Climate Justice: a Briefing for trade unionists

The COP26 Coalition Trade Union Caucus has published a Briefing for Trade Unionists. (Below are extracts and a link.) As it says, “delivering a Just Transition will need strength and determination by the trade union movement and its allies to force their governments to take the urgent actions needed, while calling out any failures to deliver on promises about green jobs”. While the unions support a Just Transition they have done little to mobilise members on the ground.

That is what is needed here in the West Midlands, where the COP26 Coalition WM is building for the demonstration in Birmingham on November 6, along with actions in other WM areas. The Trades Council could play a key role in getting local trade union members involved in the Nov 6 actions, which would feed into the ongoing campaign thereafter. It needs one or two members of the BTUC Exec to take responsibility for the longterm strategic coordination of its Climate campaign, with a working group of members. (The same approach could be adopted for the other key issues facing working people in Birmingham: jobs, housing, social care, health and education, each with an EC coordinator.)


This briefing has been produced by trade unionists for climate justice, meeting as the Trade Union Caucus of the COP26 Coalition, to inform trade union activists about the issues which will arise in and around the COP.

[Below are extracts. The full document is ‘Briefing paper mobile.pdf’ by Sophie Monk, June 21 2021, at ]


In the climate talks the trade union movement has contributed the Just Transition concept. This demands the achievement of climate emissions reduction targets in ways that protect the livelihoods and conditions of workers, thus bringing greater social justice and inclusion. This concept was included in the 2015 Paris Agreement through the efforts of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which has led the Just Transition demand in subsequent COPs.

Beyond Just Transition, the trade union movement has responded to climate change through various proposals – from a local focus, to a better deal for workers within national policy frameworks, to a transformed global economic system.

Some of these [government] plans mention ‘Just Transition’, but the use of the term in them by governments is generally an empty gesture or green-washing, so far. We have not heard of many examples where trade unions have been involved in their preparation. Workers and their unions must be involved in drafting and negotiating the policies so that they ensure economic and social justice.


Net-zero targets often rely on offsetting and carbon trading. Hence climate justice groups strongly oppose this use of the net-zero concept. Trade unions should understand these concerns and should subject ‘net-zero’ proposals and claims to strong scrutiny to ensure that the measures proposed are actually part of a valid path to real zero, and not greenwash.


Talk about just transition is easy, as we see from the governments and now also private companies which have started to scatter the term Just Transition around their policy documents – often without any mention of workers or trade unions. However, actually delivering a Just Transition will need strength and determination by the trade union movement and its allies to force their governments to take the urgent actions needed, while calling out any failures to deliver on promises about green jobs.

Trade unionists, with their allies in the climate justice movement, should check their governments’ climate change plans and NDCs for these key elements:-

  1. meeting the targets of ending greenhouse gas emissions/zero carbon
  2. economic planning to make the necessary changes happen, fast enough
  3. sectoral plans, and enterprise conversion plans
  4. public funding at the scale needed and action by all public agencies
  5. protecting livelihoods of workers and creating alternatives for those dependent on fossil fuels
  6. support for workers with a clear offer including retraining and upskilling
  7. creating enough jobs and of the right quality
  8. regulatory requirements and conditions for private companies
  9. ensuring sufficient finance and investment flows
  10. protection of the communities economically dependent on fossil fuels
  11. fair distribution of the costs of the transition and the benefits
  12. fair shares of effort and cost across the planet
  13. social justice benefits – integration of measures which make society more inclusive
  14. education, skills for Just Transition, ensuring the labour supply needed
  15. participation in the processes by workers and unions (including social dialogue) and agreement on the importance of workplace green representatives
  16. promoting public control and collective ownership of resources and infrastructure
  17. social protection and the rights which underpin the Just Transition

To ensure those elements will require building wide alliances and a popular movement powerful enough to make governments take the actions needed.


This briefing document has introduced the UN’s global framework and the main issues relevant to actions at any level, in order to inform them all. To help achieve a Just Transition and avoid false solutions, trade-union members can take action at several levels: to strengthen the policies of their union, to press their governments to adopt those policies, to join or form local coalitions and to mobilise around COP26, preferably with other parts of the global justice movement. Trade unions  often have more material resources than other parts of the movement at home and abroad and  should explore using some of these to make sure the most excluded – often the most affected – also have a voice.

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