap be established leading to a global agreement before 2015. In recent days Japan, Canada and Russia have announced they do not want to undertake a second period of the KP, which has cast a dark shadow over the future of the talks and the capacity of the world to address the climate crisis.

The US never ratified the KP and the Obama administration has made it clear that it will not support a new global agreement with binding emissions targets based on the Framework Convention’s idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” The US prefers a “pledge and review” system based on voluntary commitments. The US has also said that it would only agree to a binding agreement if large developing countries like China would also agree to accept stringent emissions cuts.  China has always maintained that it is still a developing country and its emissions per capita are around one quarter of those of the U.S. – and the U.S. has not reduced its own emissions and is in no position to dictate to others.

At the Copenhagen talks in late 2009, president Obama put on the table the “Copenhagen Accord” where countries announced emissions reductions for 2020 based on a voluntary system. However, reductions pledged by nations under the Accord fall dramatically short of the reductions the scientific community say are required to stabilize the world’s climate. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading scientific body dealing with climate change, the developed countries need to reduce their emissions below

1990 levels by 25-40% on average by 2020. According to the Stockholm Institute, the emissions reductions for 2020 filed under the Copenhagen Accord—which remain aspirational—will set the world on a pathway to as much as 5 degrees Celsius of global warming.

Unions Debate Next Steps

Reporting on the state of the talks on Sunday December 4, the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) climate representative Anabella Rosemberg pulled no punches at a meeting of 100 union delegates. She said the talks could very well collapse in the next few days and urged unions to get the message to their respective governments that endless delays on climate change would yield disastrous consequences. ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, and similarly urged that unions in a number of countries need to do more to pressure their own governments to act.

National union federations have been solid on the need for “just transition” and green job creation. However, there are disagreements on some of the main issues. The AFL-CIO has not backed the ITUC’s call for a legally binding agreement and science based emissions targets, although five US unions have previously gone on record supporting science-based emissions reductions.  An AFL-CIO statement prepared for Durban also made no reference to the future of the Kyoto Protocol, but weighed on other issues—such as the need for a Financial Transaction Tax and Just Transition to feature in any new climate agreement.

Meanwhile, in both a public statement and a letter to US chief negotiator Todd Stern, the Blue Green Alliance (which represents 14 union and environmental partners) declared climate change to be “a dire and urgent threat” and called on the US to both support a binding agreement and to do what it could to make up for lost time in reducing US emissions.

The Canadian Labour Congress has been severely critical of Canada’s role at the talks, describing the Canadian government as an “obstructionist force” and called for “a separation of oil and state.”

 At a workshop, speakers representing the Communication Energy and Paperworkers (the main union in the Alberta Tar Sands) stated that the Canadian government had supported the reckless expansion of the Tar Sands and this was leading to ever rising levels of emissions in Canada.

COSATU describes “catastrophic situation” in Africa

South African labor’s main body, COSATU, recently released a policy framework on climate change. It describes the ‘pledge and review’

approach favoured by the US and initiated under the Copenhagen accord as the ‘deregulation of the international climate regime, with no consequences for those who break their pledges. This will continue to drive us towards climate catastrophe.”

Unions have been seriously engaged in the official talks inside the convention center, but they have also been working on the outside along with other social movements. Discussions have addressed the climate crisis in ways that are effective and equitable—and to fill the vacuum left by the inaction of governments. Individual South African unions—such as the National Union of Metalworkers—have publicly supported non-market solutions to climate change, including the public ownership of power generation.

Unions have done their best to make COP17 a success for both workers and the climate, and some still hope that the final days in Durban will produce a positive outcome. Addressing the 10,000 person march in Durban on Saturday (December 3), South Africa’s leading trade union figure, COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, said "We demand action not tourism. This cannot be a world conference in which everybody came just to have a nice time.”

At a meeting organized by the ITUC today (December 7) Vavi said “The irony of all of this is that these talks are taking place in Africa, which is a crime scene. Climate change is hurting communities all across the continent. We are already seeing climate havoc. If global warming reaches 2 degrees, Africa will be a terrible place in all respects. It is a catastrophic situation – both economically and environmentally.”

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