As Scotland gears up for COP 26, UNISON Virtual Conference delegates overwhelmingly backed Scotland’s call to ensure the needs of workers and public services are central to the outcomes.
As well as mobilising members and the union behind engagement in COP26, the UN conference on climate change in Glasgow in November, conference agreed to put our own house in order and to demand that the UK government leads by example in tackling climate change.
Moving the motion on behalf of Scotland, Tony Slaven, regional delegate, told conference that this motion is as important as any before this conference.
He warned that the threat of climate chaos is going to drive massive social change. “The choice facing us is whether that change comes about as we prevent disaster or as we make desperate attempts to cope as it unfolds. He pointed out that the government’s green rhetoric is at odds with many recent ministerial actions.
“The government is embroiled in a row over its support for a new coalmine while cutting overseas aid, planning new gas-fired power stations and thousands of miles of roads, and cutting taxes on flights last week,” slammed Tony.
“While it is right that as individuals, we try to do what we can to behave like people who want to stop global warming – personal action will not ever be enough,” Said Tony, calling for government action “to ban fracking, to reconfigure our energy system away from fossil fuels and into a sustainable source, to ensure that existing housing is retrofitted, and new buildings are constructed to a higher standard.
“If we want a meaningful and long-lasting recovery from Covid – that will have to be a green recovery.
He highlighted that COP26 will not just be a meeting of heads of government. It will also be a gathering of activists and campaigners from around the world.
“We need to ensure that the voices of workers are heard as part of that and that the case for public services and increased public ownership is understood to be part of the solution to climate crisis.
“The argument that public service jobs are green jobs must be made loudly and clearly. That will not happen unless we as a union are going to show up and make that happen.”
He called for solidarity with trade unions in the global south who are already hit hardest by the impacts of climate change calling for action to ensure they have a strong presence in Glasgow in November and that their key demands are supported.
The NEC’s Stephen Smellie spoke in support, warning that “this is a battle against the vested interests of capitalist exploitation of the world’s resources and its people, that we must win. UNISON has joined the environmental movement in this struggle to save life.”
He reminded that a previous Scotland motion committed UNISON to campaign actively for our public sector pensions to adopt divestment from fossil fuel strategies but pointed out that this must be done within fiduciary duties.
“Which isn’t hard since the value of those investments in companies who rely on the further exploitation of fossil fuels have been steadily losing their value and there are many better investments to be made than the stranded assets of the fossil fuel companies.”
Stephen added that UNISON is a key partner in the COP26 Coalition that is mobilising for November, and that we helped to get the Scottish Government to set up the Just Transition Commission which has laid out the guidance for Government policy.
He pointed out that the Salford amendment rightly highlights the issue of agriculture which is a big producer of carbon dioxide and methane.
“There is no doubt that the world needs to move to a more plant-based diet.
“However, not all animal-based agriculture is non-sustainable and in some parts of the world including in Highland regions of the UK, there is no other form of agriculture available.
“And when we move in the direction of removing subsidies from big-agriculture for their giant dairy and pig factory farms we need that transition to be a Just Transition with investment in alternative jobs, training and new agriculture and rural industries.”
On the issue of divestment Glasgow City’s Jim Main told delegates that following representations, Strathclyde Pensions Fund has taken the principled decision to divest from fossil fuels.
“This is good news,” said Jim. He warned however that it might prove more difficult in practice as fossil fuel companies begin to “rebrand” as renewables.
“Capitalism is the problem,” said Jim urging all branches to come to Glasgow for COP26 or take action in support in their towns and cities.
(Story and pics: Kate Ramsden)