Sharan Burrow’s speech to the Climate Change Conference - Oslo 13 March 2015

2100. Climate at the turn of 22nd century has stabilised around an average increase of 2 degrees. While this has quite dramatically changed the pattern of life and livelihoods for many with changing seasons and loss of low lying lands, it has offered opportunities for others. The overwhelming number of people now live in mega cities where mobility depends on mass transit systems that are powered by clean energy. Our houses are smaller and connected through ’the Internet of things’ to smart grids that predict patterns of energy use and reduce consumption of wasted energy. Our commons, parks and green verges are reafforested and make for easier breathing, less respiratory disease and longer life spans. And our workplaces are also green waste centers where what can be reused is without question integrated into production and our daily lives. Technology is shared as a common good.

The key to sustainability was established in 2015 when the world’s governments took a decision to act in concert to stop climate change. It took courage and conviction but by 2050 the world had achieved massive decarbonisation. Coal is no longer burnt for energy and the majority of fossil fuel reserves will never be used but the workers in these jobs who built the prosperity of that era were honoured and looked after and their sons and daughters and families have sustainable and secure jobs. Renewable energy, re-afforestation and closing the loop on production and waste have made it possible to see a future that survives within planetary boundaries. Many of the industries of today are the industries of 2015 but unions fought for and won the protections to ensure a ’just transition’. Consequently our children and grandchildren can look forward to jobs on a sustainable planet.

I can write the alternate scenario. We are already witnessing the onset of the trends - loss of life, loss of viable agricultural land, and the loss of livelihoods and jobs in drought, fire, flood and cyclone damaged communities.

We have taken a simple view. There are no jobs on a dead planet. So climate action is a trade union issue. We have a vital role to play to protect jobs in existing workplaces and industries by demanding and bargaining for industrial transformation, to organise new quality jobs in the emerging green economy and to fight for the ’Just Transition’ measures that ensure we leave no one behind. This means work for our pension funds too. It means investing for the long term.

The science is in. We know the science is unequivocal. Without urgent and ambitious action we will face a temperature rise of 4ºC or more this century and irreversible changes in our climate.

Economists have spoken. The financial damage caused by global warming will cost the world far more than previously estimated.

The world’s people want their governments to deal with the pollution that is causing climate change. 73 per cent of people (ITUC Global Poll 2014) want governments to do more to limit pollution causing climate change.

2015 is the year governments can choose a pathway for a zero carbon future.

We have a fighting chance to limit the temperature rise to 2ºC.

We are out of time. Climate catastrophes are increasing and hurting working people now.

But within fifteen years we will face even more consequences with broad spectrum impact. This will destroy more communities and will destroy more jobs. The disruption will be socially and economically destabilising beyond anything we have witnessed to date.

We have policy. The ITUC wants the world’s governments to agree on climate action and give us a fighting chance to limit the temperature rise to 2 degrees or less.

Science tells us we need to urgently stabilise carbon emissions at 44 GigaTonnes.

Business as usual gets us to 59 GigaTonnes by 2020. It doesn’t add up. All our economic sectors must change. We demand a seat at the design table, we demand the dialogue and the collective agreements that must shape the industrial transformation needed. We know that the industrial sectors of today will still be with us tomorrow - energy, construction, transport, manufacturing, agriculture, services, a long list - but the technological shift will be disruptive without a plan and decent work with rights will be at risk in the scramble.

Workers have a right to know how their employers will plan for decarbonisation.

The challenge of industrial transformation is both an imperative and an opportunity for unions to demand dialogue, to organise, to bargain for and to lead the changes to work and skills acquisition that will be required. It is also an opportunity to ensure our pension funds work for sustainability on our terms.

We know there are jobs, millions of jobs. With infrastructure investment projected to be US $50 trillion by 2030 and $90 trillion by 2050. This means jobs.

There are more jobs in construction, manufacturing, transport and services as we green every industry and build those mega cities. There are more jobs in agriculture and re afforestation.

We know there are jobs in the transition. A 2010 study by the Millennium Institute for the ITUC showed that if just 12 countries invested 2% of GDP each year for five years in existing industries this would generate around 48 million jobs.

The ILO has similarly found that policies facilitating climate transition are employment generators. Combining economic growth with environmental improvement can lead to net gains of up to 60 million jobs.

Energy is critical to the transformation so energy workers are at the centre of the transition. Germany, the only country with a nation wide energy plan, has created more than 300,000 new jobs in renewable energy and related manufacturing and services in just a couple of years.

And I have seen their multi-billion technology at work in solar panel manufacturing in China, creating jobs for both nations. Industrial transformation is a global challenge.
All sectors must plan for the future.

