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Policy  |  Policy Documents

COSATU Policy Framework on Climate Change: Adopted by the COSATU Central Executive Committee, August 2011

COSATU Policy Framework on Climate Change: Adopted by the COSATU Central Executive Committee, August 2011

19 November 2011

Introduction: COSATU’s positions on Climate Change so far

Climate change is part of a larger economic and ecological crisis which represents a serious challenge for the working class in general and the trade union movement in particular. It is a challenge that has a gender dimension in that working class women, as the administrators and labourers of households, are bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate change.

For some years COSATU has recognized that as more and more greenhouse gases (GHGs), especially carbon dioxide (CO2) but also other gases such as methane, are thrown up into the earth’s atmosphere, so a blanket of these gases is being formed around the earth, which in turn is heating up the temperature immediately above the surface of the earth. This is what is called “global warming” and is what is causing extreme weather events on a scale that has not been seen before. Such extreme weather events include droughts, floods, tornados, and snow storms. Global warming is also causing the rapid melting of ice in the north and south poles, which is causing sea levels to rise. Climate patterns are changing and becoming unpredictably variable, with shifts in rainfall and other seasonal patterns. All these events (which collectively we refer to as “climate change”) are having devastating impacts on the poor and the powerless throughout the world. Already there are over 150 million “climate refugees” in the world who have been displaced through drought, failed crops, floods and rising sea levels. In addition 262 million people are being affected a year by climate related disasters, with the poor worst affected.

COSATU resolved at its 2009 Congress (Annexure 1) that “climate change is one of the greatest threats to our planet and our people”. It noted that “it is the working class, the poor and developing countries that will be adversely affected by climate change.” The Congress also noted that “unless the working class and its organizations take up the issue of climate change seriously, all the talk about ‘green jobs’ will amount to nothing except being another site of accumulation for capitalists”. The 2009 Congress resolution also committed COSATU to increase its research capacity on climate change.

The labour/civil society conference convened by COSATU in October 2010 included over 300 civil society organisations and resulted in a declaration (Annexure 2) which included recognition of the ecological crisis. The declaration states “We need to move towards sustainable energy, to migrate the economy from one based on a coal to a low carbon or possibly carbon free economy. The renewable energy sector will grow, needing different skills and different locations. We have to make sure that we are in charge of this process and do not become the objects of it.” There are also references in the Declaration to eco-agriculture, zero-waste, green jobs, and a rejection of nuclear power.

A resolution on campaigns adopted at COSATU’s Central Committee in June 2011 (Annexure 3) the central committee of COSATU endorsed the Million Climate Jobs campaign and resolved “to mobilise our members for the Global Day of Action on climate change on the 3rd December 2011 in Durban.

COSATU’s “Growth Path towards Full Employment” published by the federation in 2010 presents a strong argument for a growth path that promotes redistribution and which creates decent work. The document puts forward six policy pillars for the achievement of redistribution and decent jobs. One of these pillars is environmental sustainability, which is fleshed out in chapter 17 of the document under the heading “Green Jobs and the Environment”. The chapter does not however directly address climate change and the challenge of carbon emissions. The other five pillars are fiscal policy, monetary policy, industrial development, collective and public forms of ownership, and the development of the southern African region.

The above resolutions, declarations and growth path framework, while important milestones for COSATU, do not constitute fully-fledged policy on climate change. This document provides a framework for such a policy. The framework prioritizes the interests of the working class in the changes involved in reducing carbon emissions. These changes will involve a transition from our total dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas to a mix of energy sources which includes the so-called renewable of solar, wind, hydro and waste. The framework supports a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy. A ‘just transition’ means changes that do not disadvantage the working class worldwide, that do not disadvantage developing countries, and where the industrialized countries pay for the damage their development has done to the earth’s atmosphere. A just transition provides the opportunity for deeper transformation that includes the redistribution of power and resources towards a more just and equitable social order.

