Making the Promises Real: Labor and the Paris Climate Agreement
Date Written: 2016-01-26
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX18733
As nearly 200 nations gathered in Paris approved the UN Climate Change Agreement, the AFL-CIO issued a statement that broke new ground on climate. While the AFL-CIO opposed the Kyoto climate agreement and never supported the failed Copenhagen agreement, it applauded the Paris climate change agreement as "a landmark achievement in international cooperation" and called on America "to make the promises real."
In 2015 the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and other groups issued a report "The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the climate, creating jobs, and saving money." It shows that the U.S. can reduce GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050 – while saving money and adding half-a-million jobs per year compared to business-as-usual fossil fuel energy. Most of the added jobs will be in manufacturing and construction.
The plan does not depend on any new technical breakthroughs to realize these gains, only a continuation of current trends in energy efficiency and renewable energy costs. It is based on the conversion of all gasoline-powered light vehicles and most space heating and water heating to 100 percent renewable electricity. It includes an orderly phasing out of coal and nuclear energy and a gradual reduction in the burning of natural gas.
Good, stable jobs protecting the climate can help challenge the growing inequality and injustice of our society, but only if policy is designed to do so. Climate policy needs to include strong racial, gender, age, and locational hiring requirements to counter our current employment inequality and provide a jobs pipeline for those individuals and groups who have been denied equal access to good jobs. It needs to help remedy the concentration of pollution in low-income communities, the lack of transportation, education, health, and other facilities in poor neighborhoods, and other manifestations of discrimination.
The third approach, perhaps less often delineated by proponents than excoriated by opponents, consists of a government-led strategy based on economic planning, public investment, resource mobilization, industrial policy, and direct government intervention in economic decisions. While rapid reduction of GHG emissions will undoubtedly require all three, organized labor should lead the breakout from failed conservative market-only policies and propose a government-led plan – drawing on the example of economic mobilization for World War II – to put our people to work converting to a climate-safe economy.
A labor climate program can draw together workers, unions, and allies around protecting jobs by protecting the climate. Indeed, it can serve as the leading edge of a campaign to realize such traditional labor goals as full employment, job security, greater equality, human rights on the job, and protection against the vast economic insecurities of working people's lives.