The meeting you probably heard about: At the end of June, leaders from the world’s richest and largest countries met in Toronto, Canada. As the global economy festered in its worst crisis since the 1930s, as poverty and unemployment tormented growing millions, as climate change devastated more and more people and places, world leaders did nothing to meet human and environmental needs but instead agreed to slash spending for those needs. They were protected by a police state mobilization that beat and jailed thousands of protestors ““ at an estimated cost of nearly one billion dollars.
The meeting you probably didn’t hear about: In Vancouver, Canada, on the other side of the North American continent, representatives of 176 million workers in 156 countries and territories met for the Second World Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation. They put forward a visionary but practical program to address the world crisis through a “global new deal.”
World political leaders can think of nothing but trying to put the world back the way it was before the Great Recession. The ITUC program, in contrast, starts by recognizing that today’s energy, food, jobs, and climate crises are the consequence of that world’s faulty economic model.
The ITUC calls instead for a transformational change to make global production and consumption systems permanently sustainable. That transformation will require ““ and make possible ““ decent work for all.
The ITUC’s climate change resolution forthrightly states that “Climate change is a workers’ issue.” It points out:
“The planet’s warming continues to accelerate; water wars are already underway; unending droughts and expanding desertification are affecting the livelihood of millions; the rapid melting of glaciers increase devastating downsteam floods in highly populated areas; climate-related migrations, often intertwined within local and regional conflicts are growing; and substantial rises in food prices and energy costs throw millions into abject poverty.”
Economic and environmental issues cannot be segregated into separate compartments; today’s multiple crises require an integrated approach to “sustainable development through a just transition.” That means social progress, environmental protection, economic, democratic governance, labor, gender, and other human rights must go hand in hand.
Far from having to wait till the global economy recovers, climate protection can be the primary engine of recovery. Sustainable development and a just transition can be the keys to a massive global creation of new jobs ““ a global green new deal.
The ITUC climate change resolution emphasizes the need to meet the greenhouse gas emissions cuts that scientists say are necessary to stop global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C, because more than that will create irreversible impacts on human and natural worlds. That will require 85 percent reductions by 2050. And that in turn will require reductions by developed countries of 25-40 percent compared to 1990 levels. It points out that new scientific evidence suggests that temperature increase will have to be restricted to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
These are considerably greater cuts than are included in current US climate legislation proposals. Some US unions have endorsed near-term science-based emissions targets, including the Service Employees, Transportation Workers, and Laborers. Others are wary that such cuts might cost some of their members their jobs.
The ITUC program recognizes that problem and emphasizes the need for a “just transition” that anticipates potential losses of economic activity, employment and income in certain sectors and regions and protects the most vulnerable around the world. It also notes that climate change is “already impacting the livelihoods of millions of working people” around the world. It cites estimates that over one billion people will be forced to leave their homes by 2050 due to climate change, environmental degradation, and resulting conflict.
The costs of climate protection pale before such devastation. But that devastation is now inevitable unless we rapidly make the change to a low-carbon economy.
The economic and social changes required to make our world sustainable are huge. But here’s the good news: Because we have to reconstruct the global economy on a sustainable basis, we have to create the tens of millions of new green jobs that can also correct our global jobs shortage.
World leaders may not yet have heard the news, but workers from 156 countries recognize curing climate change represents not only the world’s interest, but their own.