The UN Climate Change Conference should matter to workers – here’s why


For the tenth consecutive year, I am attending the UN Climate Change Conference, this time taking place in Warsaw, Poland.

I often think about why I am going, especially at a time when the labour movement faces so many challenges.

Isn’t massive unemployment, anti-labour policies, budget cuts and precarious work enough to deal with? And even if we think climate change is an important topic, how is attending yet another international meeting going to change anything?

Well, no matter how many times I ask myself these questions, unfortunately for my family, my answer is always yes. The labour movement must be there.

Let me tell you why.

Fundamentally, all of the problems faced by workers today will only worsen if we do not prevent catastrophic climate change. How can our economies lose up to 20 per cent of their growth without harming employment?

Is it realistic to think our democracies can survive if they face three or four extreme natural disasters every year with thousands of people losing their homes, livelihoods and lives?

As the death and destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan so painfully shows, the impact of climate change is total and it will only get worse. So it is in the immediate interest of unions to fight for climate action today.

All this, however, doesn’t address the other big question: why bother with a UN process?

Well, compared with other environment problems like water pollution and land degradation, climate change is truly global. Every emission, no matter where, consumes our global carbon budget. And not all countries have consumed equally.

This has led to a massive injustice: in many cases, the countries which have contributed least to the problem will face the hardest consequences.

We need a global deal and we need it now. Without one, in 20 years’ time it will be too late as we will have used up our global carbon budget, and then the biggest effort for reducing emissions will be placed on developing countries.

It is true that many other organisations are calling for a global climate deal so you may not think that trade unions can make much of a difference. But let me tell you: climate policies can be good or bad for working people, depending on how they are designed.

Our voice will make sure that the interests of working people are protected in any climate deal while at the same time delivering a fairer, more sustainable world.

So here I am, in Poland. But I am not here alone. About 100 trade unionists from 30 countries are also with me.

We are there because we don’t want others to decide on our futures on our behalf.

We want climate policies to be fair for working people. We want investments for new, green jobs and for old jobs and industries to be transformed.

We want a Just Transition and for the sake of my five-month-old baby, who is also in Poland with me, I am going to fight for it.