Climate Change and the World of Labour

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Comrade Prince Adeyemi – NLC deputy President, Nigerian Labour Congress launching the NLC Climate Policy

Time for Green Labour Revolution

The launch of the Climate Policy must be followed by massive awareness creation on shop floors and board rooms. The capacity of workers must be enhanced through trainings so that the coming transitions will be beneficial rather than harmful to the workforce. The policy must also be seen as a tool for building bridges and for deep collaboration with citizens, movements and governments.

The Climate change phenomenon affects all humanity and the planet. It is a cross-cutting crisis that has deep implications for our way of life and for how and where we work. Climate Change is a social, environmental and ecological justice issue. It is also an issue of gender, political and economic domination wherein those that contribute the least to the problem are the most affected and it is the victims that are increasingly showing more ambition towards tackling the crisis. This realisation urges us not to see the demand for System Change as a mere slogan but as a key framing of the fundamental path to attaining climate justice.

The big challenge here is that getting involved in pressing for climate action may sometimes appear to go against the grain of the routine labour concerns of wages and job security. Keeping in mind the fact that climate change impacts do not differentiate between workers and non-workers, we cannot overemphasis the fact that labour activism must necessarily go beyond work tenure, wages and privileges. In fact, climate action is a major way that labour unions can retain relevance in a world facing dramatic and unyielding social, climate and environmental change. Labour’s climate change slogan “No jobs on a dead planet” speaks very clearly about the overarching understanding that demands mobilisations for action.

Climate impacts are already with us. And they are intensifying: floods, sea level rise, droughts, desertification, heat waves, water stress and disappearing water bodies, including Lake Chad.

Responses have been mostly on two tracks: adaptation and mitigation. Both require finance and in many cases technology. Climate finance and technology transfer are essential for serious climate action. The demand for these cannot be seen as charity or philanthropy, but on the basis of equity, historical responsibility and as reparation or settlement of climate or ecological debt. This can also be approached on the basis of polluter pays principle. This principle has already kicked in here with regard to the clean-up of Ogoni environment where the funds for the environmental assessment came from the polluter and the clean-up itself will be similarly funded.

The Nigerian Labour Congress must be applauded for placing due premium on Climate Change and seeking ways to contribute to the tackling of the crisis on the factory floors and in the wider political space. At a time when other sectors of the economy are yet to place the needed premium on finding solutions to the challenge, NLC has taken the bold step of coming forward with a Climate Change Policy.

Politicians cannot effectively tackle the climate crisis alone. The environmental and climate movements cannot do it alone. The fusion of forces requires a fresh understanding of solidarity and conjoined interests.

The NLC has shown over the years that its vision for workers includes the place of workers in community of citizens of our nation. Labour has been in the fore front of the struggles for liberties, democracy and sundry rights in our nation. With that pedigree, it would have been tragic if the NLC did not take a bold stand on this major threat that has both local and global manifestations. Labour has the onerous responsibility to make climate change action and clean jobs central collective bargaining planks.

Climate Deniers

It is well known that while businesses and corporations have known of the threat of climate change some of them have invested heavily in sowing doubts about the crisis and are in general denial that global warming has anthropogenic roots. Among the major climate deniers are transnational oil companies and it does appear that the main reason for blocking or blunting efforts to tackle the menace has been bids to lock in dependence on fossil fuels and by so doing secure their profit margin while maintaining a short term vision that does not worry about the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

Climate denial has powerfully impacted climate negotiations and actions. The short history of climate negotiations makes this clear. The major Kyoto Protocol of 1997 placed premium on the foundational justice premise of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). Informing that principle is the fact that although humans have caused climate change, some nations are far more responsible for the situation than others. That reality led to the creation of Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries, with the Annex 1 nations being the rich industrialised and highly polluting nations who have already utilised a huge chunk of the carbon budget. The Kyoto Protocol required that countries agree to binding emissions reduction levels – by which they would do their fair share of emissions cut as determined by science, in order to keep global temperature increases within reasonable limits.

From the 15th Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC held in Copenhagen, the world shifted from binding emissions reduction and adopted the voluntary pledge and review system. This was concretised in the much-celebrated Paris Agreement reached at COP21.  Now, countries can do literally as they please. It has been seen already that if all the countries, including Nigeria, do all they say they would do as contained in their NDCs, the world would be on track for over 4oC temperature change within the Century. Keeping in mind that Africa experiences higher average temperatures than the global average the levels of temperature increase being foreseen would mean a roasting of Africa.

