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A climate justice leap can't fit in the ballot box

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Coinciding with the Leap Manifesto, a global conference on climate jobs shows how the labour movement around the world can help fight climate change and inequality.

The Leap Manifesto includes a clear call for climate jobs:

"A leap to a non-polluting economy creates countless openings for similar multiple 'wins.' We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighbourhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term. We want training and other resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, ensuring they are fully able to take part in the clean energy economy. This transition should involve the democratic participation of workers themselves. High-speed rail powered by just renewables and affordable public transit can unite every community in this country -- in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us."

Coinciding with the Leap Manifesto, trade union activists gathered in Paris for a global union climate conference -- including speakers from Europe, Africa, Asia and North America. This gathering also produced a new report, Global Climate Jobs, and British climate activist Jonathan Neale summarizes the scale and urgency:

"We have to stop climate change, and we have to do it quickly. To do it, we will need 120 million new jobs globally for at least twenty years…It is not realistic to wait for the market to 'create' those jobs. The scale of what needs doing is too big, and we need action quickly. Instead, we will need massive government programs in each country."

After reviewing the scale of global emission reductions required, and the political challenge of confronting extractivist industries and government austerity, the report gives a glimpse of climate jobs campaigns from around the world.

Global Climate Jobs

Writing from Canada, Tony Clarke describes the emergence of the Green Economy Network and their campaigns on renewable energy, green buildings and public transit. As he explains,

"Today we urgently need 'system change' not 'climate change.' As a society, we can no longer afford an economic model that treats the natural environment and human beings as disposable goods. Instead we must start to collectively build a new economy, one based on much more sustainable modes of production and consumption while transforming the economic and social inequalities that plague and overburden society....These climate jobs provide more secure forms of employment that would ensure greater social equity for marginalized peoples such as the unemployed and working poor, including Indigenous peoples and people of colour."

Activists in South Africa have collected 100,000 signatures for their One Million Climate Jobs Campaign to address both the climate crisis and the high levels of unemployment and inequality. As Sandra van Neikerk explains, "By placing the interests of workers and the poor at the forefront of strategies to combat climate change, we can simultaneously halt climate change and address our job bloodbath."

In South Africa the climate jobs campaign is taking on the mining corporations, whereas in Norway the campaign is challenging the government's greenwashing of oil and gas. Through a campaign of trade unions, environmental organizations and the Norwegian Church, there’s a growing movement demanding 50,000 jobs in offshore wind.

New York experienced the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the inspiration of the People's Climate March, and has the challenge of reducing energy demand from the million buildings that form the city’s iconic skyline. There have also been lessons from recent campaigns, as J. Mijin Cha, Josh Kellerman and Lara Skinner explain:

"The grassroots environmental movement forced N.Y. State Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in 2014. The Governor was reluctant to ban fracking because many communities in upstate N.Y. are economically depressed with high rates of unemployment and poverty, and the gas industry argued fracking would produce thousands of new jobs. Once Governor Cuomo banned fracking, it became more important politically for social movements in N.Y. to present a viable, alternative jobs plan, one based on creating good union jobs, tackling the climate crisis, and strengthening N.Y. communities."

Writing from Britain, Tabitha Spence explains the growth of the Campaign Against Climate Change, and its trade union group, to make the most of Britain's bad weather:

"Britain has the advantage of famously bad weather, which means enormous wind resources, especially offshore in the North Sea. It would take about 400,000 jobs to set up onshore and offshore wind turbine systems, and wave and tidal power, all connected to a national and international grid."

Change the politics, not the climate

She also explains the growing network supporting climate jobs, including political support:

"We started with unions. While we continue gaining even broader support of unions and union members, today we are also working to gain the support of environmental groups, NGOs, and direct action groups. We have the support of the Green Party, and are building support in Labour, the largest opposition party."

This goal recently received a boost from Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who supports the call for climate jobs -- which makes it all the more frustrating that no major political party in Canada will do the same. Author and NDP candidate Linda McQuaig early on in the federal election campaign echoed the climate science that "a lot of the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground if we're going to meet our climate change targets." Conservatives and media commentators attacked her for ignoring workers, when climate jobs provide far more and far better work than the oil and gas industry.

The refusal of the federal election to discuss climate job alternatives reflects governments around the world sleepwalking into the climate crisis. As the Global Climate Jobs report notes,  

"Unlike the build-up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, there is a much broader understanding across the world that world leaders will not deliver in Paris this year....But the early success of the campaigns reported on in this booklet, also demonstrates the popularity and power of the idea of climate jobs."

It's clear that climate justice can't fit in the Parliamentary ballot box, and movements will need to challenge whoever is elected next month to respect Indigenous rights, reduce emissions and support climate job alternatives. But there's still time to demand the parties reflect the climate justice movement, and support candidates who do.

Sign the Leap Manifesto and the Greenpeace petition: change the politics, not the climate

Join the September 29 keynote panel Linda McQuaig is right: keep the tar sands in the ground

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