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COP25 blog – 9 December 2019

This is an important point in the negotiations. Technical presentations are finished. Trade union delegates have been pressing our points with any negotiators we can reach. People have been working on text for presentation to the political level decision-makers, which in theory should be nearly final text, today. The working groups and subsidiary bodies should wrap up today and present their finished work.

And yet … in terms of the climate talks, Monday was a disappointment. My sense is that once again the negotiators are seeking the least and weakest wording they can find, playing foolish political games with each other, while ignoring the urgency of the science and the rising public anger and demand for action.

Response measures discussions were not finalized on Saturday or Sunday; and the thorny issue of Article 6 (potential carbon emissions trading markets) continues to be a boondoggle. Negotiators seem to be more interested in scoring points than in writing clear text that protects the environment as well as human rights. Article 6 is the only part of the Paris agreement for which the rules have not yet been set. Trading in emissions without safeguards to protect human rights and indigenous rights could be catastrophic. For this reason, it is quite possible that having no decision on Article 6, may be preferable to a bad set of rules. If we are stuck with bad rules then it will create a hole in the Paris Agreement. The latest text fails to mention social and human rights protections, and also fails to protect the environment from an abuse of a poorly designed trading system. Only a weak re-statement of some of the words from the Paris Agreement preamble, remains. This is unacceptable.

Additional negotiations around finance for loss and damage, also remain unresolved. Likewise, the Green Climate Fund remains woefully short of the commitments from developed countries that it needs.

Let me reiterate that despite the noise about how much money is needed, the amount is trivial next to how much was spent bailing out banks in 2009, or next to global military spending, to pick two examples. Other alternatives to fill these accounts include a carbon tax or a Tobin tax (on financial transactions). It’s not a question of lack of resources. It’s a question of political priorities and will.

Gender responsive implementation can enable parties to accelerate a Just Transition of the workforce. In spite of what seemed like a good start, negotiators are busy proposing weaker language here, as well.

At a moment in time when leadership and ambition are called for, our climate negotiators are saying to each other: “What is the least and weakest language we can get away with here”?

Not all is grim; some countries have announced ambitious emissions reductions targets.

Trade Union Side Event

Today, the important trade union side event, Just Transition for Climate Ambition, took place.  Panellists who spoke and the message they brought included:

  • Ms. Laura Martín Murillo, Advisor on Employment and Just Transition, Ministry for Ecological Transition, Spain, described some of the challenges in creating a Just Transition in coal-mining regions of southern Spain
  • Mr. George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy of British Columbia, Canada, spoke about how resource-based communities and First Nations responded to the consultation processes initiated by the government there.
  • Ibu Nur Masripatin, former head of delegation at COP of Indonesia, explained some of the challenges experienced in Indonesia caused by corporate exploitation of palm oil, for example.
  • Ms. Tamara Muñoz, International Secretary of CUT Chile, reminded everyone of the injustices presently being suffered in Chile.
  • Mr. Brian Kohler, Director of Sustainability at IndustriALL Global, spoke on the need to simultaneously address climate change and Industry 4.0 via a Just Transition that would lead to a good, sustainable future.


  • Ms. Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC, moderated part of the discussions
  • Ms. Alison Tate, ITUC Director, moderated the remaining discussions.

It was quite a successful event, and my remarks were well received; many participants wanted to talk to me after the event.

Here is a rough transcript of what I said:

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Good afternoon! IndustriALL Global Union has over 700 affiliates in 140 countries, and through our affiliates we speak for some 50 million workers, globally. These are workers in the resource, processing, and manufacturing sectors. Our members include coal miners, oil workers, energy workers, steelmakers, automobile workers, cement makers, shipbuilders, aerospace workers, electronics manufacturing, chemical workers, paper makers, and more. We create the energy and all of the industrial products that people believe are an essential part of today’s world.

Stabilizing the climate means reaching for a sustainable future: sustainable in all of its dimensions; social, economic, as well as environmental. I’m here to tell you that the way forward, if we are serious about protecting the planet, is a Just Transition that respects and protects today’s and tomorrow’s workers, their families, and the communities and cultures that rely on them.

Despite the pessimism that I am sometimes accused of, it cannot be denied that the 25th Conference of the Parties shows several positive signs. People and parties are talking seriously about the climate crisis who couldn’t be bothered as recently as five years ago. Greta Thunberg arrived on Friday and the youth movement she started is having a huge impact. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand action. There is no doubt that this is having an impact on the negotiators.

And Just Transition, a phrase I first used in 1994, is now on everyone’s lips, and in everyone’s position papers and policies. Or so it seems. Even those who do not really know what it means are eager to use the phrase. I’m flattered. You should be flattered. We did this. This is progress. Really.