Further education and research work will be required across the federation to ensure implementation of the policy

COSATU principles in the Climate Change Policy Framework

  • Capitalist accumulation has been the underlying cause of excessive greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore global warming and climate change.
  • A new low carbon development path is needed which addresses the need for decent jobs and the elimination of unemployment
  • Food insecurity must be urgently addressed
  • All South Africans have the right to clean, safe and affordable energy
  • All South Africans have the right to clean water
  • We need a massive ramping up of public transport in South Africa
  • The impacts of climate change on health must be understood and dealt with in the context of the demand for universal access to health
  • A just transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy is required
  • We need a carbon budget for South Africa
  • African solidarity is imperative
  • An ambitious legally binding international agreement designed to limit temperature increases to a maximum of 1.5 degrees is essential as an outcome of the UNFCCC process
  • We reject market mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions
  • Developed countries must pay for their climate debt and the Green Climate Fund must be accountable
  • We need investment in technology, and technology transfers to developing countries must not be fettered by intellectual property rights
  • The South African government’s position in the UNFCCC processes must properly represent the interests of the people

Principle One: Capitalist Accumulation is the underlying cause of excessive greenhouse gas emissions

COSATU recognizes that the fundamental cause of the climate crisis is the expansionist logic of the capitalist system.

Capitalism is a system that constantly seeks to expand production by the cheapest means possible. This means that it depends on the exploitation of workers around the world as well as the depletion of the natural resource base of the planet. What is produced is very often not really needed by people, but becomes desirable through advertising and marketing. It is also a system that creates massive waste – either in the form of production that exceeds demand, or in the form of goods that are bought but thrown away. This includes food. In the highly industrialized countries it is estimated that at least 40% of all food produced is thrown away. Continuous expansion of production means massive use of electricity, which historically has been mostly produced by burning coal. The burning of coal and other so-called fossil fuels such as oil produces huge volumes of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide CO2). The excessive waste created by capitalism is either burned or dumped – either way it also produces huge volumes of GHGs. Capitalism also ravages the natural production of oxygen and absorption of carbon dioxide by destroying forests and marine life.

Of course even under socialism and communism greenhouse gases are produced and oxygen replenishment is undermined. However the scale of this process can be limited and controlled, because production is geared to meeting real needs of people, not for the sake of creating profits for the bourgeoisie regardless of the cost to humanity as a whole.

The argument that capitalism is at the root of the current climate crisis has already been reflected in Joint Labour’s (COSATU, NACTU and FEDUSA) submission earlier this year in response to the Green Paper on Climate Change. The submission states that “we are convinced that any efforts to address the problems of Climate Change that does not fundamentally challenge the system of global capitalism is bound not only to fail, but to generate new, larger and more dangerous threats to human beings and our planet. Climate Change …. is caused by the global private profit system of capitalism. Tackling greenhouse gas emissions is not just a technical or technological problem. It requires a fundamental economic and social transformation to substantially change current patterns of production and consumption”.

Of course we cannot however wait for the socialist revolution to resolve the immediate threat of climate change. We have very little time left to slow down and reverse the world-wide production of greenhouse gases which is threatening the future of humanity at large, but the future of the working class in particular. So while we are working towards our goal of socialism, we have to build in strategies and demands that immediately address the crisis.

This takes us to our second principle.

Principle Two: A new Low Carbon Development Path is needed which addresses the need for decent jobs and the elimination of unemployment

As indicated in the introduction, COSATU’s 2010 “Growth Path towards Full Employment” already provides a framework for redistribution and the creation of decent work. At the same time, the various resolutions referred to in the introduction have committed COSATU to a future of much reduced carbon emissions i.e. “a low carbon future”. It is now time to put the two arguments together.

This means that every time we think of economic expansion and the creation of jobs – whether it be in manufacturing, agriculture, services, construction, transport, or mining – we must think about how the activity can either contribute to reducing carbon emissions, or can contribute to managing the consequences of climate change. The first response (reduced emissions) is known as mitigation, and the second response (dealing with the consequences) is known as adaptation.

We also need to start thinking even more seriously about focusing production and consumption on meeting basic needs. This implies starting to think about growth in a different way. We need to start thinking of measuring growth not in money terms (“gross domestic product”) but in terms of targets for housing, health, education, access to services, and even in terms of leisure, happiness and wellbeing.

