People's Climate March in New York City. Photo: South Bend Voice
Lima blog #6: Unions must influence country commitments
In solidarity and shared purpose, the international trade union delegation and its Peruvian hosts worked their socks off inside the Lima climate conference. Outside it, the Peoples Summit enriched the city centre, and 20,000 marched on the UN for climate justice. But the conference itself largely turned its back on civil society, with governments failing not only to agree a climate deal on our behalf that was worthy of its name, but ensuring that in the so-called Lima Call for Climate Action “civil society” gets barely a mention. So, with massive ground to make up before the ultimate UN conference in Paris, December 2015, what was achieved, and what should unions now do?
First, the Lima Call for Climate Action knows it must address the existential challenge of “dangerous climate change”, noting …
“with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of [governments’] mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020, and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. [Preamble].
This means “carbon neutrality” by 2050, as UNEP now argues.
A huge gap remains between pledged cuts and what is required to prevent dangerous climate change.
Second, governments are requested to their climate change plans – the so-called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” – by March 2015. These country-by-country commitments must take effect in 2020 and include domestic targets for emissions reductions, and plans to increase resilience against the impacts of climate change that cannot now be prevented.[paras 10 and 13]
Third, national strategies are expected to be measurable and verifiable, including:
“quantifiable information on … the base year, time frames and/or periods for implementation, scope and coverage, planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches including those for estimating and accounting for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and, as appropriate, removals, and how the [government] considers that its intended nationally determined contribution is fair and ambitious, in light of its national circumstances, and how it contributes towards achieving the objectives.” [para 14].
Fourth, the UN’s $10bn target for the Green Climate Fund was met – but the $100bn promised annually by 2020 remains largely unfunded.
Finally, as to consulting the “people’”, the UN Secretariat must:
“Provide meaningful and regular opportunities for the effective engagement of experts from Parties, relevant international organizations, civil society, indigenous peoples, women, youth, academic institutions, the private sector, and sub national authorities nominated by their respective countries.” [para 19 (iv)]
These Intended Nationally Determined Contributions seem to me to be the place for unions to re-engage in 2015. What trade unions were looking for at #COP20 was union recognition, and with that, the right to be consulted on climate change strategies that will impact heavily on the world of work, and require adapting to unavoidable change already in the system. Four years ago, the UN agreed that governments should take account of “Efforts to ensure a Just Transition, which will create decent work and good quality jobs.” That’s our focus still.
In the UK, for instance, you could imagine a role for the current Green Economy Council in overseeing the UK’s “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” to the UN treaty.
Where do we go from here? As the French trade unions prepare to host a resilient ITUC delegation next year, here’s a five point plan for trade unions and “civil society”:
- Demand information and consultation on governments’ “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.” These country commitments must be measurable and verifiable (see point 3 above). In Lima, the Japanese trade union federation, RENGO, was one of the first to commit to this approach next year.
- Just Transition: introduce the principle and bring consultation, decent work and quality jobs into national consultations.
- Relaunch the ITUC’s Unions4Climate strategy in 2015 (maybe “Unions4Paris”?). At the ITUC’s World Congress in 2014, trade unions made public their commitment to emission reductions and just transition.
- Take stock of Just Transition campaigns in mid-2015 – a good opportunity would be the UN’s interim conference in Bonn, June 3 -14.
- Broaden the appeal of the green economy, as an alternative to austerity, low pay, low skilled and zero hours work, referencing the opportunities for decent work and a just transition, with unions on hand to negotiate fair pay and conditions.
After Lima, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said,
“Governments have decided to ignore our calls to promote ambition before 2020 –a critical aspect for growing jobs in climate-sound sectors. Despite numerous governments raising the importance of including a message for the world’s workers around the need for decent work and just transition in the Paris draft text, chairs have ignored these demands, raising questions about who actually leads this process.”
“the biggest challenge is that governments are unlikely to outline cuts in annual emissions that will be collectively consistent with a path that gives a good chance of remaining below the 2C danger limit of two degrees. So countries must focus on increasing the ambition of their intended reductions, and show these are credible by setting out how they will be achieved through domestic policies and legislation.”
There’s no escaping the urgency – the planet has to be carbon neutral by 2050 . Instead of allowing ourselves to be marginalised as “civil society, indigenous peoples, women, youth, academic institutions”, we have to work together nationally and internationally to bring governments to the table in Paris with a deal worthy of its name.