Just Transition: Getting the message across in Bonn
At the UN climate talks in Bonn, where the elation of finding out the UN had included the unions’ call for a ‘just transition’ (JT) in its Copenhagen negotiating text has now given way to a mounting nervousness, as goverments get down to hard bargaining.
Here’s how it works. The UN meets in plenary session with every nation’s delegation present and hundreds of observers squatting. The chair will throw the negotiating text onto giant screens, paragraph by paragraph, and will mark delegates’ comments. The worst fear is the bracket. Once a doubt is raised, a section of text is bracketed and sooner or later, its fate will be sealed by a vote, to reprieve, amend or cut.
That’s the story with just transition. The wording of these negotiating texts is important, as they’ll be the groundwork for of any climate change deal at the Copenhagen conference later this year. Our nervousness is driven by a continuing lack of understanding on the part of many governments on what the transformation to a low carbon future really means for working people, and what the impact of climate change already in the system will be on vulnerable developing communities, even if actions are taken to adapt.
As Anabella Rosemberg (ITUC) was pointing out in our first working group today, we have to face the reality that, even now, few governments really know what ‘just transition’ means. When the phrase appears on their screens here, probably 90% of them won’t fully understand it. Of course, they probably won’t be alone in this.
In basic terms, just transition is about recognising and planning fairly and sustainably for the huge changes that adaptation to climate change will have for our economies. In the past, significant periods of economic restructuring have often happened in a chaotic fashion, leaving ordinary people, families and communities to bear the brunt of the transition to new ways of producing wealth. The idea of ‘just transition’ seeks to avoid this kind of injustice, so that this crucial transformation can progress with the speed and depth we so urgently need it to. It’s a big idea that touches on many aspects of governments’ responses to the climate crisis so far (for an introduction see our pamphlet ‘A Green and Fair Future‘)
Unions globally now have to make sure their governments are on board. It’s about defining terms. Or rather, getting them to understand what it means in terms of their current views on climate change and energy policy. For example, Eichi Kaku of Japanese union federation Rengo met a Japan chief negotiator who didn’t know much about just transition. Eichi set JT in the context of the Japanese Government’s promotion of investment in green jobs and skills.” OK, I’ve got it”, the representative replied.
The UN’s Clause 4 supports our call for an economic transition “ensuring a just transition for the workforce”. So this week, our two priorities are set: we embark on a new round of one-to-one meetings with key governments. And we work on bringing the rest of the civil society organisations, environmental and development NGOs, into supporting the just transition concept. After all, we see JT as relevant to workers and communities, especially, in the South, the front line communities facing the direct impact of climate events.
Oh, and there’s a third priority here. Countering a spoiling operation by a new US study claiming that for every green job created in Spain, 2.2 jobs are lost in the economy. It attempts to impact on US public opinion and media. And it fosters disapproval of Obama’s administration. The Spainsh union research body ISTAS has hit back quickly, criticising the study for its lack of scientific and technical accuracy. In fact the opposite is true, that green jobs promise between 228,00 and 270,000 new jobs in Spain.