Climate talks are leaving workers ‘out in the cold’ warn unions

UNISON adds its voice to concerns that the UK’s own COP president is ignoring ‘just transition’ in the COP26 negotiations

UNISON has joined the TUC and others in warning COP26 president Alok Sharma that he is “putting progress at risk” during this month’s climate talks by neglecting international commitments to a just transition in the move towards low-carbon economies.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 committed nations to taking account of “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”.

However, trade union delegates within the climate conference, including UNISON’s Stephen Smellie, fear that just transition is being sidelined in the negotiations.

Reflecting their concerns, the TUC, Scottish TUC and Wales TUC, with support from affiliated unions, have made a joint statement calling on the UK Presidency to build on the commitment made in Paris.

Their statement says: “The UK COP pPresident Alok Sharma MP has repeatedly committed to just transition as an essential component in rapidly moving the world away from fossil fuels.

“But so far, the UK presidency has invested little political capital in including just transition in the climate agreement negotiations – leaving workers around the globe out in the cold.”

The statement applauded the presidency’s role in preparing last week’s conference declaration supporting just transition, but added that this was separate to any binding agreements currently being discussed.

“Similar efforts need to be made to incorporate just transition and labour rights into the official COP26 negotiations,” it says.

The statement calls on the president to:

  • ensure negotiations cover the needs of workers, families, and communities;
  • increase engagement with a wide range of stakeholders on just transition, climate action, labour and human rights;
  • address concerns that observers – and in some cases government parties – have been excluded from official negotiation meetings where they should have access;
  • retain and press ahead with the commitment to a just transition made in the Paris Agreement, including commitments to engage with workers and to protect and create good quality jobs.

Mr Sharma is the UK government’s former business secretary, stepping down from that role in order to lead COP26. He remains a member of the cabinet.

UNISON has campaigned vigorously for just transition. In its report on the decarbonisation of public services, launched on Monday, the union recommends that the UK government create a just transition agency or commission for public services, embedding a social partnership approach with public service workers and their unions.

UNISON’s acting head of policy David Arnold said today: “Successful measures to tackle climate change need the active support and engagement of working people. Changes that will be required to how we work, how we move around and how we live our lives can’t be handed down from above.

“That’s why the Glasgow agreement needs to have just transition at its heart. World leaders need to show that they understand the need to get working people on board.”

Mr Arnold continued: “Committing to a just transition will send a powerful message that world leaders are committed to protecting jobs and livelihoods and ensuring workers can engage with employers on every step of the way towards net zero. That’s the key to unlocking the public support across the world needed for rapid progress.

“Alok Sharma must show leadership, because the best agreement for workers is also the best chance for stopping runaway climate change.”