In much the same way the student protests in 2010 kick-started the anti-austerity movement, let’s hope today’s brave young climate activists can be the catalysts for change once again. In the quest for climate justice, the combination of young people and workers will be unstoppable.
The climate crisis is a mainstream political issue; it’s happening right now. While this summer Britons across the country enjoyed some of the hottest days on record, we need to recognise that this is not normal. If we fail to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, United Nations scientists have warned us that we will see catastrophic destruction. This includes sea level rises, extreme weather and the premature deaths of millions of people.
It’s important to remember that climate chaos isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s also about our economic system. The same forces that gave rise to grotesque levels of inequality and poverty have also played an instrumental role in poisoning the planet.
According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, just 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of global emissions over the past 30 years. It’s a gross injustice that profiteering polluters plunder the Earth’s resources to line their pockets but it’s the millions of ordinary workers who will feel the devastating impact of the climate crisis the most.
The painstakingly slow progress made by some of the world’s most powerful nations shows that the political status quo simply will not do. In the US, Donald Trump’s pledge to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement is a devastating step backwards. Here in the UK, the Conservative government has spent less than 10% of the money allocated to clear up the country’s air.
Green New Deal
Thankfully there are some encouraging signs with momentum building behind an international Green New Deal. This will require a radical new approach to the management of economies across the world that has at its heart the creation of thousands of unionised, green jobs. This means that trade unions can play an integral role in averting climate disaster while at the same time we can massively grow our movement.
Support for the Green New Deal movement is rapidly growing all over the world in countries such as Canada, the US, Spain and Greece. This is hugely positive because while the drive for people to change their consumption habits is welcome, what’s required is a fundamental shift and trade unions across the globe should be at the forefront.
Unions will always have the preservation of their members’ jobs as its number one priority but the transition to a carbon-free economy shouldn’t mean job losses. At a time of climate emergency, we assert that the best way to tackle it is to create or repurpose sustainable, green jobs. That’s why my union, PCS, has stepped up our campaigning efforts. We recently declared a climate emergency and we continue to support a Just Transition and the wider one million climate jobs initiative. It’s reassuring that other unions are starting to take similar steps.
We stand in solidarity with all those taking part in climate action today. It’s a damning indictment that it has fallen to children to take crucial time out of their education to tell the adults in power that our planet faces an existential threat.
The climate emergency is unfolding all around us and the trade union movement must no longer stand on the sidelines. The courageous young people taking part in today’s climate strikes have reached out to the labour movement to support them and it’s incumbent on us to join them.