Examining the Approaches to Climate Change by the United States Trade Unions and International Trade Unions

ABSTRACT: This paper attempts to explore the differences and similarities used by trade unions within the United States and abroad in respect to climate change. Under the auspices of “protecting its workers,” a basic tenet of collectivized labor, it seems that trade unions and trade union confederations within the United States are less likely to advocate environmental programs and policies, whereas international labor unions use the same reasoning to urge for the adoption of climate change legislation.

Introduction

Climate change negatively affects the global community due to fluctuating temperatures that threaten natural resources, increase sea levels, and displace populations. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide, which [are] partly the result of human or ‘Ëœanthropogenic’ activities, [are] warming the global atmosphere through their additional contribution to the natural ‘Ëœgreenhouse effect’. [1] Additional human activity that contributes to environmental degradation has serious, wide-reaching consequences for current and future generations. As a result, the need to switch to less harmful environmental policies has become the impetus for international dialogue and cooperation. Since fundamental issues like reducing carbon emissions and transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy involve a large number of unionized (and non-unionized) workers, it makes sense that the success of international environmental efforts cannot be possible without the cooperation of trade unions in the United States and the international sphere. Although, in theory, all trade unions purportedly take on the responsibility of protecting their workers’ best interests, it seems that in response to climate change issues, the United States trade unions have been more cautious to advocate environmental policies or practices that might jeopardize the welfare of their workers, especially when contrasted with their international counterparts.

The Failure of the Kyoto Protocol

Although the Kyoto Protocol (1997) marked a change in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by attempting to establish “legally-binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 5.2 percent below 1992 levels by 2008-2012 for all industrialized countries,” [2] this legislative effort has been panned by both advocates and critics as a failure. Arguably, Kyoto’s unsuccessful attempt owes part of its shortcomings to an unequal distribution of power in its structure. Specifically, a provision for enactment called for “the ratification by 55 countries, providing this includes enough countries to encompass 55 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions of Annex I countries.” [3] This clause fostered a dependency on Annex I countries (e.g. United States, Australia, Russia) to participate. Thus, given that after the United States and Australia rejected it, Kyoto’s ratification fell primarily to Russia’s endorsement in order for it to go into effect for all countries. Although Russia eventually decided to ratify the Kyoto Protocol (2004) and it went into force in February, 2005, the eight year gap between the legislation’s introduction and its implementation made the original goal of reducing greenhouse gasses to a pre-1992 level by 2012 highly unlikely, if not impossible.

The United States, which accounts for approximately 25 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gases, refused to sign on to the Protocol, halting the climate change legislative process, and enabling the release of carbon emissions to remain unchecked. Part of this blatant refusal to participate in the Kyoto Protocol can be attributed to the position of some U.S. trade unions influencing environmental policy. The United States’ largest trade union confederation, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), opposed the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it would harm economic growth, cause unemployment, and lose tax dollars. [4] Specific trade unions opposed Kyoto on the grounds that it would essentially allow major polluters, like China or India, to emit carbon without restrictions or penalty. A joint statement produced by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and American Electrical Power (AEP) said that, “to unilaterally cap America’s emissions, while ignoring other nations, is a fatally flawed approach that will seriously harm the global environment while compromising our competitiveness and jeopardizing American jobs.” [5] In proposing an alternative cap-and-trade approach to combating climate change, the IBEW and AEP stressed that, “labor and industry generally agree that any new, effective emissions-reducing law should not interfere with the American economy or trade.” [6] In contrast with this approach, a few United States trade unions, notably the United Steelworkers, supported the Kyoto Protocol and efforts to cut greenhouses gases in the United States and argued that doing so could create new jobs. [7] However, these arguments found little support within the mainstream political arena. Indeed, the reasons for opposing Kyoto perpetuated by the AFL-CIO seemed to align with rhetoric used by the Bush Administration when it cited two reasons for refusing to submit the Protocol to Congress: [1] the negative economic impact on the United States economy with layoffs of workers and the price increases for consumers and [2] it did not include developing countries like China and India, both of which are among the largest contributors to global warming.” [8]