We demand a just transition. Industrial transformation must be supported by ’Just Transition’ measures. We have played our role in UN negotiations and fought and won commitments for workers and their communities.. Now these commitments must be made real and included in the Paris agreement in December 2015. The affiliates of the ITUC will fight for a just transition.

And we will fight for adequate funding of this transition, just as we will for the poorest and most vulnerable of nations so they can cope with the impacts of climate change.
2015 is a year for the trade union movement to work on three tracks to secure jobs and our planet:

  • A strong global agreement in Paris which paves the way for a jobs and investment boom and for preventing climate catastrophes in our communities. This requires national pledges and commitments that are ambitious and we will hold a global lobby week in the first week of June.
  • Climate action in workplaces and industries with workers and unions through dialogue, consultation and collective bargaining to drive workplace change.
  • A global union summit in Paris in September where we will assess global progress and showcase industry/ workplace change.

Our first climate briefing for 2015 is out. Look for it on our site. We also want your stories of climate impact, your workplace stories and your dreams for your communities. Send them in.

There are key points in the year. We will see the pledges of our governments by the end of March. Where they are inadequate we will campaign. By the end of May we will see the draft global agreement and we will hold a global week of lobbying to make sure all our politicians commit to this. We will see teams of union members all over the world visible in the parliaments and the community offices of elected officials reporting the results of their lobbying. And in September we will hold our own union climate summit in Paris; a summit to mobilise but also to showcase union success in the industrial challenge to de- carbonise our workplaces and our industries.

We have a shared future. There are millions of jobs worldwide if we get it right but it will also take a serious investment shift.
The role of institutional investors, including workers’ pension funds, in helping transition to a low-carbon economy and mitigating the impact of climate change has become a central policy concern for us.

On the occasion of the UN Climate Summit in New York in September 2014 climate change-related investor coalitions issued a joint “2014 Global Investor Statement on Climate Change” setting out a number of policy priorities for investment in climate change related projects.

According to the International Energy Agency, limiting the increase in global temperature to two degrees Celsius will require additional investments in clean energy of some US $1 trillion annually between now and 2050.

The incentives for investors to push for a green finance agenda are straightforward: it’s about money and return on investment. It’s about risk and the unbelievable reality that green economy investment is still less than 2%.of portfolio. That’s not a long term prospect for securing our jobs or our retirement savings.

In general terms there are three ways for institutional investors to support a zero net carbon economy.

  • Be transparent: we have a right to know where our retirement savings are invested.
  • Report on the carbon footprint that the investments cover: and
  • Increase exposure to clean energy and efficiency assets:

We support long term investment policy and direct engagement. This will secure the best chance of sustainability of jobs and business. We support ’a workers right to know’ of corporate plans and see divestment as an option only to be carefully weighed up against leverage for change. Rather, we demand engagement to secure the industrial transformation that is vital.

While much could be done by institutional investors and the financial industry themselves in engaging in a proactive agenda on climate change, there are a number of external constraints which require government action.

  • Secure green economy products: “green bonds” are by far the most popular form of climate change related assets, and yet their total market capitalization is about US $ 50 billion, a drop in the ocean compared to what is necessary. A central barrier to the development of the green bond market is the lack of commonly agreed definitions and guidelines for fund raising. This leaves many opportunities for “green washing”. Government and financial supervisors should coordinate in this regard.
  • Carbon pricing: to date green financial products have been made financially attractive above their intrinsic value thanks to government guarantees and public subsidies. As necessary and welcome as these guarantees may be at this point, they do not form a sustainable solution. They cannot substitute for a coherent policy framework that effectively puts a stable, reliable and economically meaningful price on carbon and with that the eradication of producer-specific subsidies for fossil fuels. We are not there yet.
  • Public debate on new ’intellectual property’ models’ or technology pools: funding IP in a way that allows universal access to existing and new technologies is critical for success. This could easily become the "generic medicine" fight of tomorrow and we don’t have the luxury of time.
  • Other regulatory and/or policy obstacles: of which there are many including the slow progress to regulate the excesses of speculative behavior that created the financial crisis of the ’great recession’ - the aftermath of which we are still living with.

These actions are just the tip of the iceberg in regard to what is required by our governments, our pension funds and ourselves. Tragically too many otherwise smart nations, including my own, have their heads buried in those melting ice caps.

Colleagues, We need a new business model - for the workers in abusive supply chains, for the capital that invests in your companies that are increasingly making jobs more insecure or refusing to bargain for a fair share and for climate. Rights matter, workers matter and climate justice matters.

There are no jobs on a dead planet.

Thank you