Look after fossil fuel workers in shift to clean energy - union chief

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 29 June 2015 12:00 GMT

A worker sprays water over piles of coal as a bulldozer shifts coal at Mundra Port Coal Terminal in the western Indian state of Gujarat, April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Amit Dave

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Governments and companies urged to ensure any new global climate change deal is fair for all those impacted

By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA, June 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Coal, oil and gas workers need a secure future as the world moves away from fossil fuel use, and governments and companies must plan to ensure any new global climate change deal is fair for all those impacted, a top trade unionist said.

So far there has been little effort to design a "just transition" to a fossil-free future, putting workers in dirty energy sectors on the defensive, said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

"We know that if governments and industry aren't visionary enough to engage in a dialogue, to put the plan in place, to give people security, then we will see distress, fear and increasingly opposition among people around the world," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

The estimated 12 million or so people employed in the coal, oil, gas and diesel industries are anxious about what will happen to their jobs, their pensions and their communities if the world decides to stop burning fossil fuels to curb global warming, unions say.

Earlier this month, the leaders of G7 countries pledged to develop long-term low-carbon strategies and abandon fossil fuels by the end of the century, aiming to transform their energy sectors to renewables by 2050.

Their announcement was intended to give impetus to the drive for a new U.N. deal to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less, due to be agreed by almost 200 nations at a Paris conference in December.

Burrow said trade unions want that deal to be ambitious in reducing planet-warming emissions, but workers must be given a role in shaping the deep transformation required.

"Our children will work in energy tomorrow - they just won't work in fossil fuels," she said. "In the meantime, for social justice, economic justice and stability, we need ... negotiated, planned outcomes that people can touch at both the national and industry and enterprise level."

It may already be too difficult to achieve an orderly exit from the coal business, she added, as many governments of countries that rely on coal, such as Poland, have no strategy to replace it with renewable sources of energy.

That lack of planning could cause nations to lose jobs to others that lay out a pathway to a greener future, she warned, with tens of trillions of dollars due to be invested in infrastructure and clean energy in the coming decades.

The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that renewable energy, excluding large hydropower, employed 7.7 million people, directly and indirectly, around the world in 2014, an 18 percent rise from the previous year.

'PEOPLE'S CLIMATE TEST'

The trade union confederation's call for justice for fossil fuel workers comes as part of a push by major environment and anti-poverty groups to let ordinary people participate in decision making on how to limit climate change.

"The urgency to keep temperatures down is not just about the planet and the environment. It is about people, and our capacity as humanity to secure safe and dignified lives for all," the groups said in a document released ahead of a high-level event on climate change at the United Nations in New York on Monday.

People around the world already have solutions and alternatives that can work on the scale needed, they noted. Those range from community-owned renewable energy systems that curb emissions to ecological farming methods suited to climate shifts.

"There already exists a wealth of proven ideas and experience from which to build a global transformation," said the document, entitled "The People's Test on Climate 2015".

Civil society organisations pressing for climate action see the Paris summit as a starting point to connect people's demands for justice, equality, food, water, jobs and rights with the aim of forcing governments to act in their interests, it said.

It warned against "false solutions" to climate change, listing carbon markets in land and soil and "dangerous" geoengineering interventions as examples.

"These quick fixes will (fail to) solve not only the climate problem but will also not address inequality and the suffering of those who are the poorest and most affected," Jagoda Munić, chair of Friends of the Earth International, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Even though U.N. negotiations have not produced an effective solution to climate change for 20 years and a Paris agreement is unlikely to be strong enough, the global movement for climate action will step up pressure to improve it, she added.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org) ((megan.rowling@thomsonreuters.com; +34 934 189 018))

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Look after fossil fuel workers in shift to clean energy - union chief

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