The cold sun struggles into the sky about 9am in Copenhagen and disappears at 3pm, a cameo performance. But what the city lacks in sunlight, its warm, gregarious citizens compensate for – they are quick to share a joke in their perfect English as they help us travel-dazed Aussies get around.

I’m here as part of a trade union delegation representing 168 million workers in 154 countries, led by the ACTU president, Sharan Burrow.

Our mission is to make sure any global agreement includes reference to workers by locking in decent labour standards and good quality jobs as climate action kicks in: “A just transition” in conference parlance.

This is core business for unions. Every job in every workplace in every country rich or poor will be touched by the worldwide economic revolution to clean up the planet.

There was broad support among most government delegations for the concept of a “just transition”, with a paragraph in the draft acknowledging its importance.

This is good news. For Australia and other wealthy nations it means decent pay and rights at work for jobs in the emerging low-carbon industries. But it’s especially heartening for people in dirt-poor countries where labour standards are non-existent and climate action without safeguards potentially could grind them into worse poverty.

The big question for developing countries will be financing. To cut emissions and create decent work standards with institutions to support them will require truckloads of money from developed nations.

We heard 40,000 people have registered for the conference. Attendance will have to be rationed when the likes of Barack Obama turn up.

The numbers suggest this history in the making. As with many such events, it doesn’t look much. Boring hudd les of people mired in negotiation over a word here, a phrase there. You show me your target, I’ll show you mine.

I arrived here depressed about Australia’s political meltdown over the ETS but I know I will come home restored by seeing so many good people determined to make something happen.

There will be a deal within the next year and the world will take on a new shape.

It’s the best chance we may ever have for a new Industrial Revolution to overcome the inequalities and environmental damage created by the last Industrial Revolution. We’re much smarter now, we have lessons to learn from.

I hope we don’t blow it.

Article originally appeared in SMH 14.12.09