Climate change threatens everything for which the labour movement stands including fairness, social justice and decent work. This was the message UNI Chief Philip Jennings delivered in a keynote speech to the W3 International Conference in Toronto.
Invited by UNI affiliate the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) - the event co-sponsors - Jennings used the speech to introduce his theme, "Including You in Planet Recovery."
"There is nothing more important facing humanity than the dangers of a warming planet. We have no time to lose," the UNI General Secretary warned. Jennings described the battle against climate change as a "class war," stressing that "the ones who are the least responsible, the poorest people, are also the ones who are paying the highest price."
"While billionaires prepare safe havens for themselves and their money," he said, "workers will bear the cost of climate change."
Jennings examined some of the problems facing poorer countries through the lens of Bangladesh, which, he says, is a country that stands out as the ultimate example of extreme fluctuations in weather and water cycle.
"Bangladesh is a poster child for the climate change threat. Much of the country stands a few metres above sea level. There is a forecasted rise of one metre before the end of the century, which could permanently displace more than 30 million people."
He compared the efforts being carried out to improve factory safety in Bangladesh's garment industry to the threat posed to the country by global warming. "We are working day and night to protect garment workers in Bangladesh, but we also recognise that 30 million Bangladeshis are under threat from rising seas," he said.
"Where will the people go when 15 per cent of the country goes underwater in the next 50 years and the farmlands no longer feed the population?"
The W3 Work in a Warmer World conference provides a platform to bring labour and labour research to the forefront of improving environmental sustainability in the world of work.
According to the 5th IPCC report, the last decade was the warmest on record. "All of us are here today to tackle the tremendous challenge of climate change and its impacts on livelihoods," Jennings said.
"The science is clear – all signals are red. As I speak, the planet is warming up at a quick and unprecedented pace."
"And this is both an enormous risk and a great opportunity for change, if we manage to join forces."
The risk of climate change is also increasing the instability of the global economy in the midst of its own crisis.
"HSBC's latest research identifies India, China, Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil as the five G20 nations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Together, they represent one third of projected global GDP in 2050. Given that these emerging economies are the future for global demand, this is very significant."
"The time for a peaceful transition is starting to run out. The world must cut global emissions by 50% compared to 1990 levels and leave more than half of fossil fuel reserves in the ground to give us a chance of limiting rising temperatures to 2 degrees. It means that the world needs to achieve zero emission societies by 2050."
"For unions, employment and decent work is core business and climate change is not employment friendly. But workers have the power to leverage the transition towards a low-carbon society."
Launching a global green deal, Jennings said, could finally put an end to the staggering financial crisis. According to UNEP, investing into the green economy would create at least 20 million jobs in the world. And the latest ITUC research even shows that a 2% investment across traditional sectors can create 48 million new jobs in just 12 countries within 5 years. We need to create these new green jobs, but also green the existing brown jobs.
With an eye to UNI's World Congress in Cape Town a year from now, Jennings stressed the importance of "planet recovery" being integrated as an Including You theme.
"We fully echo the sentiments made by the ITUC under Sharan Burrow following the recent failed climate talks in Warsaw," Jennings said. "There will be no jobs on a dead planet. There is no Planet B."