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#COP21: what the climate talks could mean for UK workers

#COP21: what the climate talks could mean for UK workers

This is it – 20 years of negotiations, millions of marchers across the globe, and hundreds of thousands of campaigns, petitions, and protests have culminated in a deafening message at the 21st UN Climate Summit: there is no planet B.

All of mankind has a stake in these negotiations – and in attending just one of the rounds of pre-COP negotiations in Bonn earlier this summer, I was able to see first-hand the gargantuan number of campaign groups that have worked tirelessly for as much as a single line in the international agreement. The ultimate aim, of course, is to agree to limit global warming to a maximum 2oc.

Oceanographers need the negotiations to guarantee a sustainable future for the world’s oceans. Young people need world leaders to fight for their futures. The world’s wildlife must be protected. Women, who are disproportionately disadvantaged by climate change, need environmental justice. The world’s forests need to be conserved. The list goes on, and on and on. But what could the climate talks mean for workers in the UK?

The green economy and long-term industrial strategy

There is huge potential for jobs in a low carbon future (a key theme of yesterday’s climate march in London). The environmental goods and services sector adds £26.3bn to the UK economy every year, and this can grow if government and international policymakers agree to the 2oc ceiling. Globally, direct and indirect employment in renewable energy alone has increased by 18 per cent in the last year, by 1.2 to 7.7m.

The ways in which the government must invest in greening our industrial sector in order to meet the UK’s CO2 abatement targets was described by the previous Coalition government’s roadmaps. The Climate Change Committee has called on the government to turn these into action plans – this will be an absolute necessity to meet targets, and could secure the future of the UK’s foundation industries, a core provider of skilled jobs in our economy.

But government policy announcements since the May 2015 election gives great cause for concern. Since their election, the Conservatives have enacted no less than 12 full green policy reversals, notably including: applying the climate change levy to renewable energy (which is a bit like making apple juice companies pay alcohol tax), the early demise of onshore wind subsidies, and lethal cuts to solar power resulting in thousands of job losses.

The 12th policy reversal came last week, when the government announced the withdrawal of its £1bn lifeline for carbon capture and storage – an absolute disaster for the industrial heartlands of the UK, notably including Yorkshire and the Humber.

This is why the TUC called on the Prime Minister the first day of #COP21 to invest in the low carbon economy.

Just transition

Staying below the 2 oc ceiling has huge implications for national and international labour markets, as has been well documented by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for many years, among countless others including the TUC. This is because system change of the nature required to meet our targets will change the way whole industries work.

The opposite of a just transition was seen with the closures of coal mines in the 1970s and 80s, with no alternative skilled work being provided in communities that depended on the sector. It can now be seen in the crisis facing the steel crisis, where a significant number of steel jobs across the Midlands and the North of England are at risk, at the mercy of international markets. “Communities with steel in the DNA will be devastated”, said the TUC’s Frances O’Grady in her message about the #SaveOurSteel campaign.

Situations like these can be avoided if a just transition (click here for definition) to a low carbon economy is managed with environmental and labour market ambitions at its heart.

We are edging closer to the inclusion of a commitment to just transition being including in the international treaty. The TUC is joining trade unions, employers and NGOs from across the globe to defend the following line:

Article 2, paragraph 2: This agreement shall be implemented (…) while ensuring (…) a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.

This blog originally appeared on ToUChstone and is cross-posted here with permission.

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