'Just Transition' at COP24

The news from the UN climate talks in Poland, COP24, has generally been disheartening. The US, Russian, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked a statement that the conference 'welcomed' the IPCC's research into the impacts of exceeding 1.5C warming. The Polish hosts have chosen fossil fuel companies to sponsor the talks. They have been accused of silencing civil society voices and of arguing on the world stage for a just transition that they are not prepared to implement at home.

But discussions about Just Transition and the role of unions have never been more central. Philip Pearson reports from Katowice below, on behalf of the Greener Jobs Alliance - there is further information in their latest newsletter.


Led by the Polish Presidency, the United Nations adopted the Just Transition Declaration at the opening of this two-week climate change conference. It’s a remarkable turnaround for us, getting Just Transition demands into the mainstream debates here. But, the declaration is not legally binding on governments, though as Allison Tate of the ITUC told over 100 union delegates here in Poland, the ‘highly political’ statement will oblige governments to up their game and consult with unions on national climate strategies they are now bound to develop. ‘Our task is to hold governments to this commitment, today, tomorrow and every day that follows.’

Significantly, international bodies representing employers and local government have swung their weight behind the UN Just Transition Declaration.

A business guest speaker at the ITUC strategy day (8 December), Peter Glynn from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), said his organisation supported the declaration, the first time it had mentioned labour issues in its work on climate change. When pressed to explain that ‘labour market reforms’ were needed to help deliver massive new investment, he said that workplaces will only be able to adapt to low carbon technologies when the workforce is adequately equipped. This meant massive programmes creating jobs and new skills, with ‘effective planning involving employers, unions and national institutions.’

Delegates pointed out that the right to organise and collective bargaining were essential to a fair and Just Transition, and asked Glynn to take these messages back to the ICC.

The local governments’ statement on Just Transition is available here.

In other contributions: French trade unions lamented the relocation of cement factories to Turkey, to escape paying the 20 euros per tonne price of carbon within the EU. ‘How can we reverse this idiotic situation’, where unions support climate policies but lose jobs. Stronger EU action was needed to impose a carbon border tariff.

An ITF transport delegate reported on city wide carbon neutral plans for public transport in Oslo and Vancouver. Zimbabwe unions were working on green jobs and skills strategies. In Nigeria, Unions were demanding remedial action for the devastation of the Niger delta by oil companies, and were working on a national transition strategy. In Europe, the ETUC had welcomed a 4.8 billion Euro fund to support regional investment plans and support for workers and communities affected.

This conference is based in the heart of Silesia’ coal mining region, with scores of coal mines and coal power stations. Speaking for Polish union KADRA, Gregorz Trevino said that for a decade unions had worked with the government to support the ‘victims of structural change’ – the 350,000 miners, metal industry and power station workers whose jobs had disappeared. Fuel poverty was also a major issue as energy costs have risen. It was crucial to attract manufacturing jobs into the region. And a programme to insulate 4.5million cold homes in the region would mean a huge job creation programme.

In the UK, we reported back on the shop stewards environmental course piloted in Leeds, led by the GJA’s Graham Petersen (see report in Newsletter 18). Support for shop stewards is seen as a key part of the TUC’s regional low carbon plans led by unions in Yorkshire.

UK. Chris Schwartz from the Canadian Postal Workers union warned that employers may be tempted to take advantage of industrial change to cut wages and conditions. This issue should be included in union training g programmes.

Unions were building alliances for a wide range of purposes, according to reports from our sister organisation such as ‘Green Jobs BC’ in Canada, and the ‘Green & Decent Jobs Coalition’ in The Netherlands. In both cases unions and green NGOs mutually supported their respective labour and environmental demands.

From today’s strategy session, you could say there is a great range of union campaigns: strong alliances are being created with environmental organisations. But much remains to be done to focus union capacity on ‘green bargaining’ in the workplace, with union reps trained up to take on employers, and members made well aware of the massive challenge of securing a Just Transition.

And secondly, energy policy: a recent TUED report shows decisively that market-driven energy markets are frankly nowhere near delivering the investment in renewable energy needed. Investors are still massively favouring fossil fuels. Unions need to be thinking about far greater levels of public and community energy investment, which in turn should also strengthen transition strategies to the benefit of unions, their members and communities.