Jump to main content
IndustriALL logotype

IndustriALL COP21 blog

12 December, 2015IndustriALL Global Union's director of sustainability, Brian Kohler, reports from the crucial climate summit taking place in Paris...

Day 14 – Saturday, 12 December

Today the final version of the Paris Decision and Agreement was released. Although my first reaction was disappointment at not achieving everything that we in the labour movement hoped for, upon reflection my opinion of it is rising somewhat. What should I say about an agreement that is weak and imperfect in several areas, but which was the best that could be politically achieved at this moment, and may nevertheless mark a turning point for our civilization and the planet we live on?
Be cautious what you read and what you believe about this complex document. There are of course those who will jump in with a quick analysis of the Paris Agreement, whether or not they have read it or understand it. There are those who will be quick to condemn it, no matter what is in it. There are those who will be quick to celebrate it, no matter what is in it.
This Agreement deserves better – it is potentially, at least, a last-minute chance to save civilization from the impacts of climate change. It deserves careful thought and reflection on its strengths, weaknesses, and likely impacts. I will read it, and re-read it, and offer my analysis in this space. Stay tuned!

Day 13 – Friday, 11 December

Today was a day of watching, and waiting. Intense negotiations continued on the remaining barriers to a Paris Agreement. Actions were organized to reinforce civil society's view that human rights, labour rights, and Just Transition deserve to be in the body of the text, not merely in the preamble. (see video)

The "final" version is expected to be released tomorrow morning. I will post my analysis of it on this blog. Stay tuned!

Day 12 – Thursday, 10 December

After hard hours of negotiations, late Thursday night, a near-final version of the Decision and Agreement were released - although there are still areas under discussion. My reaction to it can be described as disappointed, but not utterly depressed. Disappointed, because where there were options in previous versions, the least-ambitious ones have been those most frequently selected. Not utterly depressed, because there are some features of the draft Paris Agreement that are good.

Whatever the outcome of the Paris talks, it will be a beginning and not an end-point. IndustriALL must be ready to lead the way forward.

Before attempting a first analysis of what is the good, the bad, and the ugly in the Paris Agreement, I would remind the reader that the Paris Agreement has a fundamentally different structure than the Kyoto Accord which it replaces. The Kyoto Protocol was a “top down” system that imposed emissions targets and included systems for verifying them. However, developed countries considered it unfair and many simply failed to meet their targets or withdrew from it entirely, without any effective consequences. The Paris Accord, on the other hand, is a sort of “bottom up” system that encourages countries to set their own targets and embed those targets in their own legislation. Even if some countries do not make them a legislative commitment, it does make the Paris approach more politically achievable.

Although the Agreement is a legal document, in practical terms enforcement of it will be difficult or impossible without the political will of the Parties to make it effective. In my opinion enforcement will be mainly in the form of political pressure, and occasionally legal action, from constituents. The wording of the Agreement certainly provides the space for Parties to do the right things; but provides little resembling penalties for Parties that do not.

Recall labour's three top demands going into these talks: (1) to raise ambition and realize the job-creation potential of climate action; (2) to deliver on climate finance and support the most vulnerable; and (3) Commit to securing a Just Transition for workers and their communities.

Guided by these three goals we continue to lobby for better positioning of Just Transition, human rights, greater ambition, a clear financial mechanism and clearer measurement, reporting and verification of the Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs), but the window of opportunity to get last-minute changes is swiftly closing.

Those who are interested may read the current draft text here: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/da02.pdf

Here are my observations on the draft as it exists at this time (remember, there are still negotiations in progress):

The Paris Agreement and post-Paris Process

• The Paris Agreement may be the best that can be politically achieved at this moment in time. The French Presidency has worked hard, and effectively, to prevent a catastrophe such as Copenhagen's COP15. As a political document, it sets out a process: not only does it create an institutional framework based on international negotiations, which has been in question since the slow death of the Kyoto Protocol; but sets a tone for a positive path forward. Indeed, the signals it sends to governments and investors may be its most important achievement. The framework has flexibility and universal application; although it is an unfilled vessel with respect to many of the specifics we would like to see.


