Emissions Impossible : Notes from Nairobi 2006

Greetings, Green Globalists! I'm in Nairobi for the climate change conference with a big trade union delegation from across the globe. I work at the TUC in the UK. Okay, there's no bigger challenge facing working people than climate change - whatever country you're in. We're looking for ways to influence this mega gathering, and one of our main demands is making sure there's a union 'voice' at the conference table. So, read the blog and get involved because there's no Planet B!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kofi Anan's plan

The whole conference gathered this morning at 10. The red carpet was being rolled out alomost touching the toes of their excellencies as they came to address the assembled delegates. Kofi Anan called for a Nairobi Framework, a plan to help developing countries, especially African. Every big UN initiative is named after the place it's announced at. None more appropriate than here. His big call is for development to go hand in hand with climate change strategies. He also said that 'those who have been largely responsible for the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere .. must do much, much more to bring their emissions down' He spoke of a 'frightening lack of leadership'.
We all pleased about this, as our call 2 days ago based on our first hand encounters also focussed on the crucial need to accelerate the pace of sustainable development in Africa. This is likely to feature as a new union priority, though much discussion will doubtles be needed when we get back home.. .

Monday, November 13, 2006


Driving here to this conference centre in a wonderful parkland beneath soaring clouds of cumulo-nimbus, we past the municipal waste heap, in effect a huge open rubbish tip also warming nicely under the sun, letting out methane (a greenhouse gas) and sending health challenges to a shanty town nearby. These seasonal rains are much heavier than usual, so there's more floods on the coast, bridges swept away.

So to the EU pavilion for a lunchtime briefing from Sweden, Poland, Germany, UK, France, on how well they are doing to meet their Kyoto targets. It's the story of the Kyoto-lite challenge - the first round of reductions agreed a few years ago average no more than an 8% cut on 1990 emission levels by 2012, with various percentages eg 21% Germany,12.5% UK.

So how are we doing? The EU is 0.9% lower than 1990! Hard to doubt the sincerity of the officials. Germany seems to be the only very large economy making real progress -installed 100,000 solar panels, 10% of energy from renewables, controlled carbon emissions from transport with investment in trains and buses. UK cannot claim serious progress in any of these areas. The unions are calling for carbon cuts of 25% or more across the EU by 2020, and that wont be enough - our message for the UK and Kenyan environment ministers, when we meet them. Seems that Miliband landed today and has gone straight to Northern Kenya. His speech , and our meeting with him, will be interesting.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Jobs, unions and that flower question

Saturday afternoon at the Gigiri conference centre. Our big day, a union Side Event -there's been a big climate change demo in town, and now we are here with speakers on Unions, climate change and employment . . .

Sophie Dupressoir of the European union confederation (ETUC) spoke about an ambitious study looking at the employment consequences of climate change across 12 EU nations. Climate change policies could be implemented with overall positive employment benefits. Massive job growth is forecast in sectors like renewables, but some areas, like electricity generation and road haulage could face difficulties. “Employment transition measures are therefore essential for social acceptance of climate policies," she told delegates.

Other union speakers described various models of union engagement with governments and industry on climate change in the UK, Spain and elsewhere. We didn't get the head of the UK delegation - he was called away to some urgent other event - but his stand-in,Ian Pickard, said his government bekieved that stakeholder engagement in policy development was a key part of the UK strategy. Hmmn. The TUC’s greenworkplaces project was a good practical example of concrete action to tackle energy use and carbon emissions at work. True.

Ana Belen Sanchez spoke about the Spanish Government’s tripartite social dialogue, set up in 2005 to plan commitments to meet its national carbon allocation plan. This is EU scheme to cut emissions by market trading. The Spanish dialogue is much more ambitious than the UK model. Consultations cover 1,000 installations in seven industrial sectors.

Daniel Van Daele from the Belgian unions said they were able to turn the government’s CDM tender process into a true tool for sustainable development by incorporating social criteria – such as respect for ILO Conventions. It's a great way to combine carbon saving projects in developing nations with good labour standards.

Then a comrade from Kenya asked a question from the floor - would European comrades defend Kenya's flower farms from attacks by European critics. A tough one! I said that European unions are concerned about the increasing carbon emissions from aviation, and see flying beans and flowers to our supermakets as seriously damaging and unecessary. But aviation unions are also becoming concerned about job losses if flights are limited. Sophie probably go it about right when she said earlier that “employment transition” measures are therefore essential for social acceptance of climate policies. And meanwhile what do we do now . . .

Lucien Royer for the International Trade Union Congress (who organised the event) told the 50 delegates present that the unions' strategy combined research and policymaking with concrete action in the workplace and across its membership. But building capacity among African unions was now a crunch issue, given their key role in disseminating climate knowledge information and encouraging engagement among their millions of members across the continent.

Action plan

After Wafula spoke, delegates were briefed on the human and environmental threats now facing Africa - water scarcity and compettion; food insecurity through falling yields, vector and water-borne diseases challenging already inadequate health servces, and more extreme weather events. There's decreased rainfall over large parts of the Sahel, less rain in eastern and southern Africa. The continent is already experiencing major deficits in food prodcution. Sea level rise will have a major impact on coastal west east Africa.
Wafula said our big lake has dried, our flamingoes are gone. We are workiing on policies to secure water catchment areas, with reforestation - COTU leads a project to plant 100,00 trees a year. We have our own tree nursery. We aim to plant 2 billion in 3 years . . .
Unions reps from Nigeria and South Africa were are sayign that they seriosuly need to raise public awareness if our governments are to take action. We as unions must urgently build our own capacity and understanding, provide informatio for our members. The key issue is capacity of developed countries to respond to climate chnage, and our capacity, too.

Expanding deserts

I came to this event feeling pretty confident about lobbying on climate change issues for trade unions in the UK and Europe, but not for Africa. For us in the UK it has been wall to wall emissions trading, greenhouse gases, aviation, clean coal and greening the workplace - more details at www.tuc.org.uk, go to economy, go to environment. Yesterday our joint meeting with union reps from Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria really helped rebalance this thinking. Our host was Wafula Masumia, of the Kenya TU federation (COTU). At a meeting in the Stanley Hotel, Nairobi, he said "Climate change is a phenomenon we have to confront squarely. In Africa we say that the desert is growing very fast towards the south. It means a lot to our members, to workers and their families. So we have to addres the situation. 10 years ago we had 350 saw mills, now there are 10. Our forest cover is less than 2%, the UN says it should be 10%. If trees go, soil deteriorates. We know a lot of greenhouse gas interferes with climate. Now, when we expect rain we have drought, and rain when not expected. But there are serious issues of capacity - for trade unions to engage, and for developing nations to adapt to climate change."