Report from Paris II: Labor weighs in on climate change

Ever since the first climate change conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, moving the powers-that-be to do something about it has been an uphill battle. The oil and coal companies that benefit most from the emissions causing global warming have financed climate deniers and blocked progress at every step. But the 21st conference on climate change going on now in Paris is changing that, maybe even in time to make a difference.

SEIU 1021’s official representative in Paris, retired nurse Martha Hawthorne, is in Paris now and sending back dispatches from the front lines there:

So much is happening in Paris around the climate conference. For every action and workshop I go to, I miss 10! Public actions are planned every day. The state of emergency imposed here after the Nov.13 terrorist attacks means that gatherings more than two people are illegal.

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy hosted an event for union members and the public with journalist/activist Naomi Klein and UK Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn drew 200 union members and 400 other public members. The wait list was over 500. I am a volunteer for the event, doing welcome registrations because I speak English, French and Spanish.

I attended a panel on world migrations that put immigration issues into context. People the world over are migrating due to wars and climate changes.

For instance, water rise in Bangladesh, the disappearance of farmland, and starvation are creating climate refugees, now mostly within continents. They are projected to go up to one billion. Right now climate refugees have no UN refugee status.

Flooding, drought and heat waves are also huge issues in Europe. Mitigation and planning require huge investments of public money. Therefore more and more unions are demanding one million new public and green jobs, defined as NOT nuclear and NOT fracking.

Labor is weighing at the Paris talks. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) hosted a panel on worldwide migrations, minimum salaries for all, and ways to move toward a just transition.

Many climate activists in Paris are concerned the language committing the parties to a just transition to a low carbon future from the mandate for action in the Summit’s conclusions is being undermined or removed from the final agreement. The ITUC issued this press release laying out their concerns:


Climate Summit in the Balance as Governments Waver on “Just Transition”

Brussels, 3 December 2015 (ITUC OnLine): Governments at the Paris climate summit are putting the future of climate action at risk by removing a commitment to human rights and “Just Transition” to a low carbon future from the mandate for action in the Summit’s conclusions. The Norwegian government has angered trade unions, environment groups and other civil society organisations by moving to delete the pledge to respect rights and engage with workers and their communities in the fight to keep the rise in global temperature below 2 degrees C. Other governments are believed to be backing Norway’s move, which would downgrade the pledge to a hollow reference in the preamble to the Summit conclusions.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said from the Summit, “No matter how much progress is made on the other issues being discussed in Paris, climate action will founder if governments think solutions can simply be imposed on people without fully engaging workers and communities in a common effort for industrial transformation and shaping a future where human rights and workers’ rights are respected. Trade unions everywhere are ready to engage. They are already doing so in their workplaces and industries and we need governments to put this at the centre of actions, not leave it as a vague reference that will mean that people are left out of the operational equation. There may be some in the business world who are happy for people, including their workforce, to be left on the sidelines, but there are many businesses that understand they must collaborate, not dictate.”

The ITUC is calling on the Summit Co-Chairs, Peru’s Manuel Pulgar Vidal and France’s Laurent Fabius, to ensure that the move to delete the pledge is stopped.

“The outcome of this Summit must be relevant to the real world, to real people, and not just satisfy the bureaucratic mind-set of government negotiators who seem to be out of touch with what is already happening and what still needs to be done in factories, farms, offices and other workplaces across the planet. Climate action needs to be done with people, not against them,” said Burrow.

The ITUC represents 180 million workers in 162 countries and territories and has 333 national affiliates.
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About Randy Lyman

SEIU Local 1021 Communications Dept.

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