• The stated levels of ambition (article 2) are to “(a) Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change; (b) Increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; (d) Make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards such low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.” These are fine, but the mechanisms to achieve them are so weak as to make them mainly aspirational. Particularly worrying are the lack of clearly defined mechanisms for measuring, reporting, and verifying the INDCs.

Just Transition

• Just Transition is in the Agreement, although not in the best place: it is in the preamble. The wording, however, is clear and concise; better in some ways than past formulations: (paragraph 10) “Taking into account 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.” Other human rights are equally in the preamble. We would very much have preferred these to be referenced in the body of the Agreement (attached to, say, Article 2) rather than in the preamble. However, having the words in the Agreement at all represent a considerable achievement – after the Lima COP there was no guarantee that the words would even appear. I think that whether they are in the preamble or the body, our task will be the same: to lobby and campaign for our national governments to accept that a political commitment to their workforces has been made in COP21, and pressure them to deliver on that commitment.


• Options are still on the table. A floor of USD 100 billion per year has been agreed upon, which is good, but the arguments about who should contribute to it, and how much, continue. This is perhaps the most difficult part of the agreement still to be resolved at this time. It is largely in this area that realizing the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility”, a requirement of the UNFCCC, is still a factor.


• There will be a 5-year review cycle but a first review (described as a “facilitated discussion”) will take place in 2019. It is not clear how a facilitated discussion will close the gap between announced INDCs and necessity!

Loss and Damage

• The recognition that there will be loss and damage as the result of climate change has been under discussion for several COPs, resisted by developed countries who seem to believe that accepting loss and damage will create the expectation of liability and compensation. This is not actually the case, but the arguments to weaken these references, continue. In fact, there is no mechanism in the text to deliver anything to countries that may suffer climate loss or damage.

Day 11 - Wednesday 9 December

I remain optimistic that a credible deal will result from COP21, but as the final hours approach, the draft text remains weak in many areas. There are still large areas of bracketed text and text presented as options. The choices made about which to include, which to exclude, and which to modify will make the difference between a fairly strong Paris Agreement and an unacceptably weak Paris Agreement.

One of the key areas not yet agreed to in the draft Paris Agreement, is the inclusion of language on human rights, women's rights, indigenous peoples' rights. December 10 is International Human Rights Day.  It commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - in Paris. The symbolism should not be lost on the Party negotiators. It is simply untenable to produce an agreement on climate change on this day, in this city, that does not speak of human rights.

The overall target, or level of ambition, is still under discussion. Existing Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the commitments already made by Parties, are insufficient to guarantee that global warming will be maintained at less than 3 Celsius degrees above pre-industrial levels, so debating whether the target should be 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees may seem a bit esoteric. There are good scientifically-justifiable reasons for setting the target at 1.5 degrees if we wish to limit the risks, for example to people living in low-lying island states of flood-prone areas. However, my assessment is that we are already guaranteed to go beyond 1.5 degrees, but there is still a technical chance of limiting global warming to less than 2.0 degrees. Therefore setting the goal as 1.5 degrees would be largely symbolic. A related unresolved issue is differentiation: the relative level of expectations of developed and developing countries.

That leads to my next assessment, which is finance. Whatever the goal may finally be, it can only be realized if adequate finance is made available to those nations that most need it. The text needs to resolve the question of reliable financing based on a floor of 100 billion USD per year.

Periodic reviews of country pledges are needed to track progress towards climate safety, and the first such review cannot wait until 2020 even if a 5-year review cycle is adopted.

Sectors not covered by the Paris Agreement include emissions attributed to sea and air traffic. Those UN agencies responsible for these sectors must declare their intentions, in the spirit of coherence within the UN family of organizations.

An estimated 22.5 million people have been forced from their homes annually since 2008. The vision of millions of climate refugees should spur developed countries into action in the final two days of these talks.

