COP 26 through workers’ eyes

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There were some positives for workers at COP26, says Lebogang Mulaisi.

COP26 in Glasgow was envisaged as the COP that would deliver on the needs of the world and make major steps towards implementing ambitious climate policies. 2021 was set to be the year for governments to align climate, economic, social, and labour demands. These aspirations have partially been realized with an agreement to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and the breakthrough agreement between the United States (US) and China. The two major emitters have committed to effective implementation in order to address the climate crises. The two nations intend to cooperate on:

  • regulatory frameworks and environmental standards related to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in the 2020s; 
  • maximizing the societal benefits of the clean energy transition; 
  • policies to encourage decarbonization and electrification of end-use sectors;  
  • key areas related to the circular economy, such as green design and renewable resource utilization; and
  • deployment and application of technology such as Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) and direct air capture.

More specifically for the African continent, South Africa has received support from the European Union, Germany, France, The United Kingdom (UK) and the US to move from its heavy reliance on coal to cleaner sources of energy. The countries, in a watershed climate finance agreement announced at COP 26, have pledged R131 billion over the next three to five years in the form of grants and highly concessionary loans.

Lebogang Mulaisi with other trade union representatives at COP26

This partnership provides much needed finance, to finance pathways to a just transition. The centre of this partnership is the importance of a Just Transition, which includes support for workers and communities affected by the transition away from coal and enables the creation of quality green jobs. For the transition to be just, decarbonisation must be implemented in a manner that promotes and sustains employment, livelihoods and economic inclusion for historically marginalised communities and sectors of our society. Government will establish a joint taskforce that will be tasked to take forward the partnership over the coming months.

Climate finance is a key enabler for job creation in a just transition. Dealing with the climate emergency is an opportunity to create good and decent jobs. This means that policymakers not only need to talk about the jobs that will be created, but they also need to engage with the organisations that represent workers in order to guarantee that labour rights are respected and decent work opportunities are created.

Social planning for a just transition must recognise the past legacies of economic exclusion for youth and woman and persons with disabilities with job opportunities tailored towards those that have been previously economically excluded. Social plans must detail access to training and social protection guarantees for workers whose jobs are negatively impacted by the transition. Employment plans need to be a foundation of climate plans.

Access to finance and technology transfer for developing countries is essential to address climate change. COP 26 president Alok Sharma suggested that trillions of dollars were needed to meet developing countries climate goals and that a partnership between global leaders was essential to achieving this. Financing cannot become another form of indebtedness for the countries of the global south and access to technology a new form of dependency.

The commitments of developed countries must be effective and based on dialogue, respecting the autonomy of countries to define their policies. COP26 cannot ignore the systemic flaws of our current economic model, which jeopardises any effective climate policy. Providing climate finance should focus on changing the production and consumption model, not only on decarbonisation.

Lebogang Mulaisi is Labour Market Policy Co-ordinator in COSATU’s Policy Unit and sits on the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC)

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Lebogang Mulaisi
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