Cancun diary #1: The right to be heard
The UN made a poor start yesterday, here in Cancun, cancelling speaking slots for civil society groups at the opening plenary. They need to understand that a right to “voice” is fundamental to a fair transition to a low carbon future.
We made up ground today in a plenary call to the UN to lead discussions on the social and economic impacts of climate change, rather than leaving much of this heavy lifting to the NGO communities. We’ve again called for better access to negotiating texts, sessions to be open to Observers, and guaranteed time for interventions.
Our demands on Just Transition seem to be holding good in the UN text – much as where we left off in October 2010 in Tianjin:
“Addressing climate change requires a paradigm shift towards building a low emission society that offers opportunities and ensures continued high growth and sustainable development based on innovative technologies and more sustainable production and consumption, while ensuring a just transition of the workforce that creates decent work and quality jobs.”
A key aim here is to see these ideas included in strategic points in the UN text as it develops.
Setting out the TUC’s approach to this conference, Frances O’Grady commented that:
“Governments meeting in Cancun may not “seal a deal” on cutting CO2 emissions this year, but they must show they have learnt the lessons of Copenhagen. This means reaching binding decisions where they can on climate change finance for developing nations, securing a global financial transaction tax, tackling deforestation and agreeing common rules for measuring and reporting CO2 emissions.”
The TUC is backing climate projects in three developing countries – Ghana, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh – and helping their delegates to join the 200-strong global union delegation to Cancun. Both Unison and Prospect are also backing climate projects in the South. Their in-country reports show conclusively that climate change presents the single greatest threat to tackling global poverty and meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
Shifting rainfall patterns, coastal inundations, drought, landslides and floods are destroying livelihoods, notably in agriculture. Pressures are mounting on health care services in countries still lacking the necessary basic infrastructure. Fundamental trade union and labour rights are crucial to a just transition, as the report we have received from the Korean union delegation shows. Despite their government’s “unparalleled hostility towards trade unions” the Korean unions have played an active role in the ITUC delegation over the past several years, adopting the notion of a just transition framework to the point where the two national union centres in Korea met senior government officials, calling on them to support the ITUC’s Just Transition demands.
This Friday we are hosting a North-South workshop, includes in-country reports from TUC supported delegates. From Ghana, ITUC delegate Kingsley Ofei Nkansah, General Secretary of the General Agricultural Workers Union reports that:
“Climate change is indeed a major challenge for all humanity, and devastating for climate sensitive sectors like agriculture. In Ghana, the trade union project on climate change is highlighting the vulnerability of the agricultural population in particular. Agricultural production in Ghana is mostly rain-fed, as the country has developed less than 2% percent of its irrigation potential. Those depending on agriculture are therefore very vulnerable to the extreme variability of weather conditions that is now being experienced.
The production losses and risks in agriculture today are much higher for women and men who are grappling with poverty, under-employment and food insecurity. Developing infrastructure and measures to make the farming population less vulnerable to the impact of climate change is necessary, and useful for creating much needed employment.”
From the Sierra Leone Labour Congress’ (SLLC), Max Conteh, Director of Education, comments:
“Before our climate change project with the TUC, we acknowledged environmental issues within our Occupational Health and Safety work but had not fully appreciated just how much climate change is affecting us at work.
The project has enabled the SLLC to develop its position on climate change and our leaders can now relate the droughts and floods affecting the country directly back to climate change. Climate change is a trade union issue and we have a responsibility to workers in Sierra Leone to enlighten them through education activities, to advocate to our government on their behalf and to urge the international community to help the Sierra Leone Government fulfill its promises.”
From Bangladesh, Saki Rezwana, Chairperson of the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation ( OSHE) said:
“For a most vulnerable country like Bangladesh climate change is an important issue for the working men and women at formal and informal economy to deal with, as it has already created serious impacts on employment and livelihood. It’s an issue of survival for the workers.
The TUC /OSHE/Sustainlabour project in Bangladesh has created an opportunity for the trade unions to build-up its institutional capacity towards respond this issue based on developing common position and unified actions. The ‘Just Transition’ talk-show recently organised by OSHE at the Ekuhaee Television (ETV) has created a new debate in the local society and provided a clear signal to the policy makers of Bangladesh of Government towards the need for support the trade unions just transition proposals at the COP-16 with having decent and green jobs in low carbon economy.”
Unions North and South are united in their call to Governments. Cutting CO2 emissions is the over-riding global threat. In a year’s time the UN must be ready to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a deal that binds all nations behind a common cause.