Despite the criticism of Kyoto generated by the United States Government, AFL-CIO and others, many of the world’s industrialized nations supported the Kyoto Protocol [9] , using the “common, but differentiated responsibilities” [10] clause as a chance to protect their workers by growing their own economies while contributing to social equity. Unlike the AFL-CIO in the United States, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) welcomed the Kyoto Protocol as a chance to embrace social progress while creating more jobs. As a result, the Environmental Policy Review shows that, “the eco-industry is already employing more than 2 million people in Europe and continues growth around 5 percent per year.” [11] Similarly, the Canadian Labor Congress actively petitioned Canadian officials to sign onto the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that Kyoto is good for the Canadian economy by generating a large amount of economic activity due to the production of energy through alternative and renewable sources. [12] In addition to the economic benefits, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) endorsed the Protocol by underscoring its potential to contribute to social equity. According to the ITUC:

Such solidarity first of all means countering global warming and its effects on the most vulnerable. Trade unions consider the best way for developed countries to exercise solidarity with developing countries is by cutting their own emissions in order to limit further suffering and irreversible changes, and by creating the means for other countries to participate in reduction efforts. [13]

Unlike the trade unions and trade union confederations in the United States (with few noted exceptions), the approach held by the ETUC and ITUC seems to promulgate the idea of social equity as a basic right for international workers, and they support legislation that emphasizes this objective.

Current and future international discussions (such as COP16 in Cancun) will likely examine the content of the Kyoto Protocol as a starting point for future climate change legislation. Recently, it has been proposed to extend the commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, as the current one expires in 2012. However, previous supporters like Canada and Russia have refused their support on the grounds that the world’s two biggest carbon emitters'”the United States and China'”still possess no intentions of signing on to the Protocol. Some nations view efforts to extend the Protocol as futile, like Japanese Environmental Minister Ryu Matsumoto. He says that since the Kyoto Protocol “only covers 27 percent of global energy related CO2 emissions — [his nation] will not associate itself with setting the second commitment period.” [14] Thus, unless major emitters like the United States or China decide to participate as a leader during international negotiations regarding climate change legislation, translating international policy into action remains challenging and unlikely for the global community.

Trade Unions and the “Just Transition” Framework

Admittedly, countries need not rely on enacted international legislation to formulate a response that attempts to curb carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of global warming. One method of reducing human activity that contributes to climate change is through the “just transition” framework. As a preemptive measure anticipating future economic changes due to global warming, the “just transition” paradigm attempts to provide for “workers [who] work in jobs that will become obsolete if unsustainable production, environmental degradation and resource exhaustion are allowed to continue along their current path.” [15] This agenda involves three core principles that [1] require the cooperation between local and national governments, trade unions and other organizations, [2] to promote “green” jobs and technologies (e.g. installing solar voltaic panels, wind turbines, etc.) that contribute to a better quality of life [3] while equipping workers with new skills to meet the demands of the future. [16]

In the United States, support for the “just transition” framework is divided.

The AFL-CIO, which previously opposed the Kyoto Protocol, endorses this method of combating climate change while attempting to ensure a stable economic demand for their workers. The AFL-CIO Policy Director, Damon Silvers, notes that, “a just transition to a green economy is the only path toward building the broad support needed to combat climate change and to creating and retaining quality jobs and decent work.” [17] In addition, James C. Little, International President of the Transport Workers Union of America (a specific trade union affiliated with the AFL-CIO), recognizes that substantial power lies in the hands of trade unions to combat climate change while guaranteeing the needs of their constituents are met. He notes that, “we must begin to act now to save our planet and our movement, we also have the opportunity to carry out our duty to protect jobs by engineering robust “just transition” policies that maintain income and benefits for the workers who will be transitioning to safer and more sustainable work. ” [18] However, not all United States trade unions are pleased with this proposal. Robert Scaradelletti, International President of the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU) opposes the “just transition” framework in favor of policies that research and invest in clean coal and oil technology, a position that reinforces the close connection between shipping fossil fuel resources and the interests of TCU’s members. He argues that, “we have a moral and fiduciary obligation to protect the real jobs our members have today, not support policies that would eliminate them, in the fuzzy hope that new jobs in so-called green industries, will emerge to take their place — [it is] possible, indeed necessary for trade unions to oppose job-destroying initiatives associated with climate change.” [19]