Just Transition is in the preamble of the Agreement. It is not the ideal place to have it, but it is something - and it would not be in the text at all if not for the heavy lobbying that the labour delegates have undertaken. Our task whether we achieved this language in the preamble or in the body of the text, is the same: we will have to mobilize our efforts to demand that governments live up to the political commitment they have made to a Just Transition, and deliver it for affected members, their families, and the communities that depend on them.

Day 10 - Tuesday 8 December

The high-level meetings continued today. It is difficult to keep track of the multitude of subgroups and the alphabet soup of acronyms. An innovation by the French COP21 President Laurent Fabius is the creation of a group called the Committee of Paris, reporting directly to him from the various working groups on their progress, that he hopes will bring some order and coherence to the discussions. This in fact seems to have had a positive effect, compared to previous COPs.

The main stumbling blocks to a deal at this time seem to be:

  • Differentiation: that is, how to address the UNFCCC requirement that “The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.”
  • Setting the goal at 1.5 Celsius degrees rather than 2 Celsius degrees above pre-industrial levels is still a point of discussion. That this is under discussion surprises me somewhat, and I believe it may be a trap: some countries are willing to sign onto a purely voluntary 1.5 degree pathway rather than a legally-required 2 degree pathway. In the end, I believe the adopted target will be a "less than 2 Celsius degrees" above pre-industrial levels target but there is more support for 1.5 than anyone expected.
  • Finance and accounting mechanisms are, not surprisingly, still contentious. Some countries are insisting that unless the funding base is broadened, they will not participate.
  • The frequency and nature of the review period for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
  • Technology transfer and technical assistance to developing nations.
  • Business lobbyists are nervous about carbon pricing, risk assessment, and insurance.

Human rights and Just Transition are now broken up and moved to the preamble from the main text. We continue to lobby as hard as we can for Just Transition to be restored to Article 2. It is unlikely to happen. To be clear, having our text in the preamble is much better than not having it at all, and whether Just Transition is returned to Article 2 or remains in the preamble, our task after COP21 will be the same: to ensure that governments deliver it. I requested a strategy meeting today to begin to discuss how the labour caucus will respond to this likely outcome but the discussion was very preliminary since we do not have a final document to react to. How we frame our response to a likely Paris deal will affect our credibility and our ability to work with national governments on the implementation.

The ILO's Guy Rider met with the trade union delegation today to discuss the ILO's Just Transition guidance document, among other matters related to trade, development, human rights and decent work.

A revised draft text is expected tomorrow afternoon. The work continues.

Day 9 - Monday 7 December

Week 2, the so-called "high level segment" of COP21 began today. With government ministers now taking over the negotiations from their staff, a wide range of possible final outcomes from pretty bad, to pretty good, remains. Although the draft covers a lot of areas, many crucial clauses remain in square brackets (indicating that they are optional) or are missing.

Some highlights:

  • the draft text establishes a 5-year review cycle, although the criteria to be reviewed are not clear;
  • a climate fund of $100 billion USD (annually) to be established by 2020 is expected but concrete commitments to the fund by donor countries remain much lower than that. Also, the rules for the use of the fund remain unsettled.
  • setting the goal at controlling global average warming to less than 2 Celsius degrees, or 1.5 Celsius degrees (advocated by developing countries and low-lying island states) remains a point of discussion.

For trade unions and other civil society groups, a key issue has been the fate of Article 2, which deals with human rights, gender rights, indigenous peoples, and Just Transition. In the most recent draft this paragraph has been dismantled, with some of the items sent to the preamble paragraphs 11, 12, and 13. However, reference is made in an annex to the fact that some Parties (including Canada and Argentina) have asked for all of these rights to be restored to Article 2; and no Parties are identified as opposing this. That leaves a procedural possibility for the French Presidency to restore Just Transition to Article 2, however only intense lobbying and a measure of luck will make this happen.

