Cornell University

November 30 2007

Global Labor Institute participating in United Nations Climate Change Conference Dec. 3-14 in Bali

U.S. labor leaders will play key role in efforts to reach international agreement to combat global warming

Representatives from the Global Labor Institute (GLI), which is part of Cornell University’s ILR School, will make history next week when they join a delegation of U.S. and global labor leaders in discussions aimed at creating a treaty that could establish unprecedented standards for controlling global warming.

The discussions will take place in Bali, Indonesia, under the auspices of the United Nations and are part of the ongoing Kyoto Protocol process that began in 1992.

Sean Sweeney, GLI director, says that unions and the labor movement have increasingly been concerned about climate change and global warming and their impact on the workforce and economic development, as evidenced in GLI’s international climate change conference held in New York City in May.

Global warmingEarlier this year, Sweeney initiated calls to the two major labor federations – the AFL-CIO and Change to Win – to begin organizing a delegation to attend the Bali conference and make sure the interests of labor are represented. The delegation consists of 23 U.S. and Canadian delegates from the Service Employees (SEIU), Electrical Workers (IUE), Mine Workers, Steelworkers, Transport Workers, UNITE HERE, Boilermakers, the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council and the Labor Research Association, among others. Three Steelworker delegates from Canada also will join the group.

At the conference, the delegation will join a larger international trade union delegation and meet with governmental and nongovernmental leaders, as well as environmental officials, to ensure that critical labor and worker participation issues are integrated into decision-making on a new climate crisis treaty. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is asking for a worldwide commitment to keep the global temperature within 2 degrees Celsius and reduce greenhouse gas emissions – which contribute heavily to global warming – by 85% (based on 1990 levels) by 2050.

Sweeney says this new agreement would build on the current Kyoto Protocol, signed by 172 countries in the 1990s and calling for a 5.2% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. At the time, the United States did not endorse the protocol because the first phase of the treaty did not require large developing countries like China to make emissions reductions. This position was backed by the AFL-CIO, which then represented the majority of U.S. unions.

Now, Sweeney says, the international labor movement is presenting a more unified front with regard to supporting the IPCC’s recommendations and a more aggressive plan.

“U.S. labor has come a long way since opposing the Kyoto Protocol. At this conference, the trade union movement will be joining together in calling for a stronger treaty involving all major economies that will help us dramatically limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time, promote a ‘green jobs’ agenda and a ‘just transition’ for workers who might be negatively affected by changes in the economy resulting from a new agreement,” Sweeney says. This ‘just transition,’ he adds, could include re-education and re-training to help workers find new opportunities in the conservation, wind and solar energy industries, and in other renewable energy sectors.

To learn more about the United Nations Climate Change Conference, go to For more on GLI’s recent climate change conference and to watch a video of the event, go to
Also see the Cornell Chronicle news article at: