Alison Tate: ILO Conference 2009 speech on climate change

International Labour Conference 2009
Side Event  - Climate Change and the World of Work
9 June 2009
Alison Tate (Australian Worker Representative) on behalf of the ITUC


I bring you greetings and the apologies of Sharan Burrow, President of the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC).

On behalf of the ITUC, let me acknowledge the Government of Denmark and thank them for the enormous effort they are putting into the global negotiations that will culminate in Copenhagen in December.

I too congratulate your nation on the giant steps that you have taken to green your own economy and the growth in both renewable energy for domestic consumption but equally the spectacular growth in exports of renewable energy. You are indeed demonstrating the art of the possible.

Climate change is without question the policy challenge of our time.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming:

  • Human economic activity is causing global warming
  • The present and future rise in global temperature is significant and severe
  • Today’s emissions will affect climate for decades to come

  • My own country, Australia’s ecosystems, cropping, forestry and livestock, water resources, public health, settlements, infrastructure, and weather are already at risk as we experience prolonged droughts in the south of our nation, with the horror of increasing severity of bushfires and the intensity of floods and cyclone damage in 2009.  It is increasingly evident for Australians that global warming has profound economic and social consequences.

    Likewise for our neighbours in low lying countries in Asia and the Pacific. 

    Unless decisive action is taken now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we bequeath to future generations will be harsher and more hostile to the human condition than that which we have inherited.

    Environment, economy, and society are the three faces of policy – all integrated and inseparable – in any program of sustainable global development.

    To reduce poverty, raise living standards, protect and create decent jobs and provide opportunity for all, the environmental consequences of our energy use, production, and consumption must be modified.
    The trade unions internationally accept that the cost of not reducing emissions is far higher than that of taking action. Decisive action to reduce global emissions is necessary for continuing sustained economic growth.

    We support urgent calls for effective action on climate change. This requires urgent and decisive action to transition our economies to a low carbon base. We reject the assessment that the necessary actions to effect this transition will damage economic growth and development.

    Rather, we understand that as the global economy switches to a low carbon future, the result will create multi-trillion dollar markets for low carbon and clean energy technologies, infrastructure and consequently production processes.

    What we need to ensure is that there is a just transition, inclusive of the poorest nations to ensure that there is equal opportunity for development, with infrastructure in renewable energy, manufacturing of green products, investment in related services and the skills and jobs that will be required to make this possible.

    A conservative estimate of the global green products industry is 3 trillion US dollars by 2020 with exponential growth in the decades to come.

    Hence we call on the world’s leaders to ensure financing for a just transition that genuinely deals with issues for social justice and opportunity for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable of nations.

    Let me summarise the International Confederation of Trade Unions’ call for a just transition that ensures:

    1. Equitable sharing of responsibilities and fair distribution of the costs; those who have contributed less to the problem should not bear the burden of the transition costs;

    2. Institutionalised formal consultations with relevant stakeholders including trade unions, employers and communities, at national, regional and when appropriate, sectoral levels;

    3. The promotion of green (and greener) job opportunities and investment in low carbon development strategies and technologies in all nations and the appropriate educational qualifications that enhance workers capacity;

    4. Formal education, training, retraining, and life-long learning for  workers, their families, and the communities that depend upon them;

    5. Organised economic and employment diversification policies within sectors and communities at risk;

    6. Social protection measures (active labour market policies, access to health services, social insurance, among others) and;

    7. Respect for and protection of human and labour rights.

    Unions have a role in:

  • Coordinating workplace campaigns for energy efficiency including bargaining for change, skills and development of cleaner workplace and waste processes
  • Establishing workplace environment committees
  • Ensuring sustainability is on the agenda of unions and workplaces
  • Coordinating industry wide campaigns for industry policy, investment and/or regulation, necessary for making the transition to a low carbon economy
  • Identifying key issues and areas for research and development, and job opportunities
  • Providing advice to members wherever appropriate
  • Leading by example in reducing the environmental footprint  of our workplaces by taking the necessary steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions
  • Empowering workers to participate in local, national and international forums on global warming and related public policy debates and development
  • Working with broader civil society to influence government policy where there are common interests and values including jobs growth, ensure support for vulnerable workers and communities and other social justice measures and collective action where the impact of climate change is endangering communities
  • Promoting and demanding Decent Work

  • We urge governments to commit to an international agreement that includes:

  • A commitment to reduce emissions to at least 450 parts per million or better in line with the recommendations of the UN International Panel on Climate Change
  • Global financing and agreement on technological transfer to share capacity with developing nations
  • Sectoral agreements to set best practice standards and the security of a global floor for energy intensive, trade exposed industries, and
  • A framework to enable a just transition

  • We wish governments well and urge them to be ambitious in the climate change negotiations. Unions stand ready to assist in measures to ensure a comprehensive global agreement.