From the TUC

Cancun Diary 7: Yes! Now for a Green Economy Council

12 Dec 2010, by in Environment

Cheering in the Cancun conference hall, not least from the union delegation, as the UN reached an agreement on climate change in the small hours of Saturday 11 December. Building blocks of this elusive agreement include committing major economies to CO2 cuts consistent with the latest science; holding global average temperature rises to below 2 degrees; a Green Climate Fund for developing countries with up to $30bn of Fast Start funding for the period 2010 to 2012, and £100bn annually by 2020; and action on deforestation.

But Governments could not reach an agreement to a specific CO2 target for 2020. The phrase “reducing their aggregate emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases” to a level consistent with the science, must imply cuts of between 25% and 40% by 2020. Current CO2 pledges from governments total up to 16%, well short of that aggregate figure. This still points to temperatures rises of double the UN’s ceiling.

A diplomatic road crash was avoided. To say that the climate will be much safer is a different matter. This agreement is not binding: it says so: “nothing in this decision shall prejudge prospects for, or the content of, a legally-binding outcome in the future”. So, welcoming the agreement, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow called on Governments to “raise their sights by the time of next meeting in Durban in a year’s time.”  It’s going to be a tough year leading to the UN’s supposed final conference in Durban in December 2012. That’s when the binding commitments of the Kyoto Protocol expire, and when new CO2 commitments must kick in.

For trade unions, the UN’s Shared Vision for long-term co-operative action recognises the importance of “promoting a just transition of the workforce, the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities and strategies and contributing to building new capacity for both production and service-related jobs in all sectors, promoting economic growth and sustainable development.” Strong text, too, on stakeholder engagement. Music to our ears. After two weeks of intense, round-the-clock lobbying of governments in Cancun, our emails whizzing round the globe this weekend spoke of joy and solidarity.

The UN is effectively helping to create what in union terms is a procedural agreement, with just transition providing a place at the table for trade unions, involving the principles of consultation, green jobs, green skills and respect for labour and human rights.

This is why we are welcomed, too, the enhanced references to human rights in this Shared Vision: “[Governments] should, in all climate change-related actions, fully respect human rights”. Referring to resolution 10/4 of the United Nations Human Rights Council on human rights and climate change, the Cancun agreement recognizes that the adverse effects of climate change have a range of direct and indirect implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights and that the effects of climate change will be felt most acutely by those segments of the population that are already vulnerable owing to geography, gender, age, indigenous or minority status and disability.”

On Radio 4 on Saturday morning, Environment Secretary Chris Huhne said the deal would underpin the government’s efforts to create green jobs and growth, and boost the EU’s case to increase its ambitions to a 30% cut in CO2 by 2020. For the TUC, the agreement also brings home the case for a new national dialogue between unions, government, industry and other stakeholders. The government is apparently drawing up a Green Economy Road Map for mid-2011. Time for a Green Economy Council, too?

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