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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009, 8:30 am

As Climate Talks Continue, Labor Looks for Seat at Table

BY Akito Yoshikane

The United Nations General Assembly in New York City.  

With hundreds of heads of state at the United Nations summit on climate change in New York this Tuesday, there is a renewed sense of urgency in achieving a global treaty to curb global warming.

Whether industrial and developing nations reach consensus on a new post-Kyoto Protocol framework ahead of the Copenhagen meetings in December remains to be seen. But as countries try to shift to a green economy, international and domestic labor unions have been active in ensuring that their priorities are represented in negotiations.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), a global umbrella organization and AFL-CIO affiliate, has sent representatives to UN Climate Change talks over the years in Bali, Indonesia, Poznan, Poland and Germany, where leaders met this June, in Bonn.

With the Copenhagen talks approaching, the ITUC outlined a list of priorities for the negotiations there, lobbying for more input with labor organizations during the talks.

The priorities are similar to the special task force the union created for climate change for a “Just Transition” to ensure a smooth shift for green union jobs. Tenets include providing education and training for any workers aversely affected by the transition; social protections for unemployed workers and individuals displaced by climate induced events; and sustainable industrial policies.

“The ITUC has emphasized the need for the U.N. climate change agreement to address employment and income, the inclusion of trade unions and other stakeholders in the decision-making process and a sensitivity to the needs of the poorest and least-developed nations,” wrote Bob Baugh, who covered the Bonn talks as executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council and co-chair of the AFL-CIO Energy Task Force.

The measures are in part to counter the weakening environmental protections and erosion of workers rights. In the U.S., labor and environmental organizations have formed an alliance around the priorities.

In 2006, the United Steelworkers of America teamed up with the Sierra Club to form the Blue Green Alliance. The organization has grown to include several unions and environmental groups as the push for renewable energies is increasingly seen as a solution for satisfying both climate change and mounting job losses.

The organization has focused on passing U.S. legislation, with a policy statement that links "green jobs" jumpstarting the country's fledgling economy.

The Blue Green Alliance has been particularly focused on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which passed the House in June. Despite several concessions to special interests, the bill would help to create 1.7 million jobs by investing $150 billion in clean energy.

"Investing in a green economy—creating good-paying jobs and setting our country on a path to energy independence while reducing global warming—is integral to moving our country forward," said David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance.

"By starting down the road of a ‘green recovery,' the United States will build the political and economic foundation for global policies that put a price on carbon, stabilize energy prices, and fund long-term transitions to clean energy economies."

Akito Yoshikane is a freelance writer based in Chicago. He can be reached at akitoyoshikane [at] gmail.com

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