There has been discussion at this conference about potential climate “tipping points”. Trade unions believe that there are social tipping points as well. Anger resulting from inequality, injustice, violations of human rights and the destruction of decent work and living standards – and the destruction of the environment as experienced by individuals – can also reach a tipping point. Mass public discontent could erode public support for climate action, or depending on the circumstances, harden public demands for it. Political leaders should be very wary.

Let me tell you something you really should already know, but perhaps you haven’t thought of in exactly this way: people are tired of contemplating a bleak future. Of being asked to fight for a future that might be “less bad” than it would otherwise be. But it does not have to be that way. Why can’t we promise a bright future? I could ask 50 million workers to help me fight for a good future! I can’t ask them to fight for a bleak one.

Let’s plan a Just Transition to a future that sounds good to people! And let’s deliver it! We can do it!

Here’s how. The future world of work will certainly be transformed by the need to decarbonise the economy, but changes are simultaneously being driven by a wide range of advanced and disruptive technologies being rapidly introduced in our workplaces. Some of these technologies will play a vital role in limiting climate change, although there are indeed some wild and unsubstantiated claims being made. Indeed, these drivers of change, and others such as changing demographics, cannot be considered in isolation. We are in a rapidly changing world, and I don’t simply mean the climate.

(I leave to one side, for a moment, the fact that the social implications of these changes are not being considered seriously enough, and that trade unions are the main voice for the social dimension of sustainability.)

But, look, let me make this simple. Decarbonisation of industry, along with digitalization, the “internet of things”, artificial intelligence, advanced semi-autonomous robots, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology – all of these techniques and more, sometimes labelled the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 – will deliver greater productivity. This is not in doubt, because if these technologies did not promise increased productivity, we would not be witnessing the rush to adopt them. This means fewer hours of labour to produce the same goods or services.

And that means, potentially at least, a lot of good things! Increased leisure time, shorter working hours, earlier retirement, more opportunities for self-fulfilment and creativity, better access to the workplace for women and traditionally disadvantaged groups of workers, and safer healthier and more fulfilling work. All of these things should be possible! Properly deployed, these changes could takes us quite a distance towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals!

Why then are workers, globally, instead experiencing worse and more precarious jobs, “gig” work, zero-hour contracts, poorer working conditions, reduced real income, demands for raising the age of retirement, long working hours, short vacations, and resistance to even such basic demands as maternity and paternity leave? Why are trade unions under relentless attack? Why are we creating a surveillance culture, a culture of fear and hate, instead of a sense of community and a culture of happiness? Why are we not solving the climate crisis?

It is because so long as the only driving force for companies to adopt these technologies is to cut costs and increase profits, all will suffer save those few who own the technologies. The introduction of disruptive new technologies must be people-centric rather than profit-centric. We need companies, employers, who are committed to sustainable development in all of its dimensions.

But we also need sustainable industrial policies – public policies in the public interest – created via real and meaningful social dialogue. We must consciously direct these changes towards building a better world. We must simultaneously protect people and the planet, and not sacrifice both to an irresponsible search for short-term profits. To navigate these changes we need a guarantee of a genuinely Just Transition that leaves no-one behind.

If you want workers to support giving up what they are doing today, you have to tell them what they will be doing tomorrow. And it should sound good to them! That’s what a Just Transition is fundamentally about.

You know, you have probably seen, Trade Union’s Topline Demands for COP25. They are:

  1. to raise ambition with Just Transition,
  2. to get Parties to sign on to the Climate Action for Jobs Initiative that was launched at the Climate Action Summit in New York earlier this year; and
  3. to win commitment for finance for a low-carbon development path that supports the most vulnerable.

These are not wild or unreasonable demands, in fact in many ways we are simply asking governments to do what they have already said they would.

Our demands are entirely reasonable, technically possible, and affordable. The transition to a cleaner, more sustainable economy must be economically and socially just and fair for workers and their communities. Advanced technologies, or sustainable energy, or greener industries, must benefit everyone and not just a handful of billionaires. The Paris goals are technically and economically feasible. What is lacking is the political will to take action and a Just Transition plan to maintain social coherence through the necessary transformations.

The future we seek – a Just Transition to a future in which the environment is protected and the economy is thriving – can be won with sustainable industrial policies, with strong social protections, and support for workers. It can be won by us!

That’s why trade unions demand social dialogue on these changes. We need to be at the table discussing the plan, the sustainable industrial policies, the Just Transition programmes that are necessary. Change is coming. If we are not at the table to jointly direct these changes, we fear that we’ll be on the menu.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Will you join us at that discussion table? Yes I mean you, business people. And you, representatives of governments. Could we build a sustainable future on respect, and trust, and dialogue? Will you help us lay out a better future?

That’s my question and my challenge. Thank you.

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