Labour Groups’ Participation in the UNFCCC

Just as the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC) includes the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Auto Workers Youth Network, global labour organizations have been concerned about climate change for a long time. I begin to provide an introduction to labour groups’ participation in the UNFCCC here, and you’ll be hearing more in the coming weeks from our delegates who are directly involved with labour organizations and climate change.

Labour groups have been involved in the UNFCCC process since the Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon, and continue to participate today. While individual and national-level labour unions participate in the UN climate conferences, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which was founded in 2006, includes groups form 151 countries, and unites labour voices at the international climate talks. As with many civil society groups, their presence has grown over the years. Two years ago, at COP14, there were 90 ITUC delegates; last year, at COP15, there were 420. COP14 was the first time that trade unions had official status at the UN (they are known as Trade Union Non-Governmental Organizations, or TUNGOS), which gave them greater status and more direct access to the UNFCCC. In Cancún, TUNGOs will continue their presence, in many ways similar to those employed by youth: lobbying governmental officials, press conferences, and meetings. As well, there will be a dedicated “World of Work” pavillion from December 2 to December 7th, and various trade union side events including a specific ITUC side event on December 9th.

Union issues at the negotiations overlap with many of those that concern us generally – emissions reduction targets, adaptation, and technology transfer. In general, the ITUC has taken very progressive stances on these issues. For example:
Kyoto Protocol: The international labour organization of the time (ICFTU) supported the Kyoto Protocol.
Science-based targets: ITUC supports science-based targets, based on the iPCC’s 2020 and 2050 scenarios. The Canadian Labour Congress pushed for a 1990 baseline for Canada’s emission reduction targets at COP15 last year, along with other progressive positions.
UN Process vs. Copenhagen Accord: The ITUC supports the UN process and is strongly critical of the Copenhagen Accord

One major issue is advocacy for a “just transition” – ensuring there is a framework for a fair and sustainable shift to a low carbon economy. Essentially, while creating green jobs, workers in traditional industries must also be protected. This includes re-employment or alternative employment, or, where this is not possible, compensation, with fair treatment of workers, their families, and communities. Ensuring just transition requires programs and public policy to ensure its effectiveness. The Canadian Labour Congress has a great discussion of just transition on its website.

Within Canada, the Green Economy Network is a partnership between labour, social justice, and environmental groups. It includes groups such as the Canadian Labour Congress, the CYCC, and the David Suzuki Foundation. Similar to the American “Blue Green Alliance”, their vision draws links between our treatment of the natural environment and human beings, and states that “We need to rethink the way we transport ourselves, move goods, use water, fuel industries, and heat our homes and businesses. In doing so, we also need to break our addiction to fossil fuels and overcome the poverty and inequalities that plague our society. In short, we need to build a green economy that transforms the mode of production and consumption in our society, makes existing jobs more environmentally sustainable, and simultaneously creates new decent paying, full time, safe and healthy green jobs in all sectors of society, to address the pressing economic and social inequalities of our time.” There are many synergies between environmental and labour concerns about climate change, and groups from divers backgrounds work together at COPs, as well as throughout the year, to push for a sustainable future, a just transition to a green economy, and for strong action on climate change.

Thanks to Natalie Meltzer for background information on labour at COPs!


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