Industrial Jobs in Danger When the Climate is to be Saved

The trade unions' solution for a greener world is new jobs with good working conditions. The critics argue that there's not enough time. ”We can either protect industrial jobs in the global north or save the climate”, says political scientist Tadzio Müller. While the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is expected to reach record levels this year, the work towards a just transition continues. The aim is to secure workers’ interests when countries and employers convert to more climate friendly ways of doing business.

Credit: Bigstock

By Linda Flood
STOCKHOLM, Mar 5 2019 (IPS)

The trade unions’ solution for a greener world is new jobs
with good working conditions. The critics argue that there’s not
enough time. ”We can either protect industrial jobs in the global
north or save the climate”, says political scientist Tadzio
Müller.

Politicians, businesses, and unions all agree: there are no jobs
on a dead planet. But the road to fewer emissions is full of
opinions.

While the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is expected to reach
record levels this year, the work towards a “just transition”
continues. The aim is to secure workers’ interests when countries
and employers convert to more climate friendly ways of doing
business.

“It is extremely urgent and I’m worried. But if employers,
governments, and big financial interests had been more interested
in the carbonization two decades ago we would have been in a great
position,” says Samantha Smith.

What is “just transition”?

The term has origins from the 1980s but it took until 2013 for the
United Nations’ agency ILO to put its foot down and create
guidelines for “a Just Transition towards
environmentally-sustainable economies and societies for all”.

The Paris agreement from 2015 also includes mentions of “just
transition”. Through the Paris agreement, governments commit to
making sure that workers continue to have fair conditions during
the climate adaption. The International Trade Union Confederation
ITUC founded the Just Transition Centre in 2016, in order to bring
more attention to the matter.

***

These are the 25 biggest carbon emitters in the world. These
companies produced a fifth of the global carbon emissions,
according to a review by Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri.

1. Coal India
2. PJSC Gazprom
3. Exxon Mobil Corporation
4. Cummins Inc.
5. Thyssenkrupp AG
6. Rosneft OAO
7. Royal Dutch Shell
8. China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation
9. China Shenhua Energy
10. Rio Tinto
11. Petrochina Company Limited
12. BHP Billiton
13. Petróleo Brasileiro SA – Petrobras
14. Korea Electric Power Corp
15. BP
16. Total
17. Valero Energy Corporation
18. Chevron Corporation
19. Toyota Motor Corporation
20. Wistron Corp
21. United Technologies Corporation
22. Peabody Energy Corporation
23. YTL Corp
24. Phillips 66
25. Volkswagen AG

She’s the director of the Just Transition Centre, created three
years ago by the International Trade Union Confederation, the ITUC,
to gather unions, organisations, businesses, and countries in a
social dialogue.

The UN climate change conference COP 24 took
place in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland, and “just
transition” was high on the agenda. 53 states, including Sweden,
signed the ”The Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia
Declaration”, which states that the countries must consider
workers’ perspectives while shifting to climate friendly
policies.

In Sweden, issues on this matter are being discussed regularly
at the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, LO, and Sida, the Swedish
International Development Cooperation Agency, among others. Sida
recently donated 1,5 million euros to the organisation Bankwatch,
to support the transition towards a coal free Eastern Europe.

Samantha Smith points out that every sector in
every country will be affected in order to reach the 1,5 degree
global warming target.

”We wanted to start with rich countries because they have the
wealth and capacity. In some poor countries you have a number of
issues going on at the same time, one is recognizing basic labor
rights which is also human rights.”

Tadzio Müller, political scientist and senior advisor on
climate justice for the leftist foundation Rosa Luxembourg, agrees.
He, on the other hand, is even more drastic.

”If Sweden, Germany and Great Britain want to do their bit to
save the climate they have to shut down old industrial
infrastructure within the next 10-15 years so that the rest of the
world can still emit some carbon emissions.”

Tadzio Müller is critical of the trade union
movement. The concept of “just transition” was first used by
union activists in the U.S. in the 1980s.

”We have to be honest that it was, at least in part, the same
industrial trade unions that called for a just transition that were
fighting against ambitious climate politics and policies to save
jobs,” he says. He mentions Germany’s mining unions as an
example.

Tadzio Müller points out that he is in no way interested in
limiting workers’ interests.

”I am absolutely for giving workers every social protection
that we can manage. I would even argue that a universal guaranteed
income would be a great way to transition in heavy industrial
regions, like western Germany or the north of France. I don’t
oppose just transition, but the fact that the function of just
transition has been to slow down ambitious climate action.”

Samantha Smith at the Just Transition Centre
says to her critics:

”What is your alternative? Especially in a democracy, like for
example Germany. How are you going to shut down coal mines if local
government and all the people working in the mines don’t agree to
it? ”

She points out that it’s better to do something than
nothing.
”And it’s better to do something that will support social
justice and strengthen the labor movement and democracy to get down
emissions.”

Translation: Cecilia Uder 

***

JUST TRANSITION – COUNTRIES AND FACTS

Canada

The government has decided to phase out coal as a source of
energy by 2030 while making investments in natural gas instead.
This is a part of Canada’s ”Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean
Growth and Climate Change”.

Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change,
announced that a task force has been created, with representatives
from unions, councils, and businesses working together to make the
transition from coal to natural gas as fair as possible for the
workers in the sector. The President of the Canadian Labour
Congress has been put in charge of the project.

Spain

In 2016, the government launched a plan worth almost 2 billion
euros to aid the closure of 26 coal mines. The mines were closed by
the end of 2018 and approximately 2,000 workers were affected. The
transition plan included early retirement for workers over 48 years
of age and education in green industries for the rest.

The Spanish trade unions celebrated the agreement but one group
of 800 workers, employed by subcontractors of the mining industry,
were not included in the transition. They formed the network
”Plataforma de Santa Bárbara” and gathered to protest that
they had been abandoned by the unions and the political
parties.

Kenya

The transport system in Kenya’s capital Nairobi is overly
chaotic and spews out huge amounts of pollution each year. To
tackle this, the government of Kenya has begun the transition
towards a new system called “Bus Rapid Transit”, with fewer but
larger buses.

This means fewer jobs, so now the Kenyan unions are working
together with the International Transport Workers’ Federation,
the ITF, to ensure a fair transition that provides new “green”
jobs for the workers.

USA

A massive transition is taking place in the state of New York,
with 1,5 billion euro projects that include investments in
renewable energy. Governor Andrew Cuomo started the initiative
“The Clean Climate Careers initiative” in 2017, with the goal
of creating 40,000 new climate friendly jobs by 2020.

The jobs will be in major renewable energy projects, including
wind and solar. Big money is being invested to redirect personnel
to create a more climate friendly workforce.

This story was originally
published
 by Arbetet Global

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Industrial Jobs in Danger When the Climate is to be Saved

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Industrial Jobs in Danger When the Climate is to be Saved