Whereas the United States labor movement may seem conflicted about the effects that the “just transition” paradigm might have on the economy (and subsequently, their members), the international labor movement has already begun transitioning to new eco-friendly practices. For example, in Germany, the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, or DGB, affiliated with both the ITUC and ETUC) created the “German Alliance for Work and Environment,” a program that called for retrofitting 300,000 apartments per year, creating 200,000 jobs, reducing 2 million t/a CO2 emissions and lower heating bills for tenants, landlords, and the State by approximately $4 billion dollars, through reduction of unemployment costs and increased income taxes. [20] The objective of this project, which gained the support of the government, environmental NGO’s and employers’ federations, was:

To improve insulation of buildings, advanced heating technologies, and use of renewable energy, such as photovoltaic or solar thermal systems. Thousands of new jobs were anticipated in the construction, heating, sanitary and air- conditioning sectors, as well as in building services. Financing for the programme is provided by the German government, which will spend less than US $1.8 billion in a 5 year period. In addition, a total of US $8 billion will

have been made available through credits at favorable rates of interest. [21]

Although admittedly, Germany is ahead of many countries in terms of linking economic development with green practices and technologies [22] , other trade labor confederations like the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), are in the preliminary stages of transitioning to low-carbon jobs through research and planning. Since Australia currently uses and exports a substantial amount of coal, the research promoted by the ACTU calls for development of “clean coal” technology, in an attempt to secure a future industry for their workers while addressing concern for the environment. ACTU president, Sharan Burrow, notes that this type of research contributes to a better understanding of new energy technologies, and claims that cutting carbon emissions will create new jobs. She explains that, “if you can sequester carbon either through bio-sequestration or soil carbon, or indeed through planting and managing and harvesting trees and forest effectively, just to go to two areas, then you’re actually creating jobs but you’re also acting on environmental concerns.” [23] Although this research hinges on the government passing new climate change policy, and the ACTU advocates a rather nuanced position to attempt to please all its constituents, cutting carbon emissions by transitioning into new “green” technologies could create more than 100,000 new farming and mining jobs in Australia.

Implications for Future Action

David Hunter writes in his article, “International Climate Negotiations: Opportunities and Challenges for the Obama Administration,” that ” much of the rest of the world is waiting for the United States to engage more directly and more constructively in an international effort to address climate change.” [24] However, the United States needs to begin adopting eco-friendly policies and adjusting to “green” technologies domestically before embarking on leadership at the national level. Trade unions (and trade union confederations) in the United States can assist in this transformation by helping to drive the transition to renewable energy sources and paving the way for carbon-free power generation by 2050. The Global Labor Institute proposes instituting a National Energy Transition Plan that involves a variety of factors, including expediting the de-carbonization of electrical power generation (and exploring the possibilities of using nuclear power), modernizing the grid as rapidly as possible to accommodate renewable sources of energy, fully-funding and expediting demonstration projects to test carbon capture and storage (CCS) methods and technologies, [and ensuring] a just transition for workers in fossil fuels.” [25] In fact, anything less than this (including cap-and-trade policies) may do little to address the welfare and job security of workers while protecting the environment. Incidentally, on the surface, carbon reduction programs like cap-and-trade may seem promising, even equitable (e.g. developing nations can sell their carbon credits and invest in their own economies). However, critics of this system claim that it obscures exactly how essential social and technological changes will take place by generating new and dangerous equivalences and escaping regulation by shipping carbon intensive production to developing countries. Essentially, carbon markets are interfering with effective and democratic approaches to global warming. [26]

Once the United States implements a serious approach to tackling carbon emission reductions, international negotiations for climate change legislation may become more effective. [27] For this to happen, trade unions in the United States need to broaden their definition of “protecting their workers” by recognizing the long-term benefits and potential for creating new jobs with green technologies. Since mandating international legislation (like the Kyoto Protocol) has previously failed, partially due to divergence in support within the U.S., actions to reduce carbon emissions should first be mandated domestically. The organizing power behind trade unions relies on the “strength in numbers” principle, and trade unions in the United States should use this to their advantage by collectively stressing a “just transition” framework, which “provides new green job opportunities, anticipates potential losses of economic activity, employment and income in certain sectors and regions, and protects the most vulnerable throughout the economy and the whole world.” [28] As a developed, Annex I country, reductions in the United States’ GHG emissions not only provides for its own workers, also empowers those in developing countries around the world by assisting in stabilizing the availability of natural resources. Following the examples of the reaction of other trade unions in roles like Germany’s success in implementing eco-friendly policies and industries, the trade unions in the United States have the potential, not only to build stronger alliances within their sectors, but also creating solidarity with workers around the world.