Support for this notion of a new low-carbon development path is increasing globally. A resolution adopted at ITUC’s second congress in 2010 stated that “The global crises show clearly that coherent and ambitious initiatives are needed to address the challenges of today and tomorrow. It demands a transformational change in global production and consumption systems to make our societies and workplaces sustainable and to safeguard and promote decent work for all”.

At a gathering of trade union and global movement leaders in April 2011 known as the “Madrid Dialogue” a new low carbon development paradigm was discussed. Ambet Yuson, the General Secretary of Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) argued that “a green economy based on rights, sustainability principles and decent work can meet the challenge of our societies.” The Social Democratic Spanish Minister of the Environment stressed that “the social and environmental agenda should be indissolubly joined in order for a just transition to be produced towards a new model of growth”. At the same meeting, the General Secretary of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi cautioned that the path to a low carbon economy must be based on new relations of production: - “We will not support any form of capital accumulation that breeds inequalities – even if those forms of capital accumulation are green”.

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) in a 2010 Congress discussion document “Transport Workers and Climate Change: Towards sustainable, low carbon mobility”, spelt the argument out further. “This new economy will still see growth – but the emphasis should be on “social growth” whereby the number of good jobs increase; the incomes of the poor are raised; the deployment of climate-friendly and other green technologies are advanced; the availability of health care becomes more widespread; and security against the risks of job displacement, old age, and disability are enhanced. Policies are needed that temper traditional economic growth while improving social and environmental wellbeing – policies establishing, for instance, increased “time wealth” by reducing the number of hours at work and lengthening vacations. For the global South, top priority must be given to providing space for countries to develop their productive forces in an environmentally sustainable way. Many countries still lack adequate water and sanitation systems. They also need to expand electricity generation based on renewable sources, build safe and affordable public transport systems, and introduce road safety systems in order to protect both drivers and pedestrians. This kind of social growth will only happen if economic life is made much more democratic and more responsive to social and environmental needs.”

Clearly workers and their trade unions are an indispensable force in the transition to a low carbon economy. COSATU has a responsibility to lead in this regard. We have to acknowledge that some employment will be shifted, and some jobs may even eventually disappear. Some workers will need training in new skills to accommodate the changes in their trade e.g. plumbers and electricians. But above all, we need to seize the opportunity to demand a massive expansion of jobs in order to meet the need for new kinds of energy production (such as solar, wind and water power), more public transport, more recycling, renovating and insulating already existing buildings (including homes) with energy saving and carbon reducing devices etc. This is why COSATU has already adopted the campaign for a Million Climate Jobs at the June 2011 Central Committee.

Climate jobs are decent jobs that reduce the emissions of greenhouses gases and/or that strengthen the resilience of communities to deal with the impact of climate change. These jobs are in almost every case more labour-intensive. First prize would be for these jobs to be created directly by the state – via existing or new parastatal, and via all levels of government. We need these jobs, and we need them now! We have a lot more research and campaigning work to do to make these jobs a reality.

There are a number of progressive campaigns for climate jobs and/or retraining around the world that we can learn from.

Principle Three: Food insecurity must be urgently addressed

Climate change will increase the food insecurity already affecting 40% of all South Africans. As part of our new low-carbon development path we need to change the present unsustainable system of industrialized agriculture. This will help us both adapt to the climate reality that is already with us, and to reduce carbon emissions from the sector.

Future food production will lack cheap energy, abundant water or a stable climate. The increase in droughts and floods which are part of climate change will cut food production in parts of the world by 50% in the next 12 years. This will put pressure on food prices, including on basic foods such as bread. South Africa will not be exempt from this. In fact the bread price in South Africa has already risen by 66% in the last three years.

The way food is produced under the current corporate food regime also contributes directly to climate change. Long supply chains mean wasteful ‘food miles’. Fertilizer and pesticides are made from petroleum and natural gas. Both are used in planting, harvesting and transport. Cultivating right up to edge of water sources, including rivers, destroys those water sources and leaves no natural habitat in which plants and animals can adapt to new climatic conditions. Ploughing also releases lots of carbon.