Climate and the World of Labour

Let us look at some of the consequences of climate inaction on the World of Work. First of all, we must all agree that it is workers that are called upon to provide emergency responses when there are natural or manmade catastrophes – whether these are floods, fires or conflicts arising from these and others. It is thus in the worker’s interest for action to be taken to avert such avoidable calamities.

The major driver of global warming is known to be the burning of fossil fuels- oil, gas and coal. In Nigeria we literally burn raw natural gas through gas flaring. It has been estimated that up to 80-85 percent of known fossil fuels reserve is not burnable[1] if we are to stand a 50 percent chance of keeping to 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase throughout this Century[2]. This has been attested to by several authorities including the International Energy Agency, The World Bank and researchers at University College London. Has this realisation halted the search for and extraction of fossil fuels? No. Rather than stop searching for and exploiting these resources we are witnesses to extreme extraction including by deep sea drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The challenge facing the industry is that if the use of their products is discontinued they would be left with stranded assets and diminished profits. To keep profits rolling workers must keep drilling even if the planet burns.

Another form of extreme extraction is deep-sea drilling. Deep sea drilling besides yielding resources that should be left below the sea bed, exposes workers to very risky work conditions. Workers literally disappear in accidents such as the Deep Sea Horizon oil spill of 20 April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chevron gas rig explosion of 16 January 2012 in the Funima field off the coast of Kolouama, Bayelsa State.

Fracking is known to heavily contaminate ground water with toxic chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing processes. The process is also said to be triggering earth tremors and earthquakes in some areas.

With sea level rise and freak storms, workers are exposed to hazardous conditions even as drilling rigs and platforms face increasing risks and sometimes get knocked over. Sea level rise is a real threat in Southern Nigeria, just as desertification is in the North. Indeed, Nigeria’s 853Km coastline is so low lying that sea level rise and coastal erosion are already causing significant loss of land. We should add here that the industrial installations along our coastline stand at a great risk if climate action is not taken to strengthen and defend our coastline by means including sea walls and restoration of mangrove forests.

Deforestation is another phenomenon that must be stemmed as a way of fighting climate change. Our forests are challenged by illegal logging and by land-use changes, especially of replacing our forests with monoculture plantations. Forest cover is also lost to infrastructural developments. With our forest cover already down to less than 10 percent of what it used to be, the 260 KM superhighway that is proposed to run from Bakassi to Katsina Ala, ripping through pristine forests, and having 10 km right of way on both sides may well be the last nail to be hammered into the climate coffin in Nigeria. Labour has a duty to speak up on this matter.  The infrastructural development would provide some jobs in the short term, but destroying such a huge swathe of pristine rain forest would extinguish existing livelihoods in forest dependent communities, diminish tourist potential of the territory, destroy wildlife habitats and general biodiversity. Significantly, it would mean the destruction of a major carbon sink in the region.

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New Thinking, New Jobs

If fossil resources are kept in the ground, would this not lead to massive lay off of workers around the world? Not likely if we act proactively.

Labour can play strategic roles in climate change responses, including by activating a global movement of workers that are actively ensuring that their pension funds are invested in climate friendly sectors. Labour can work towards training and retraining for the acquisition of new skills for jobs in the renewable energy sector, greening our infrastructure, retrofitting and other areas of the built environment. The fear of job losses that may arise from a shift from jobs that hurt the climate is to a large extent unfounded. The Trade Unions-led One Million Climate Jobs campaign, for example, gives ample reasons to see that we simply need a new mind-set and willingness to invest differently. According to the campaign, Climate jobs are jobs that lead directly to cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, and so slow down climate change. For instance, workers who build wind farms replace power stations that burn coal or oil. Workers who insulate buildings reduce the oil and gas we burn. Bus drivers reduce the amount of oil we burn in cars[3].

The campaign also shows that one million climate jobs can be funded from recovered stolen funds and from other monies stashed away in tax havens.

