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A Just Transition and Decent Work

The December 2015 Paris United Nations International Climate Change talks, the twenty first Conferences of Parties (COP21), will mark an historic opportunity for 196 countries to sign a new agreement and create a new global milestone in Sustainable Development and Climate Change, writes UNISON’s Dave Prentis

Unison’s Dave Prentis writes about what we need from the Paris 2015 Climate Negotiations:

The December 2015 Paris United Nations International Climate Change talks, the twenty first Conferences of Parties (COP21), will mark an historic opportunity for 196 countries to sign a new agreement and create a new global milestone in Sustainable Development and Climate Change.

UNISON is promoting the global public service trade union demands agreed by the Public Services International (PSI). All Governments in Paris should sign a universal, ambitious, binding and enforceable carbon emission-reduction agreement that goes beyond 2020; acknowledges and fairly differentiates capacity and commitments between rich countries and poor; and includes effective monitoring and review measures to halt global temperature increase beyond 2°C.

The role of the public sector and public finance will be essential ingredients to make the agreement successful. Specific funds are needed both to assist developing countries and to support Just Transition and Decent Work measures. As we move from fossil fuel dependent energy sectors to renewable and carbon free energy and industries the workforce will need to be consulted. The wider international trade union movement calls this the ‘Just Transition and Decent Work’.

Workers and trade unions insist on Just Transition mechanisms, whereby workers directly affected by the move to low or zero-carbon economies are assisted with retraining, new jobs and salary support. In fact, Just Transition mechanisms will require systematic consultation and participation by workers and trade unions, both at the workplace and in overall policy directions.

Tough targets to cut CO2 emissions, supported by new environmental regulations and carbon markets, will transform economies over the next decade. These shifts will have major implications for working people in energy supply, industry and transport, public services and for everyone as consumers.

The shift towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient path of growth and development will not be easy as not all climate policies are win-win, and some trade-offs are inevitable, particularly in the short term. Although many new green jobs will be created, and there will be larger markets and profits for many businesses, some jobs will also be lost, particularly in high-carbon sectors. All governments need to commit to a just transition as the human and economic costs of the transition need to be managed whether its support for displaced workers, affected communities who suffer local plant closures and job losses or low-income households who need support for affordable fuel.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) plays its part in the UN climate change negotiations as a recognised Observer group for all global trade unions. The ITUC has campaigned to get references to Just Transition included in the Agreement. Up to now it has been a game of ping pong with the reference being put in the Agreement and then taken out again.

The trade union campaign for a Just Transition has been built with the recognition that alongside workers having a role in the Transition so to must civil society groups and individuals. To acknowledge this the wording states

“…participation in environmental decision-making by civil society and individuals and a just transition of the workforce and creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities and strategies.”

To make the campaign for Just Transition and Decent work a reality UNISON has joined forces with a wide coalition with over 60 climate campaign organisations. The UK ‘Climate Movement’ is promoting and co-ordinating a joint civil and trade union response to what we would like to see in the final Paris agreement.

The UK ‘Climate Movement’ has united around 3 key slogans – Climate, Justice and Jobs – mirroring the same Public Service International demands. UNISON will be supporting the rallies and marches in the UK and Paris, and participating in discussion workshops organised by the ITUC and PSI in Paris in December.

Paris is just the beginning not the end. The current UK government is currently turning its back on renewables and has no coherent energy or low carbon strategy in place after 2020 which will secure long term affordable green energy for the public at home and businesses. After Paris, trade union and civil organisations will have a lot of work to ensure that unions and civil society are consulted and involved in planning and implementing the UK national commitments, and that these include Just Transition mechanisms. UNISONs green reps in the workplace will play a vital role in the Just Transition.

Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON

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