For reasons of adapting to climate change as well as for reasons of reducing the agricultural sector’s direct contribution to climate change, we therefore have to start changing the way we produce food. We need to be promoting and supporting local small scale agriculture for local consumption – a form of food production that creates more jobs and requires less chemical and transport inputs. Such a shift must include support for urban small scale production. Such shifts are what we mean by moving to a state of food sovereignty. This shift implies a substantial ramping up of food production to eliminate food insecurity.

Principle Four: All South Africans have the right to energy

Presently 17.4% of all South African households are not connected to the electricity grid. We would have to add to this the number of people who are connected to the grid, but who cannot afford to pay for electricity to get a true figure for household access. It has to be acknowledged that a life without electricity in the 21st century is one of great disadvantage, and has a multiplier effect on inequality. Therefore in developing a strategy that reduces our dependence on fossil-fuel produced electricity we have to at the same time rapidly expand our household electricity connections.

We reject nuclear energy as too expensive and dangerous. There are no known safe ways of disposing of nuclear waste. The commitment of our government to nuclear energy contributes to policy incoherence as it is proven that this industry is not labour intensive, and therefore cannot contribute in any real way to job creation. Nuclear plants cost billions to build and take a long time to get up and running. This is money and time that the country could better spend on real renewable energy solutions, and other developmental imperatives. We therefore need to continue to oppose government’s current commitment to expansion of nuclear energy generation. It can be shown that we can meet South Africa’s electricity demand using renewable energy technologies and have no need of nuclear for “base load” as is often promoted.

New and renewable power generation from sources such as wind, solar, hydro and waste needs to be cheap. In order to keep it cheap it must be generated and distributed by entities owned and controlled by government.

While access to cheap electricity needs to be ramped up, levels of household consumption can be limited through the construction and retro-fitting of energy efficient homes. This includes the fitting of solar water heaters, installation of decent ceiling insulation, and the design of houses to best take advantage of natural light and warmth from the sun.

The expansion of access to electricity, the growth in renewable energy production, and the initiatives to reduce electricity consumption, will be part of a strategy to create tens of thousands of new jobs.

Principle Five: All South Africans have the right to clean water

South Africa is already a country of water scarcity. Climate change is putting further pressure on this. As with agriculture, we have to adapt how we deal with water distribution and consumption.

Access to clean water remains a dream for millions in South Africa. In adapting to increasing water stress, we have to ensure that at the same time those who currently have no access are given access. State support for rain collection (or “rain harvesting” as it is referred to) through the mass distribution of rain water tanks should be considered.

Addressing water wastage is also critical. Leaking municipal and domestic pipes account for massive daily wastage.

As water stressed country we need to value and safeguard the natural sources of water – our aquifers, groundwater, water catchment areas, rivers and wetlands. These are part of the natural cycle which cleans and provides water to life on the planet. In our quest for new energy sources we must ensure that we do not compromise this scarce resource.

Strategies to address preventing water wastage and the protection of our water sources will be part of a campaign to produce tens of thousands of new jobs.

Principle Six: We need a massive ramping up of public transport in South Africa

We note that transport in South Africa is a significant emitter (around 12% of all GHGs).

The most obvious intervention to reduce transport emissions is to ramp up the provision of public transport. 32% of commuters travel to work daily in private cars – the majority being one person one car. Attracting even a portion of these private car users to public transport could assist in cutting emissions. But in order to attract private car users to public transport, services need to be safer, more frequent, more comfortable, and more affordable. Massive public investment is required to make this possible, but the spinoffs would be significant not only in respect of reduced carbon emissions, but also in respect of job creation.

To meet the need for massive expansion in public transport, the local manufacture of public transport vehicles that use cleaner fuels must be supported as a job creating initiative. And the infrastructure for transport of fuels must be invested in to make it suitable for movement of cleaner fuels.

COSATU will lead a national campaign for the rapid expansion of public transport.