Trade unions and other civil society groups held a mini demonstration inside the COP (a very rare occurrence with the tight security) to express our anger at the removal of our rights from the operational part of the draft agreement (photo attached).

The US Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, addressed the trade union group on energy issues. The USA adopts an "all of the above" approach to energy, including nuclear and fossil fuels but also renewables. He was evasive on the question of carbon capture and sequestration, saying that he believed it had a role to play but declining to say that it would be deployed on a wide scale for coal-fired generating stations.

Jeremy Corbyn and Naomi Klein were featured speakers at an off-site event this evening.

Day 8 - Sunday 6 December

No formal negotiations took place today although a few side meetings and informal talks took place. The real work will recommence tomorrow.

Day 2 of a special trade union event on Just Transition was held at the People's Summit with a number of interesting and high profile speakers.

To try ro summarize those presentations and the discussions that followed would be impossible.

However one theme that emerged was this: those with wealth and power will not easily be persuaded to share it. If we want a Just Transition to a sustainable future we will have to demand it, mobilize, fight for it.  That means a more radical future than we have so far been willing to acknowledge.

Day 7 - Saturday 5 December

In the latest version of the draft agreement, as of about 15:00 h, the phrase "taking into account 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" has been moved to the preamble and no longer appears in Article 2, in the operational part of the text.
However, it remains noted that at least some Parties have asked for it to be put back in there, which means that it is not entirely dead. The French Presidency will have some discretion to put it back in if there is sufficient pressure to do so.
This is of course a disappointing outcome of our week of lobbying, but not entirely surprising. It means we must do what we can to convince the high-level meetings of next week that workers should not be left behind or relegated to just a comment in the preamble.
ITUC's Anabella Rosemberg's view of what has happened can be seen here:
English: https://www.facebook.com/anabella.rosemberg/videos/10207761914063175/
Castellano: https://www.facebook.com/anabella.rosemberg/videos/10207761919863320/
Francais: https://www.facebook.com/anabella.rosemberg/videos/10207761923263405/
Off-site, trade unions held a special event on Just Transition where the discussion was frank, lively, and emotional at times. I am impressed at how the Just Transition idea is now well accepted and understood by the entire labour movement, with deep and complex discussions of its implications and implementation taking place everywhere.

Day 6 - Friday 4 December

Discussions continued today on the entire range of topics in the draft Agreement. Despite the optimism at the beginning of the week, much of the discussion has degenerated to procedural bickering. Unfortunately, again, the discussions of greatest interest to us took place behind closed doors. Although I am focusing on the paragraphs that are of most importance to organized labour and civil society broadly, those that I refer to as the "Just Transition" paragraphs, it is important for the reader to understand that from the point of view of the Party negotiators, they represent a rather small part of their work.
In the morning the trade union caucus received a briefing from the Brazilian Ambassador, José Antonio Marcondes de Carvahlo (Brazil has an important role in drafting the text). He advised us that although we have some support, there are few countries that are willing to make it a "red-line" issue. Therefore, those who feel strongly about moving, weakening, splitting, or even deleting the paragraph are winning. Just Transition does not seem to be the main point of objection; the paragraph also contains references to human rights generally, and the rights of women, and indigenous peoples, specifically. The objecting countries are concerned that this will create legal liabilities and therefore expenses if adopted as is.
Of course, if they think there could be turmoil as the result of people claiming their rights as we transition to a more sustainable economy, they should consider how much anger and chaos countries will face if dispossessed and unemployed citizens learn that their leaders signed a climate agreement that gives them no rights. The bottom line is that a climate agreement is about humanity. It must have a human face. There must be no-one left behind.
As of the end of work on Friday, our text remains, although still under threat.
In other news, as expected, the question of climate finance is an area of unresolved disagreements. Yet, collective subsidies for fossil fuel production globally, is said to be about 40 times the current commitments to the Climate Fund! The idea of a financial transactions tax has been revived by 11 European countries.
Yet there is some progress taking place on a range of issues. The question is whether that progress is sufficient to ensure that a deal can be concluded at the end of week two. The anxiety that the various working groups will not complete their work on time increased. A great deal of text remains in square brackets, meaning that the Ministers next week will have a lot of decisions to make.
Friday was also a day of trade union presentations and passionate discussions at the Generations Climate space. It is unfortunate that probably the best and most experienced negotiators that many countries have, their labour leaders, are not called upon to help get the climate negotiations done!

