Jump to main content
IndustriALL logotype

Nothing about us, without us: unions head to Glasgow for COP26

28 October, 2021A global delegation of trade unionists is heading to Glasgow to push the demand for a Just Transition at the global climate conference.

COP26 – the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties – will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, from 1-12 November. At this meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, governments will negotiate their commitments to the international environmental treaty to combat climate change.

At COP26, governments will present their updated climate plans – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - to reach net zero by 2050, after committing to do so as part of the Paris Climate Agreement at COP21 in 2015. Net zero is the point at which global warming stops because greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere are balanced by those being neutralized.

Achieving net zero means a fundamental reorganization of the world economy – and if the COP talks go well, there will be funding available to achieve this. Countries also have targets to meet for the Sustainable Development Goals, many of which overlap with net zero targets. Rich countries have also committed funding to decarbonize the Global South.

Trade unions recognize that this transformation is necessary to preserve quality of life on this planet, and demand that this transition be just: working people must not pay the price.

Trade unions have been admitted as observers since COP14 in 2008. Unions campaigned for the inclusion of Just Transition in the Paris Climate Agreement, and at COP24, in Katowice, Poland, in 2018, the Silesia Declaration on Just Transition was adopted. This was an important victory for unions.

ILO principles on Just Transition specify that Just Transition plans need to integrated into NDCs with the active contribution of trade unions and other social actors. However, participants at a recent webinar, ‘On the Way to COP26 – Industry, Energy and Mine Workers Demand Just Transition’, jointly hosted by IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll Europe, pointed out that there is a mismatch between the rhetoric and the reality.

Many identified concrete examples of current or projected losses of millions of jobs due to mines closing, the shift from fossil fuels and changes in manufacturing. Politicians promise a bonanza of millions of green jobs to replace those that are lost, but there are no specifics: there is no clarity on where they will be, or who will get them. Governments have not developed credible plans for these new jobs, or started training people to do them.

Speaking at the conference, Kate James, who leads on Just Transition for the UK government, acknowledged the problem, and said that the key was for local trade unions to engage actively with policy development, and to use their collective power to hold governments and employers to account.

“Transformation is coming”, she said. “It is better to design your future than have it imposed on you.”

Bert de Wel, climate policy officer at the ITUC, said that the UK government is trying to lower expectations of the meeting, focusing on what is politically palatable rather than scientifically necessary. However, we need ambitious climate targets now if we are going to bend the emissions curve in the right direction. De Wel introduced the global labour movement’s key priorities for COP26: Climate ambition with Just Transition, human and labour rights, climate finance and industrial policy and investment.

The conference adopted a joint declaration, saying that the response to the Covid-19 pandemic showed that coordinated global action, with adequate funding, was possible, and calling for Just Transition to be made a reality.

IndustriALL energy director Diana Junquera Curiel said:

“The world is going through a tremendous transformation. Huge sums of money will be spent to radically transform and decarbonize our economy. Used correctly, this is an opportunity to reindustrialize with new, green infrastructure, and create millions of good union jobs. Unions need to play an active role in policy development, both at global and national level.

“We are going to Glasgow to make sure that our voice is heard.”