COP26 – the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties – will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, from 1-12 November. At this meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, governments will negotiate their commitments to the international environmental treaty to combat climate change.

At COP26, governments will present their updated climate plans – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - to reach net zero by 2050, after committing to do so as part of the Paris Climate Agreement at COP21 in 2015. Accelerating climate action with the ambition to achieve net-zero emissions as soon as possible and by mid-century is essential if the global community is to implement the Paris Agreement.

Achieving net zero means a fundamental reorganization of the world economy – and if the COP talks go well, there will be funding available to achieve this. Countries also have targets to meet for the Sustainable Development Goals, many of which overlap with net zero targets. Rich countries have also committed funding to decarbonize the Global South.

Trade unions recognise that climate change is an existential threat and that the transformation is essential to preserve life on this planet, and demand that this transition be just: working people must not pay the price.

Trade unions have been admitted as observers since COP14 in 2008. Unions campaigned for the inclusion of Just Transition in the Paris Climate Agreement, and at COP24, in Katowice, Poland, in 2018, the Silesia Declaration on Just Transition was adopted. This was an important victory for unions.

ILO principles on Just Transition, that are the result of tripartite discussions and negotiations, specify that Just Transition plans need to be integrated into NDCs with the active contribution of trade unions and other social actors. However, participants at a recent webinar, ‘On the Way to COP26 – Industry, Energy and Mine Workers Demand Just Transition’, jointly hosted by IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll Europe, pointed out that there is a mismatch between the rhetoric and the reality.

Many identified concrete examples of current or projected losses of millions of jobs due to mines closing, the shift from fossil fuels and changes in manufacturing. Politicians promise a bonanza of millions of green jobs to replace those that are lost, but there are no specifics: there is no clarity on where they will be, or who will get them. Governments have not developed credible plans for these new jobs, or started training people to do them.

Speaking at the conference, Kate James, who leads on Just Transition for the UK government, acknowledged the problem, and said that the key was for local trade unions to engage actively with policy development, and to use their collective power to hold governments and employers to account. “Transformation is coming”, she said. “It is better to design your future than have it imposed on you.”

Bert de Wel, climate policy officer at the ITUC, said that the UK government is trying to lower expectations of the meeting, focusing on what is politically palatable rather than scientifically necessary. However, we need ambitious climate targets now if we are going to bend the emissions curve in the right direction. De Wel introduced the global labour movement’s key priorities for COP26: Climate ambition with Just Transition, human and labour rights, climate finance and industrial policy and investment.

The conference adopted a joint declaration, saying that the response to the Covid-19 pandemic showed that coordinated global action, with adequate funding, was possible, and calling for Just Transition to be made a reality.

IndustriAll Europe Deputy General Secretary, Judith Kirton-Darling said:

“Unions have introduced the concept of Just Transition at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. It has been an eye-opener for many. Since then, we have witnessed much greater awareness about the need for a strong social and employment dimension in climate action. But just opening your eyes and realising that there is a problem is not enough. We need concrete actions to manage the change. This needs to be done with the active participation of workers. Nothing about us without us!”

Contact: Corinna Zierold (senior policy adviser)