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COP18 disappoints

20 December, 2012The 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP18) has ground its tedious way to its unsurprising conclusion with the adoption of a weak package of decisions dubbed the “Doha Climate Gateway”. It is now time to assess this Gateway and determine where we stand.

Attending the COP meetings, one has the sense of visiting an alternate reality. Like an unrepentant procrastinator, the Doha Gateway postpones the tough decisions. The science is clear, and the danger is imminent; contrary to the impression created in the media – particularly in North America. Between 1991 and 2012, there have been 13,950 peer-reviewed articles on climate. Of these, only 24 reject global warming.

Scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change inform us that significant action taken within the next three to six years could still keep global warming within the two Celsius degrees above pre-industrial levels that is considered manageable. Yet the gap between currently pledged action, and the level of ambition needed to control the situation, continues to grow.

If action is delayed beyond the 2015-2018 time-frame, our children's future will rely on technologies that are unproven or do not yet exist. The longer we delay, the more difficult and expensive, and perilous, the task will be.

One possible point of action in the near future is the upcoming ILO discussion on Green Jobs and Sustainable Development scheduled for June 2013. It may be the beginning of a dialogue on an ILO standard or instrument on Just Transition.

In conclusion, there are two potential dangers for the labour movement. One, of course, is that through inaction, catastrophic climate change will not be avoided. The rich will no doubt manage quite nicely, but working people and the world's poor will bear the brunt. The other (which may or may not accompany the first) is that the world's peoples will wake up suddenly to the danger, and in their panic, will accept any measures no matter how draconian, to “fix” things. In that scenario, decades of work by the labour movement and other socially-conscious NGOs to insert considerations of social standards, labour standards, human rights, sustainable jobs, decent work, and Just Transition into the environmental debate will be thrown by the wayside in the panic to do something – anything – to deal with the catastrophe at hand.

The reason COP18 will be remembered as less controversial than, say, COP15 or COP17, is not that it accomplished more, but rather that expectations were so low to begin with. It is tempting to say that the COP processes will never accomplish their goal, but it is the only framework that exists for global climate negotiations and abandoning it will require that we create another one. That will take time; time we can ill afford. As Laura Martin Murillo of SustainLabour put it, “this forum also belongs to us - as citizens of this planet; to environmental and development movements and the trade union movements that have helped create it.” It is up to all citizens to put pressure on their governments to do the right thing; and not just once a year when the COP meetings take place.