Principle Seven: The impacts of climate change on health must be understood and dealt with in the context of the demand for universal access to health

There is already a body of international evidence on the health impacts of climate change. This includes predicted increases in incidents of malaria (due to warmer and wetter conditions), water-borne diseases, heat-stroke etc. Drought and other extreme weather related events will also impoverish the already marginalized, making them further vulnerable to ill-health and disease.

These health impacts are however little understood by the health sector in South Africa. Urgent attention needs to be paid to developing an understanding and a response in the health sector.

Principle Eight: A Just Transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy is required

A just transition addresses both the unemployment crisis and the ecological crisis.

The evidence suggests that the transition to a low-carbon economy will potentially create more jobs than it will lose. But we have to campaign for protection and support for workers whose jobs or livelihoods might be threatened by the transition. If we do not do that, then these workers will resist the transition. We also have to ensure that the development of new green industries does not become an excuse for lowering wages and social benefits. New environmentally-friendly jobs provide an opportunity to redress many of the gender imbalances in employment and skills. The combination of these interventions is what we mean by a just transition.

The just transition is a concept that COSATU has supported in the global engagements on climate change that have been lead by ITUC. The basic demands of a just transition are:-

  • Investment in environmentally friendly activities that create decent jobs that are paid at living wages, that meet standards of health and safety, that promote gender equity, and that are secure
  • The putting in place of comprehensive social protections (pensions, unemployment insurance etc) in order to protect the most vulnerable
  • The conducting of research into the impacts of climate change on employment and livelihoods in order to better inform social policies
  • Skills development and retraining of workers to ensure that they can be part of the new low-carbon development model

It is noted that ITUC’s lobbying, which COSATU is a part of, succeeded in 2010 in getting governments to agree internationally at the UNFCCC on a commitment to the concept of a just transition.

We also need to ensure that the concept of a just transition is built into the final text of the international legally binding agreement that we are pushing for as international labour.

Internationally we support the ITUC position that the ILO should be given the mandate to set recommendations to the UNFCCC on operationalising the just transition agenda. The ILO should also be given the mandate to monitor and report on progress in achieving a just transition.

As COSATU we need to ensure that the concept of a just transition is developed further to fully incorporate our commitment to a fundamentally transformed society. We need to embed it in all our local campaigning and negotiating on climate change. We need to urgently educate our members on the shop floor so that they can identify issues for negotiation and items for intervention. We also need to find ways of extending the discussions and mobilization into communities.

Principle Nine: We need a carbon budget for South Africa

The process of measuring current emissions and making targets for the future is what is known as having a “carbon budget”. Our government has already developed a system of calculating emissions per sector, and of reporting these to the UNFCCC. The only target for emissions reduction that we have however is a contested overall national target. This has not yet been broken down per sector.

South Africa urgently needs a carbon budget, so that all sectors can work to targets and be held accountable. As COSATU we need to have input into the development of such a carbon budget. Our proposals for such a budget must be based on the other principles of our approach to climate change.

Principle Ten: African solidarity is imperative

In developing our policy response to Climate Change, we have to ensure that we are taking into account the wider interests of Africa as a continent, and the interests of the SADC region in particular this is for two reasons. We are already the worst carbon emitters in Africa, and Africa (including South Africa) is likely to be worse affected than most other regions of the world. This is because Africa has a very large land mass which means that whatever average temperature rise is experienced world-wide, Africa will experience a rise of 1 and a half times that average. So, for example, a two degree global rise in temperature will mean a three degree average rise for Africa.

A rise of a single degree in Africa will cause a loss of 65% of the continent’s present maize growing capacity. Food production overall could fall by as much as 20%.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that wheat production will disappear from Africa and there will be a marked decrease in the amount of maize under cultivation across the continent. An OXFAM report estimates that the price of wheat will increase by 120% in the next few years which will put bread out of the reach of many.

A single degree rise in temperature will result in a 10% decline in rainfall by 2050, creating water stress for 480 million people. Africa also has large coastal areas at sea level or marginally above sea level. A warming of two degrees will produce a significant rise in sea levels, which will flood many coastal communities and destroy much of Africa’s coastal infrastructure. It should be noted that our government has not to date supported the position of the majority of other African countries that measures must be taken to restrict temperature increases to a maximum world average of below 1.5 degrees. South Africa is sticking with 2 degrees.

