No jobs on a dead planet?

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In 2009 a group of British trade unionists involved in the Campaign against Climate Change won the backing of four unions — CWU, PCS, TSSA and UCU — to publish a pamphlet, One Million Climate Jobs NOW!

Using information from supportive academics, the pamphlet argued the case for a single solution to the two great crises facing us today.

The first was economic, the crisis of mass unemployment and insecure jobs, and the other environmental, with increasingly alarming warnings from climate scientists that without drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions the world faced climate chaos.

The solution proposed in the pamphlet was for governments to create secure jobs to directly tackle climate change. These jobs would extend the renewable energy infrastructure, insulate homes free of charge, provide a workforce for a hugely expanded public transport system, and train workers in the skills needed for a sustainable economy.

Unlike the “green jobs” that politicians promise will be thrown up by the operations of the market, “climate jobs” would be government jobs within an integrated National Climate Service able to re-train and redeploy workers, especially those in the fossil fuel industries. It offered a means to create the jobs of the future while cutting Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions by 83 percent in 20 years.

The pamphlet was a small local response to the greatest challenge ever faced by human beings but it had the advantage of addressing the immediate concerns of working people and dismantled the barriers between trade unionists needing to safeguard jobs in environmentally dirty industries and environmental activists who saw the need to close those industries down.

Since 2009 the pamphlet, updated and expanded as a more fully developed report, has given rise to a “One Million Climate Jobs” campaign which has steadily won support in other unions and the environmental movement. The third edition, launched in September 2014, carried the endorsement of ten national unions, including the National Union of Students and the largest British union, Unite.

In September of this year the TUC congress passed a motion endorsing the campaign.

The message of hope carried by the campaign has at the same time stimulated the emergence of parallel movements in other parts of the world. Today there are five fully formed climate jobs movements in other countries, and two in formation in Portugal and the Philippines.

This growing momentum was evident at a packed ten-hour meeting of trade unionists and campaigners from around the world held in Paris in September, which launched a founding booklet for a global climate jobs movement, to be published in English, French and Spanish.

The meeting was a prior gathering of activists attending the Trade Union Climate Summit held on 14 and 15 September and organised by the International Trade Union Confederation.

The conference was part of the trade union mobilisation for the COP 21 climate talks in Paris in December. It ended with an address by Laurent Fabius, president of the COP, but began with Jonathan Neale of the “One Million Climate Jobs” campaign. Many of the 160 delegates expressed an interest in creating climate jobs movements in their own countries.

Many of us felt that the slogan of the conference — “No jobs on a dead planet” — was too gloomy. It is significant that the protests on 28 and 29 November in advance of the Paris talks are under the banner “The People’s March for Climate, Jobs and Justice”.

We face immense challenges but the message of Paris is that in the fight to limit climate change we are in with a chance.

Ken Montague is secretary of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group.