From the TUC

Bonn diary 4: Union message is getting through

16 Jun 2009, by in Environment

Last update from the UN climate change talks in Bonn, where I’ve been working as part of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) lobbying team.

We’ve had a sympathetic hearing with the head of the UK Government’s negotiating team. The ITUC pitched its case on the need to find a consensus in Copenhagen that sends a message to the world: that success depends on building a low carbon, climate resilient society incorporating a sense of social justice. We explained that our Just Transition text had made it into the shared vision negotiations thanks to an initiative from one far-sighted Government. Now we were looking to secure further support from many governments, and to identify potential barriers in the coming weeks.

We told them we were now exploring opportunities where the concepts of Just Transition could be more practically used in the negotiating texts on both mitigation and adaptation. We argued that the EU delegation should be taking the lead in this area, as it’s in Europe that the notion of dialogue between stakeholders has made the most progress.

It’s fair to say that the UK team reacted well, as have many governments here in Bonn, and asked for more information on how our ideas could be made to work in the agreement. They told us how the new global challenges of the economic and climate crises were being addressed in other global forums, and they asked had we also thought of submitting our case to the Major Economies Forum? We hadn’t, and we’ll certainly consider it.

So our verdict on Bonn? Well, 183 countries now have some draft text on the table for both of the twin tracks:

  • the “shared vision” track bringing North and South together for long-term co-operative action, including the notion of a fair transition (clause 4); and
  • a new Kyoto Protocol on emissions reductions in 37 industrialized countries for post-2012, in the range that has been set out by science as a beacon to avoid the worst ravages of climate change: minus 25% to minus 40% by 2020.

We’ve been very busy, but managed to do a lot towards our twin aims, of meetings with governments and NGOs. We caught up with around 15 national delegations and met Michael Zammit Cutajar, Chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action. We held successful discussions with CAN and the Climate Justice network, as well as a successful fringe event.

And just as significant for many of us, we also had an informal but really useful discussion on industrial policy with the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF). It represents the collective interests of 25 million metalworkers in 100 countries, and is a federation of 200 national metalworkers’ unions – a ‘union of unions’ at world level, and one of the oldest Global Union Federations.

The UN is developing a framework for what it calls sectoral agreements, that could cover international shipping and aviation, and other major emitting sectors, such as steel or cement. The IMF has made good progress with its affiliates towards a common union position on their own industry, with investment in new technology featuring as a key part of the transition argument. Concerns remained over the possibility of carbon leakage, of both jobs and CO2 emissions. With governments and the EU investing large sums of public money in new technologies, it was vital that they scaled up its deployment.

Engaging industrial unions in these discussions is an important next step on the road to Copenhagen. As a first move, the UN text that will be debated in Copenhagen needs strengthening, to provide for consultations between the key stakeholders in sector agreements – unions and employers working together, the cornerstone of Just Transition.

But with three more UN conferences before Copenhagen, there’s much, much more to do.