COP26 failed the people and the planet

Nov 2021

The two-week climate talks at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) concluded on 12 November with a deal that is insufficient to keep the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, falling short on ambition, finance, responsibility and inclusion.

Despite the limitations and travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic, affiliates of the ITUC-Asia Pacific were able to participate in the COP26 and joined the global trade union movement in amplifying the demands of workers during the climate negotiations. The global trade union movement went to COP26 with four key demands: 1) raise climate ambition with Just Transition policies and measures in enhanced nationally determined contributions (NDCs); 2) implement inclusive climate policies that respect and promote human and labour rights; 3) provide climate finance to change the global development model and decarbonise the Global South; and 4) implement strong industrial policies and investment plans underpinning the transition to zero-emission economies.

Expectations to accelerate climate actions to address climate change were unmet by COP26, as commitments were watered down and voices of the most vulnerable people, communities, and nations were ignored. Josua Mata, Secretary General of Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Philippines), lamented:

“Once again, governments and the COP process failed us and the planet. Coming from a country that is in the throes of climate crisis, I could not help but feel disdain for the callousness of governments, acting in cahoots with corporations, that think they can continue to burn the planet while pretending to act as if they are doing something to save us all.”  

Repon Chowdhury, Secretary General of the Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress, said, “Bangladesh is one of the most climate-vulnerable nations on earth. The devastating impacts of climate change have put the lives and livelihood of millions of Bangladeshi workers in danger. I participated in COP26 with a hope for greater climate ambition, clear decisions on climate finance for the Global South, and adoption of an effective loss and damage instrument, but we only got empty promises in Glasgow.”

Mikyung Ryu, International Director of the Korean Trade Union Confederation added, “Even though everyone sitting on the COP26 table recognised ‘climate emergency’, there was no concrete commitment to stop the catastrophe. The pledge of one hundred billion for the Green Climate Fund was delayed again and the compensation of ‘losses and damages’ was denied.”

Repon Chowdhury of the Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress at the COP26

A major win for unions: ‘Just Transition’ in the Glasgow Climate Pact

While most of the demands of trade unions were not heeded in COP26, it was a major win for unions that ‘Just Transition’ is explicitly stated in several parts of the text of Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP).

Shoya Yoshida, General Secretary of the ITUC-Asia Pacific, said, “We welcome the recognition in the GCP of the need for support for a Just Transition. This can be maximised by trade unions as a leverage in demanding their governments to ensure that Just Transition is included in their nationally determined contributions.”

“Trade unions must strengthen their work in advancing a Just Transition with social dialogue at its core to ensure that workers have a seat in the negotiation table for developing plans towards building zero-carbon economies,” Shoya Yoshida added.

As workers will be directly affected by the transition process, trade unions must be directly involved in defining, developing, and implementing Just Transition plans. In this regard, Mikyung Ryu emphasised, “Contrary to the understanding of most governments, including Korea, Just Transition does not merely mean compensation for the workers who lost their jobs. The workers’ movement must play a central role in deciding the direction of the transition and lead it.”

Building workers’ power to respond to the climate emergency

“The weak outcomes of COP26 must reinforce the commitment and actions of trade unions to push for climate justice and Just Transition,” said Shoya Yoshida.

Josua Mata said that we cannot rely on governments to protect the people and the planet. He added, “Indeed, we need to ratchet up our power by organising and mobilising to directly influence things.”

Meanwhile, Mikyung Ryu believes that the workers’ struggle for social and ecological transition must continue beyond COP26.

Trade unions had been a strong force not only in the official COP26 events, but also in the mobilisations, marches and summits outside the conference venue.

“Trade unions can be proud of what we did during COP26. We are now more determined than ever to unite workers, civil society and communities to push our governments to do the right thing and to defeat the regressive corporate interest that are stopping us from achieving our climate targets,” Repon Chowdhury said.

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