Works Cited:

ABC Rural, “ACTU Claims Climate Change Action Will Create Rural Jobs.” ABC Rural. May 19, 2010. Accessed November 23, 2010. http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/content/201005/s2903584.htm.

Brecher, Jeremy, “Labor’s War on Global Warming.” The Nation. March 24, 2008, accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.thenation.com/article/labors-war- global-warming.

Canadian Labour Congress. “Just Transition for Workers During Environmental Change.” Canadian Labour Congress. April 10, 1999. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.canadianlabour.ca/news-room/publications/just- transition-workers-during-environmental-change.

European Trade Union Confederation, “The ETUC Welcomes the Entry into Force of the Kyoto Protocol.” European Trade Union Confederation. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.etuc.org/a/747.

Fitzgerald, Joan. Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Foster, John Bellamy, Ecology Against Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press.

2002.

Global Labor Institute, “U.S. Labor and the Energy Transition.” Cornell University ILR School. Draft Discussion Paper, unpublished.

Global Labor Strategies. “Global Labor and Global Warming.” Global Labor Strategies. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://laborstrategies.blogs.com/global_labor_strategies/ictfu/.

Hunter, David B., “International C limate Negotiations: Opportunities and Challenges for the Obama Administration,” Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum 19 (2009): 247-274.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, “IBEW Joins AEP to Propose Global

Warming Bill.” IBEW Journal, Summer, 2007. Accessed December 3, 2010.

International Trade Union Confederation, “Resolution on Combating Climate Change Through Sustainable Development and Just Transition.” 2nd World Congress, Vancouver. June 21, 2010.

International Trade Union Confederation, “Trade Union Climate Change Strategies.” International Trade Union Confederation. November 17, 2006. Accessed November 22, 2010, http://www.global- unions.org/pdf/ohsewpP_8Bg.EN.pdf, 8.

Little, James C., Transport Workers Union of America, to U.S. Affiliates of the International Transport Federation, July 26, 2010, TWU Supports Resolution 1, “Responding to Climate Change,” and the work of the ITF Climate Change Working Group.

Lohmann, Larry. “Carbon Trading, Climate Justice and the Production of Ignorance: Ten Examples.” Society for International Development 51 (2008): 359-365.

Parks, James, “Just Transition to Green Economy Would Create Jobs, Profits.” AFL- CIO Now Blog. January 15, 2010. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://blog.aflcio.org/2010/01/15/just-transition-to-green-economy- would-create-jobs-profits/.

PressTV. “Russia, Japan Against Kyoto Protocol.” PressTV. December 10, 2010. Accessed December 10, 2010. http://www.presstv.ir/detail/154795.html.

Roth, Stephen, “KC Business, Labor Protest Kyoto Treaty.” Kansas City Business

Journal, November 8, 1998, accessed December 3, 2010.

http://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/stories/1998/11/09/story7.html.

Scardelletti, Robert A., Transportation Communications International Union, August 2, 2010, Position Paper and Statement on I.T.F. Climate Change Conference.

Smith, Brendan, Jeremy Brecher, and Tim Costello. “Labor Goes to Bali: Unions Ready to Take on Global Warming.” Global Labor Strategies. November 29, 2007. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.alternet.org/economy/69196/?page=entire.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Kyoto Protocol.” Accessed December 3, 2010. http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php.

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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. United Nations

Framework Convention on Climate Change: The First Ten Years. Bonn

(Germany): Climate Change Secretariat, 2004, 12.

[1] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: The First Ten Years. Bonn (Germany): Climate Change Secretariat, 2004, 12.

[2] John Bellamy Foster, Ecology Against Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press. 2002, 13.

[3] The Kyoto Protocol divides developed and developing countries into Annex I parties (mostly developed countries), Annex II parties (a subset of Annex I, the 24 most developed countries), Economies in Transition (or, EITs, mostly countries of Central Europe or the former Soviet Union) and Non-Annex I parties (essentially, anyone else). For more information, see the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, The First Ten Years, 16.