The Green Labour Revolution

We have heard it said that Africa missed the first Green Revolution and so we need a new Green Revolution for the continent. The true revolution that we need is one that builds on our inherent diversity and resilience. In the area of agriculture, labour should be in the forefront of ensuring that our biodiversity is not eroded and that our farmers are not turned into share croppers or mere farm hands in monoculture wastelands. Labour must promote truly climate smart agriculture that is built on agro-ecology and not on genetically engineered crops that depend on toxic chemicals that endanger the health of farm workers and the environment. It is time give birth to a Green Labour Revolution. According to the frontline climate crusader, Naomi Klein, this sort of revolution would not only delink our economic system from the clutches for neoliberalism but would heal the planet in the process.[4]

Dominant political and neo-liberal economic thought holds that through technological development we (humans) can fix whatever we break and destroy. This position is promoted by the rupturing of bonds between humans and Nature; with Nature being seen as an object to be transformed and/or commodified. This thinking has driven extreme extraction and dramatic transformation of Nature that has now thrown up new realities.

The protection of livelihoods will remain a key concern of Labour, but the reality of some workers being adversely affected by climate impacts and policies must necessarily be kept in view through provisions for a just transition[5] to a climate-friendly economy.[6]

Work sectors that must embrace just transitions to a low carbon economy include:

  • Power/energy sector
  • Agriculture
  • Infrastructure and construction
  • Waste management
  • Health
  • Mining
  • Land management
  • Industrialization
  • Transportation

The launch of the Climate Policy must be followed by massive awareness creation on shop floors and board rooms. The capacity of workers must be enhanced through trainings so that the coming transitions will be beneficial rather than harmful to the workforce. The policy must also be seen as a tool for building bridges and for deep collaboration with citizens, movements and governments.

The solutions to complex problems are often so easy that they are overlooked or simply ignored. Real climate change actions require that

  • Emissions are cut at source and not offset through the various market mechanisms that can be equated to plea bargains where offenders are let off the hook by making some payments (and carrying on with the harmful activity)
  • Climate debt must be recognised and paid and this will cover for climate finance
  • The Rights of Nature is ensured and Nature is not traded as objects of trade, manipulation and transformation.
  • Consumption and waste is reduced. Promotion of local production and consumption is key
  • Vigorously promote and pursue climate cooling agro-ecological agriculture as opposed to climate hurting fossil/chemical dependent industrial agriculture.

 

Disaster occurs when hazards meet with vulnerability or unpreparedness. By launching a climate policy today, the NLC has shown that it will not wait to be taken unawares by climate change impacts. It is now the duty of NLC to encourage all labour organisations to urgently buy into this policy framework or draw up policies especially focussed on their areas of work. As we said at the outset, government cannot tackle climate challenge on its own. The NDCs submitted to the UNFCCC are largely aspirational and require much commitment and tweaking to make it effectively operational. Labour can provide the push that politicians often need to gain momentum towards actions.  This is the time for a much needed Green Labour Revolution and the environmental movement is ready to join forces for this to happen for the good of our peoples and the planet.

**Talking points used at the Public Presentation of Nigeria Labour Congress’ Climate Change Policy at Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja, on Monday 24 October 2016

 

Notes

[1] Duncan Clark. 2015. How much of the World’s Fossil Fuel can we burn?  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/keep-it-in-the-ground-blog/2015/mar/25/what-numbers-tell-about-how-much-fossil-fuel-reserves-cant-burn

[2] Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins.2015. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v517/n7533/full/nature14016.html

[3] See Jonathan Neal. 2014. One Million Climate Jobs – Tackling the Environmental and Economic Crises athttp://www.campaigncc.org/sites/data/files/sites/data/files/Docs/one%20million%20climate%20jobs%202014.pdf

[4] Naomi Klein.2013. Why Unions Need to Join the Climate Fight at: http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2013/09/why-unions-need-join-climate-fight

[5] Just transition has been defined by COSATU in its Framework on Climate Change (2011)as “A Just transition means changes that do not disadvantage the working class worldwide, that does not disadvantage developing countries , and where the industrialized countries pay for the damage their development has done to the earth’s atmosphere. A just transition provides the opportunity for deeper transformation that includes the redistribution of power and resources towards a more just and equitable social order.”

[6] Ava Lightbody. 8 April 2015. How are U.S. Unions Working Toward a Climate-Safe Economy for All Workers? https://workandclimatechangereport.org/tag/labour-unions/

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