Africa is also more vulnerable because it has fewer resources to deal with the results of climate change. As a continent we lag behind in technology, skills and financial resources. This is why the argument for technology transfer without the constraints of intellectual property rights, and the argument for a transfer of grant funds from the developed nations are so important. Grant funds for climate change must be in addition to other “overseas development assistance”.

We also need continental solidarity to resist a new neo-colonial land grab that is taking place in Africa. Biofuels are liquid fuels made from plants such as maize, sugar, and other crops. These crops need large amounts of land on which to be cultivated. Ironically, laws introduced in Britain and the European Union that demand the blending of rising amounts of biofuels into petrol and diesel, have resulted in British and European companies buying up large tracts of land in Mozambique, Senegal, Mali, Guinea and at least 16 other African countries. There are no central records of land acquisitions in Africa, but research by the Guardian newspaper has revealed the scale of the biofuels rush in sub-Saharan Africa – 100 projects and 50 companies in more than 20 countries. A commission set up by an institution called the Nuffield Council on Bioethics found that in the UK only 31% of biofuels used meet voluntary environmental standards intended to protect water supplies, soil quality and carbon stocks in the source country. This is over and above the fact that the land and resources used to produce biofuels competes with land and resources required for food production – creating a link between biofuels and record food prices and rising hunger. A study by Greenpeace on the acquisition of African land has also shown that in the wake of the growth of the biofuels industry, European companies are buying up even more land as hedge funds and stocks. So while biofuels in themselves produce less carbon emissions, this does not make them necessarily desirable from a development point of view.

It is imperative that as COSATU we work with our sister federations throughout Africa to develop a continent-wide labour perspective on Climate Change. It is also imperative that we push our own government towards policy positions that go beyond the self-interests of South Africa. We need to be part of developing a comprehensive African trade union response by engaging in the debates to be held at the ITUC-Africa Regional Congress to be held in October this year.

Principle Eleven: A legally binding international agreement designed to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees is essential as part of the UNFCCC process

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992 and entered into force 1994. Under this agreement, all governments commit to reduce their emissions, under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities. However seventeen years and millions of tons of carbon emissions later, there is still no effective agreement to ensure emissions cuts at the scale needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. The next annual meeting of the UNFCCC process will be in late November/early December in Durban. This meeting is known as COP17 (17th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC).

In line with the position of ITUC, as COSATU we demand an international agreement that is: -

  • Fair i.e. which respects the different responsibilities of developed and developing countries, and ensures also a just transition for workers and their families around the world
  • Ambitious i.e. whereby developed countries take the lead and make binding commitments for emission reductions of up to 40% of 1990 levels by 2020, and whereby allowance is made for an average increase in temperatures of no more than 1.5 degrees
  • Legally binding with sanctions against those that break the agreement

As part of a parallel UNFCCC process of working towards an international binding agreement, an agreement was reached by a limited number of countries (37 in all) in 1997 and entered into force in 2005. This is the Kyoto Protocol, which sets rather inadequate emission reduction targets for the signatory countries and introduced carbon trading and other market mechanisms for reducing emissions. The USA as the worst emitter, has never signed up to the Kyoto Protocol. The first round commitments of the Kyoto Protocol are about to come to an end in 2012. In the absence of a new global and binding agreement under the UNFCCC process, we believe the signatories must agree on deeper commitments for a period beyond 2012. However, many of the signatories to the Protocol, including Japan, Russia, Canada and Australia, are resisting adopting a second commitment period. The future of the Kyoto Protocol is likely to be the main issue of contention at COP 17

Those who are resisting a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol have joined the US in proposing that emission cuts, whether under Kyoto or under a new global agreement, should be ‘pledges’ rather than targets. This ‘pledge and review system’, coupled with the market mechanisms that the same countries are happy to retain, represents the DEREGULATION of the international climate regime, with no consequences for those that break their pledges. This will continue to drive us towards climate catastrophe. We therefore reject the system of voluntary “pledge and review”.