Day 5 – Thursday 3 December

The battle on where to place references to Just Transition continued, mostly behind closed doors, unfortunately. The bits of information we have are not encouraging.

What is the real agenda? The stated reason for wanting to move or delete the reference is to shorten and simplify the text. This, coming from the same country negotiators that gave the world a 7000 page TPP text, is clearly ludicrous. The labour caucus decided to continue to hold a hard line on wanting the text left as is, where is.

In other news, the overall mood of optimism has given way to anxiety as the progress to date is far too slow to produce a final text in time.

The Trade Union Forum opened today with the joint IndustriALL – ITUC event, which was very well received by a full house.

The rest of today and tomorrow will see me attending other trade union events at the Climate Generations space. 

See Brian's presentation to the Trade Union Forum here

Day 4 – Wednesday 2 December

There was considerable frustration in the labour caucus this morning as we are still trying to understand why the references to Just Transition in Article 2 and 2bis of the Agreement are suddenly under attack. This text should not have attracted much attention at this stage. It was decided that all labour delegates would put as much pressure on negotiators as possible to retain the language as is, where is. No compromises - it is, after all, one of labour's three topline demands for COP21.
Spin-off groups continued work on the relevant portions of the text all day, mainly in sessions that were closed to observers, and by evening there was still no resolution. The Brazilian negotiator intends to summarize today's talks tomorrow morning, and talks will resume.
The countries involved include the USA, the EU, Australia, Canada, Norway, Turkey and New Zealand and possible others, but the rumour is that the origins of the opposition lie with the USA whose government lawyers are fearful that the language will create legal obligations or liabilities.
They intend to remove the context from the operational part of the agreement (meaning references to human rights, workers, gender, etc.) and also (not coincidentally) mention of Common but Differentiated Responsibility. They may or may not agree to leave it in the preamble.
A number of other countries are said to have made statements in favour of leaving our text as is, but it is not a given that they are willing to invest very much political capital in seeing it through, since there are hundreds of other issues being negotiated and the French Presidency is rumoured to be starting to signal impatience with the overall progress of COP negotiations.
This fight will likely be ongoing for the next few days. In the meantime, I must prepare for the joint IndustriALL and ITUC trade union event tomorrow, which opens the entire series of trade union events.

Day 3 – Tuesday 1 December

Today it was learned that in closed sessions last night, a proposal was made to delete paragraphs referencing Just Transition in the operational portion (Article 2 and 2bis) of the draft Paris Agreement. Even though other references to Just Transition exist in the draft, this was the strongest as it tied Just Transition to the very purpose of the agreement. Even worse, the proposal seems to have been made by Norway (!) in the interests of “simplifying” the agreement. In the trade union caucus, we agreed to redouble our efforts to seek out negotiators and make clear to them that dropping this reference is an extremely bad idea. It is not clear at this moment whether our text is in, or out of Articles 2 and 2bis.

In other matters, there are relatively few opportunities for anyone to speak to one of the major plenaries who is not a country delegate (a “Party” in the nomenclature of the UNFCCC). I was fortunate therefore to have the opportunity to address the opening plenary of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice; one of the major working groups of the COP.
This is what I said:
TUNGO statement

