From the TUC

#COP21: UK austerity out of step with Paris climate talks

07 Dec 2015, by in Environment

The French Presidency has finally got to grips with the UN climate negotiations, setting up a Paris Committee aiming to conclude all outstanding matters by 6pm on Thursday. All further negotiations will be closed and focused on brokering deals, including whether union demands for just transition of the workforce and decent work get back into Article 2, the operational part of this draft Agreement (pdf).

Today, at the initiative of the AFL-CIO, the US Secretary of State for Energy, Ernest Moniz, addressed the ITUC delegation’s 9am meeting. He said that “Just transition is part of our language.” It informs the approach the US government wishes to take, because investment in clean energy brings benefits but also “localised dislocations” which need to be addressed through policy.

Sitting alongside US union delegates, Moniz said his government’s clean power plan is guides the transition of the electricity sector to a low carbon future.

“We have found it to our advantage to work together with labour to help states restructure their energy systems in a way that will maximize job opportunities.”

The US places a strong emphasis on the manufacturing and jobs opportunities in the transition it requires.

Carbon capture and storage is central to the US clean energy plan, with CCS for both power and industrial applications seen as high priorities. There had been a lot of progress with CCS, not least the Boundary Dam project in Canada.

“This shows the importance of innovation and cost reduction as these clean technologies come through.”

He said governments need to appreciate the case for much more “patient” and long term investment, be less risk averse and tolerant of key technologies. Since the 2009 Copenhagen conference, he argued, the cost reduction pathways of solar and wind power have been between 40% and 90%. In the US, the solar power industry is creating 30,000 jobs a year and now stands at 175,000 employees.

“These jobs are a key part of our thinking.”

In the UK, business reaction to the government’s decision to cancel the UK’s £1billion CCS competition as part of the Chancellor’s austerity programme was met with “fury” according to business reports. Shell said the withdrawal of government funding would affect mean the loss of 600 jobs and affect other British firms.

The DG of the British Chamber of Commerce said (Mail on Sunday) “energy policy is a complete mess.” CCS is vital green infrastructure for a low carbon future. But the Chancellor’s decision was one of a number in which the current austerity programme has cut either cut support for the UK’s low carbon transition (home insulation, support for solar, wind and other clean energies) or reversed taxation policy to raise revenues from renewables (up to £4billion from renewable energy projects by removing the levy exemption certificates) or raising £1billion from low emission vehicles by changing the rules of vehicle excise duty.

Arguably, the UK’s low carbon sector has lost at least #6 billion through the Chancellor’s austerity measures in the lead up to the Paris COP.

The ITUC’s strategy this week includes:

  • Continuing to lobby the French Presidency (in written and face to face representations) and government delegations.
  • Working with likeminded NGOs to make common cause between labour, human rights, gender, indigenous peoples’ and other rights groups also affected by the same uncertainties.
  • Maximising our media impact with press statements, blogs and social media.