Principle Twelve: We reject market mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions

There are a number of market mechanisms that have been developed by governments in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions. The problem is that these mechanisms are all about making the atmosphere into a commodity for sale in the same way that other natural resources have already become commodities used to generate profit. Using market mechanisms also means that the rich and powerful dictate the terms on which the last “free space” (the atmosphere) is carved up an allocated unfairly. Worst of all, the market mechanisms don’t necessarily even reduce emissions!

The market mechanisms that have been developed are:-

  • the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM )
  • Carbon trading, including government regulated “cap and trade” systems

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is part of the Kyoto Protocol. It allows the 37 countries with reduction targets to “offset” their own carbon emissions by investing in emissions reducing projects in other countries. Carbon offsets work by investing in a carbon-reducing project in a developing country, and then receiving “carbon credits” for these investments. In this way they can continue to pollute in the mother country. It has been compared to paying someone else to diet and lose weight for you!

There are about 200 projects in South Africa which have applied for CDM status, of which 20 have so far been formally registered as carbon offset projects. One of these projects is Sasol’s nitrous oxide plan. Sasol’s registration as a CDM project means that as world’s worst single carbon dioxide emitter, it is receiving CDM funds which are then being used to further invest in carbon intensive coal-to-liquid plans across the globe! So in practice, CDM is enabling further destruction of the planet.

Carbon trading is another manifestation of ‘green capitalism’ which is aimed at making profits from climate change, not solving it.

A specific form of carbon trading exists where governments have set national emissions reduction targets (or caps). These governments can give out ‘pollution permits’ to major emitters or sell them at auction. The permits can also be bought and sold by emitters who need them. This is called ‘cap and trade’. So, both the level of the target (the cap) and the remaining permits to pollute place a price on emitting carbon. Emitters are supposed to have an incentive to cut their emissions because they will have to buy fewer permits and may be able to sell any spare. This is the principle behind Europe’s internal carbon emissions trading system and the ones being set up in Australia and under discussion in the USA and Mexico. In Europe however, it has already been found that the system can easily be manipulated by a government over-allocating carbon permits. In addition, the most recent recession has resulted in a drop in production in many polluting industries, which in turn has meant that these industries have accumulated massive carbon credits. Arcelor Mittal alone has credits in Europe worth 1.7 billion Euros.

We reject these market mechanisms. We need international regulation, coupled with sanctions against those who bust the regulations.

Principle Thirteen: Developed countries must pay for their climate debt and the Green Climate Fund must be accountable

While we accept that developing countries, including South Africa, have to play their part in reducing emissions, developed countries must carry a larger part of the burden.

Developed countries have less than 20% of the world’s population but they have emitted almost three quarters of all historic GHG emissions – and they have grown wealthy through this. On a per person basis developed countries are responsible for more than 10 times the historical emissions of developing countries.

There are two forms of climate debt that the developed countries now owe: - an emissions debt and an adaptation debt. This means developed countries need to make deeper emissions cuts than developing countries, and indeed many developing nations need to be allowed to grow their emissions (off a very low current base) before peaking and then also reducing. It also means that developed countries need to provide direct funding for assisting developing countries to adapt to the damage that has already been and will be caused by climate change.

In regard to the management of these debts, the UNFCCC process has agreed on the establishment of a global Green Climate Fund. This Fund is in its infant stages, with the sources or mechanisms for funding not yet agreed. The only steps that have so far been taken are the appointment of a Panel which has been given the task of designing the Fund. Seven African countries have seats on this Panel, with Trevor Manuel being one of the appointees and the co-chair.

The pledge made by developed countries at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 of US$100 billion by 2020 is hopelessly inadequate to meet the debts. Modest estimates argue that at least US$200 billion of public finance per year will be needed to meet adaptation and mitigation requirements. Some estimates of requirement are as high as US$600 billion per year.