Thank you President
My name is Brian Kohler and I work for IndustriALL Global Union, a gobal family of industrial unions, and I represent here the international trade union movement.
Chair, trade unions value the work that has been done by the SBSTA to date in assessing the linkages between climate policies and employment in the Forum on response measures. We are convinced that showing that measures can be taken to ensure that climate action and social progress go hand in hand is key for building more social support for this process.
In the past years, trade unions have delivered in our pledge to ensure other UN bodies make progress on this issue and produce guidance to the UNFCCC. We are very pleased to report, President that just two weeks ago, the International Labour Organisation unanimously adopted the first ever ILO Guidelines on Just Transition, giving for the first time an agreed and concise list of policies which should be followed if governments and employers wanted to protect workers and communities in the transition to a climate-sound economy.
It is time now for SBSTA to institutionalise the dialogue with that process and as a scientific and technological advisory body, ensure information and best practices are factored in in UNFCCC discussions.
SBSTA work will of course be shaped by the outcome of the Paris agreement, and it is our hope that the latter will contain substantial references to the need for a Just Transition for workers. Our expectation is therefore that this body will follow up its previous work on Just Transition as well as to the renewed commitment by Parties with a more straight forward work programme on this topic, supported by a partnership with the ILO and strong trade union involvement.
Chair, we need to change the world as we know it. And that will only happen if workers know, are supported and skilled to do it. The trade union movement stands ready to give its ideas, suggestions and solutions to make it possible.
Thank you.

Day 2 - Monday 30 November

In an unprecedented move, France's President Hollande and incoming COP President Laurent Fabius invited heads of state to address the COP on the first day. (In previous COPs, heads of state typically did not arrive until the second week.) Some 150 kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers gave short speeches today. The intent of the French Presidency was to raise the level of political commitment at the beginning of negotiations, rather than wait until the end of the conference when time would be short and the stakes, high.
Many of the world's leaders took the opportunity to speak of the urgent need for action. Ban Ki-Moon reminded the assembled leaders that the future was in their hands. President Obama of USA asked for an agreement that lifts people from poverty without condemning future generations to a planet beyond repair. China's President Xi Jinping said the COP is not a finish line, but a starting point. Leaders of developing countries reminded the conference of their need for help building capacity, for example Côte d'Ivoire spoke of climate finance and technology transfer. Several leaders made reference to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations, in September. Small island states, some already in danger of inundation from rising sea levels spoke with emotion of the urgency of their situation, as Tuvalu said, if we save Tuvalu we save the world. Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that that fighting climate change will not sacrifice jobs, but create them. Trudeau concluded, "Canada is back".
Negotiations continue tonight on two key paragraphs that contain references to Just Transition. Trade union observers have been excluded from this meeting, which is not a good sign. It will be more evident by tomorrow how difficult a challenge it will be to keep these references in the final text.

Day 1 - Sunday 29 November

Today was the official start of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, otherwise known as COP21.

Climate marches took place in cities all over the globe to highlight the importance of the talks, but were not well received in Paris. In the security-heightened aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks of 13 November, all protests and demonstrations have been banned; notwithstanding the French government's decision to allow football games and Christmas markets to go ahead as planned! A couple of events nevertheless took place, and a number of protesters were arrested as a result. Strangely, the security process for obtaining a delegate badge and entering the COP venue did not seem particularly different from other years.

This is the 21st COP, and therefore 21 years of failure lie behind it. I have been involved in the fight for action on climate change longer than many of the youth delegates have been alive; with little to show for it. Now, time for further delay has run out. Yet, I am strangely optimistic about COP21. I have a few reasons.

First, the science is clearer and more alarming than ever.

Second, world public opinion has shifted and a majority in every country now supports a deal being made in Paris.

Third, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals already adopted by the UN General Assembly in September, contain specific references to climate action and other sustainability goals, so to fail in Paris would somehow be a contradiction of commitments world leaders have already made. There are other positive signals being given by political and other leaders that I will not list here.

My task, and the task of other trade unionists in attendance, is to try to win labour's three key goals: (1) raise ambition and realize the job creation potential of climate action; (2) deliver on climate finance and support for the most vulnerable; and (3) commit to securing a Just Transition for workers and their communities.

So as COP21 begins, I will hold onto a sense of cautious optimism. In two weeks I will know if I was right, or wrong.