Historic UN climate deal. Union resolve is “stronger than ever” says ITUC
The UN has reached an important, maybe even historic, agreement after an unprecedented diplomatic effort in Paris. Yet its ambition is clearly not enough to avoid dangerous climate change. This can only be seen as the end of the beginning of climate change action, nationally and globally.
The deal sends a powerful signal to investors that emissions will fall this century. That fossil fuels are on an irreversible trend of downward emissions. Yet, for the ITUC, Sharan Burrow said:
“Trade unions know that the road was never to Paris, but through Paris. Our resolve to manage a just transition in the face of the largest and most rapid industrial transformation in human history is stronger than ever.
Arising from the COP, unions will demand of their governments and employers the dialogue that will see a national plan for decarbonisation, clean energy and jobs – a plan that includes commitments to ensure a just transition for all.”
Global average temperatures will move towards and through the danger levels of 1.5 degrees then 2 degrees of global warming on current commitments. Sharan Burrow added:
“The race to stabilise the climate has begun but tragically, too many governments still lack ambition for the survival of their people.”
The Agreement fails to provide a clear operational role for workers in developing climate change and industrial policies. As Bert de Wel of the Belgian ASV-CSC union said:
“The truth is that society – we citizens, trade unions, human rights, womens’ rights, indigenous peoples’ and other campaigners, and progressive businesses are taking the lead with low carbon initiatives. Politicians have urgently to catch on.”
Article 2 is perhaps the key decision. Here, the UN sets out its plan to avoid dangerous climate change, with a compromise decision to limit global warming “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.”
Unions have demanded that the low carbon strategies required to meet this goal should be informed by the principles of decent work, a just transition, human rights, gender equality and indigenous peoples’ rights. However, these rights are transferred to the Agreement’s Preamble, and do not sit alongside the goals set out in Article 2.
The Preamble invites governments to endorse the Agreement…
Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities… [and]…
Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity;
In Article 4, the UN aims to “reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century,”
It’s regrettable that the deal does not set a target year, as Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre, has argued, for peaking global emissions.
Article 8 provides a welcome new acknowledgement on loss and damage: governments “recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change,”
And Article 9 is disappointing in that there is no reference to the $100billion Green Climare Fund in the Agreement: “Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.”
And reviewing the Agreement: the first review, or “stocktake” of the Agreement will be delayed until 2033 (Article 14): the UN “”shall undertake its first global stocktake in 2023 and every five years thereafter.”
As John Ashton, former UK climate ambassador, said this week, this is the end of the beginning:
“Whether we can achieve the sustained effort that this challenge really demands will depend less on deals about to be done in Paris and more on choices made globally over the next five years as governments strive to turn their promises into action and push up levels of ambition nationally that are still inadequate.”
The pillars of the Decent Work Agenda set out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in October are: social dialogue, social protection, rights at work and employment. These are “indispensable building blocks of sustainable development and must be at the centre of policies for strong, sustainable and inclusive growth and development.”
Ahead lies the task for the TUC and our affiliates to work to give effect to these principles. Now that governments have concluded the Paris Agreement, it’s up to us to make sure that union voice, just transition and decent work are central to the transformation that lies ahead.