We need to campaign to ensure that the Green Climate Fund is innovative in sourcing funds and that it considers options such as a Financial Transaction Tax. A tax on stocks, derivatives, currency and other financial instruments (i.e. excluding simple money transfers including remittances of migrant workers to developing countries) of between 0.2% and 0.5% could generate up to USD$650 billion a year globally. This figure could be achieved without applying the tax in developing countries. Such a tax would have the co-benefit of curbing dangerous financial speculation.

We must also ensure that the Fund provides finance through direct grants, not loans. The Fund must not become another mechanism for creating debt and impoverishment of developing countries. The governance of the Fund must be democratic and fair, and trade unions and civil society must be guaranteed participation. Gender equality must be a guiding principle in the governance and operationalisation of the Fund. Any project funded by the Fund must respect ILO core Labour Standards and environmental requirements, and must not be speculative.

And the Fund should not be administered or dominated in any way by the World Bank, as has already been mooted. The World Bank has historically been part of the problem of Climate Change, not part of the solution. It continues to fund massive fossil fuel projects in at least seven different countries (including the 2010 granting of a loan to build a new coal fired power station in South Africa).

Principle Fourteen: We need technology development, and technology transfers must not be fettered by intellectual property rights

We recognize that one of the constraints that South Africa and other developing countries has is a deficit of technology and skills to both reduce emissions and to adapt to a new climate changed reality.

We note that in the UNFCCC processes, technology transfer and financing has been on the table since 1992. The Green Climate Fund is not yet up and running to fund technology transfers. The COP16 in Cancun also set up a technology mechanism, but this is still without content.

We must make sure that technology and skills transfers are effected without being fettered by the obligation to pay for intellectual property rights.

Locally, government must support research and development of technologies which assist in reducing (mitigating) and adapting to climate change. In this regard, priority should be given to collaborating internationally on the possibilities of carbon capture as an interim measure i.e. the process of “capturing” and storing or converting carbon released by the manufacturing and coal-powered electricity sectors. This should not however be assumed to be an option until it has been proven to be effective and safe.

Principle Fifteen: The South African government’s position in the UNFCCC processes must fully reflect the interests of the people

The Bolivian ambassador to the UN talks, Ambassador Solon has argued that governments needed to reflect on whether they are informing the population in an understandable way of what is going on in the negotiations and what are the options for climate change, and whether there is a real process of consultation within the population in the country? He has also expressed concern at the over-representation of private and business interests and the neglect of grassroots movements.

We have to ensure through our campaigns, protests, lobbying, and negotiation processes, that the position of the South African government truly reflects the interests of the people of South Africa, and the interests of the working class in particular. We cannot allow the position of our government to be dictated by capital.

In developing our position, we must build alliances with all other progressive forces in the country. We need:-

  • A common set of demands and principles
  • A joint mobilizing strategy

We also need to put pressure on our government to commit itself to an African position, including committing to the position supported by a majority of African countries on 1.5 degrees and no recognition of intellectual property rights in the transfer of technology.

The campaign resolution adopted by the 2011 COSATU Central Committee resolved that “going forward, we should strengthen our participation and be more effective in the National Committee on Climate Change in order to influence government’s negotiating position in COP 17; that as COSATU we should continue to participate in the Civil Society (C17) which is responsible for co-coordinating civil society work around COP 17 and mobilize our members for the Global Day of Action on Saturday 3 December.”

Strategies for COSATU affiliates

The above framework requires fleshing out in practice. To this end:-

  • COSATU affiliates should begin to develop their policies on climate change that will inform their sectoral engagements on climate change.
  • COSATU affiliates should build their research and education capacity on climate change.
  • COSATU affiliates should initiate education programmes for all their leaders and members on climate change.
  • COSATU affiliates must begin sectoral engagements on climate change, aimed at specific and targeted strategies for emissions reductions AND job creation in each sector
  • COSATU affiliates must investigate ways and means by which they can begin a consistent and informed response to climate change as trade unions.
  • COSATU must develop internal capacity to support affiliates in all of the above.
  • COSATU must continue to engage our government on climate change in Nedlac and other appropriate forums

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets
Braamfontein
2017

P.O.Box 1019
Johannesburg
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080 / 6940
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za

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