ITUC/Reuters: Unions favour deep CO2 cuts and green jobs

Copenhagen cannot simply be about the environment with the exclusion of social and employment questions

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO, Aug 18 (Reuters)

Trade unions are supporting deep cuts in greenhouse gases as part of a planned U.N. climate pact and want to ensure jobs are preserved in a shift to a green economy, a leader of a global labour group said on Tuesday.

More jobs could be created than are lost if governments are serious about promoting a switch from fossil fuels to a low-carbon economy, said Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

"We are aboard. It’s a fragile consensus but it is there," Ryder told Reuters of an ITUC endorsement in 2008 of cuts in greenhouse emissions as part of a planned treaty to help avert rising sea levels, more heatwaves, droughts and floods.

The Brussels-based ITUC, which says it represents 168 million workers in 155 countries, wants the new U.N. pact due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December to ensure a "just transition" for workers to a greener economy.

"Copenhagen cannot simply be about the environment with the exclusion of social and employment questions," Ryder said on the sidelines of a climate seminar in Oslo. Ryder said the ITUC supported cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 of 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels for developed nations, which a U.N. panel of climate scientists has said would avert the worst effects of climate change.

But recession has sapped governments’ willingness to take tough action. So far in the U.N. negotiations, developed nations are offering greenhouse gas cuts of just 10 to 14 percent below 1990 levels.


Backed by the unions, Argentina and African nations inserted a phrase urging "a just transition of the workforce" into a draft 200-page negotiating text for a Copenhagen deal, he said.

"That means that the transition to this low-carbon future must take account of the employment and social dimensions," he said. The phrase is in brackets in the latest text, meaning it faces opposition from some nations.

Unions have long feared that acting to limit climate change will mean layoffs. Ryder said the ITUC did not agree to endorse the U.N.’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which demands cuts by developed nations, until 2004.

Stronger evidence that global warming is caused by mankind helped tip the balance towards Kyoto, along with the unions’ insistence on social justice.

Ryder said many U.N. studies showed that a low-carbon future could be achieved by "policies that would increase the quantity and quality of employment."

"This will not happen automatically ... It has to be made to happen" and there should be national employment targets, he said.

In the past two decades or so "the idea has been ’let’s deregulate, let’s privatise, let’s let the markets free and the jobs will follow’. I think that orthodoxy is looking rather rocky," he said of the current economic downturn.

He said many workers — such as a Polish coal union leader he recently met — doubted that a shift to a greener economy would mean jobs. "If you work in the Silesian coalfields this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense," he said.

"There is going to have to be massive social protection and investment in adjustment," he said of a global shift from fossil fuels towards industries such as wind or solar power.