[4] Stephen Roth, “KC Business, Labor Protest Kyoto Treaty.” Kansas City Business Journal, November 8, 1998, accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/stories/1998/11/09/story7.html.

[5] “IBEW Joins AEP to Propose Global Warming Bill.” IBEW Journal, Summer, 2007. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.ibew.org/WorkingGreen/content/news/J051807_AEPGlobalWarming.htm.

[6]IBEW Journal, 1.

[7] Jeremy Brecher, “Labor’s War on Global Warming.” The Nation. March 24, 2008, accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.thenation.com/article/labors-war-global-warming.

[8] Foster, 16.

[9] There are currently 193 parties to the Protocol, including the European Union (EU) and the Russian Federation. For more information on Kyoto’s history and progress, see ” Status of Ratification.” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Accessed November 21, 2010. http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/status_of_ratification/items/2613.php.

[10] This clause recognizes that “developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity.” Thus, Kyoto places a heavier burden on developed nations. For more information on this, see “Kyoto Protocol,” United Nations Framework on Climate Change, accessed December 3, 2010, http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php.

[11] “The ETUC Welcomes the Entry into Force of the Kyoto Protocol.” European Trade Union Confederation. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.etuc.org/a/747.

[12] “Global Labor and Global Warming.” Global Labor Strategies. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://laborstrategies.blogs.com/global_labor_strategies/2007/04/global_labor_an.html.

[13] Brendan Smith, Jeremy Brecher, and Tim Costello. “Labor Goes to Bali: Unions Ready to Take on Global Warming.” Global Labor Strategies. November 29, 2007. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.alternet.org/economy/69196/?page=entire.

[14] “Russia, Japan Against Kyoto Protocol.” PressTV. December 10, 2010. Accessed December 10, 2010. http://www.presstv.ir/detail/154795.html.

[15] Canadian Labour Congress, “Just Transition for Workers During Environmental Change.” Canadian Labour Congress. April 10, 1999. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://www.canadianlabour.ca/news-room/publications/just-transition-workers-during-environmental-change.

[16] Canadian Labour Congress, 6-8.

[17] James Parks, “Just Transition to Green Economy Would Create Jobs, Profits.” AFL-CIO Now Blog. January 15, 2010. Accessed December 3, 2010. http://blog.aflcio.org/2010/01/15/just-transition-to-green-economy-would-create-jobs-profits/.

[18] James C. Little, Transport Workers Union of America, to U.S. Affiliates of the International Transport Federation, July 26, 2010, TWU Supports Resolution 1, “Responding to Climate Change,” and the work of the ITF Climate Change Working Group.

[19] Robert A. Scardelletti, Transportation Communications International Union, August 2, 2010, Position Paper and Statement on I.T.F. Climate Change Conference.

[20] International Trade Union Confederation, “Trade Union Climate Change Strategies.” International Trade Union Confederation. November 17, 2006. Accessed November 22, 2010, http://www.global-unions.org/pdf/ohsewpP_8Bg.EN.pdf, 8.

[21] International Trade Union Confederation, “Trade Union Climate Change Strategies,” 8-10.

[22] Joan Fitzgerald. Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, 2-7.

[23] ABC Rural, “ACTU Claims Climate Change Action Will Create Rural Jobs.” ABC Rural. May 19, 2010. Accessed November 23, 2010. http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/content/201005/s2903584.htm.

[24] David B. Hunter, “International C limate Negotiations: Opportunities and Challenges for the Obama Administration,” Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum 19 (2009): 252.

[25] Global Labor Institute, “U.S. Labor and the Energy Transition.” Cornell University ILR School. Draft Discussion Paper, unpublished.

[26] Larry Lohmann, “Carbon Trading, Climate Justice and the Production of Ignorance: Ten Examples.” Society for International Development 51 (2008): 359-365.

[27] Ideally, after the United States curbs its carbon emissions, international pressure could then be put on China, India, and other major polluters to follow suit.

[28] International Trade Union Confederation, “Resolution on Combating Climate Change Through Sustainable Development and Just Transition.” 2nd World Congress, Vancouver. June 21, 2010.