Just Transition: Workers’ Rights are Human Rights

Greetings from Paris. Week two of climate negotiations is now underway!

December 8, 2015

The following post is from Michael G. Williams, Vice President of Strategic Development for the BlueGreen Alliance. 

A jet-lagged, but hopeful, Michael Williams at the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris.

A jet-lagged, but hopeful, Michael Williams at the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris.

Greetings from Paris. Week two of climate negotiations is now underway! All signs still point towards a comprehensive agreement, which is not a huge surprise given the amount of work put in beforehand to get us this far. Week two is typically the change from the dog-and-pony show to serious negotiations. As such, I thought it would be useful to take a look at each of the five key principles we released last Monday. Let’s start with the issue we’ve had as a priority at the COPs since the BlueGreen Alliance’s founding: Just Transition.

We sent a letter to Todd Stern, the lead negotiator for the United States, succinctly describing our position. In short, we need explicit language on just transition in the operative part of the agreement. This means that when each country submits its contribution every two years or so describing how they are taking on the challenge of climate change, they also have to describe how they are taking into account the impact of workers and communities.

When the negotiations started, we had exactly that. In the operational portion (Article 2) of the draft negotiating text was direct reference to just transition and decent work, as part of a paragraph that captured core issues to broader civil society, notably gender equality and human rights. (FYI, for more background on just transition, there’s no better place to go than the International Trade Union Confederation.) Frustratingly, as the first week bore on, our language along with references to other portions of the human rights ask was taken out amidst arguments involving the United States, Norway, Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries.