OSSTF/FEESO attends COP26 in Glasgow
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) was held in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 to November 12, 2021. With 120 world leaders and more than 40,000 registered participants representing almost 200 countries, the event focused the world’s attention on climate change and our united response. The conference, originally scheduled for 2020 was delayed one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, this was the first COP gathering since 2021’s Paris Agreement, which included agreement-specific “ratchet mechanism” expectations from signatory countries to make significant commitments to mitigating climate change.
OSSTF/FEESO was represented by two delegates at COP26—President Karen Littlewood and Executive Officer, Hayssam Hulays, who attended as part of a united Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) delegation sitting as a larger group representing organized labour around the world. OSSTF/FEESO sends delegates to the United Nations Climate Change Conference as part of our commitment to bettering the lives of workers and communities.
The global team of labour-activists lobbied negotiators, organized and coordinated a collective response, and built coalitions and networks to:
- raise climate ambitions with “just transition” policies and measures in enhanced, nationally determined contributions (ndcs), as part of a climate action plan to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts
- implement inclusive climate policies that respect and promote
human and labour rights
- provide climate finance to change the global development model and decarbonise the global south
- implement strong industrial policies and investment plans underpinning the transition to zero-emission economies
Being part of this global delegation of organized labour advocates at COP26 meant taking part in regular meetings to strategize and develop our climate advocacy. Attendees participated in a number of events and meetings, both within the Blue Zone—the official COP26 venue—and outside.
The union delegation coordinated its work through a daily morning meeting and WhatsApp groups, where documents, strategies, and logistical information were shared. The Canadian government held its own briefings with a variety of Canadian delegations, including the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) group. On November 6, the delegation participated in more than 120,000 person march in Glasgow to demand more action on the climate crisis. The presence of organized labour at this march was significant. Hundreds of parallel rallies, marches, and events took place around the world including in a number of Canadian cities.
Lobby groups at COP26 were diverse in size and scope, with the largest delegation a collection of 500 fossil fuel industry lobbyists. However, the presence of labour, youth, and other civil society organizations was also notable. On November 7, the group participated in an all-day strategy meeting of union delegates at the University of Strathclyde. The day included input from senior leaders from global and Scottish unions, with a dedicated focus on lobbying for greater movement on climate change from governments and industry.
The outcomes of COP26 were both tangible and ephemeral. While there was acknowledgement of the science and recognition of the gaps to realize the 1.5°C target for global temperature increase as well as an embedded call for a “just transition” for workers as we move to a carbon-free economy, these steps are by far not enough. Importantly, for the first time, fossil fuels were explicitly mentioned in a final declaration of a United Nations Climate Change Conference; however, a last minute change requested by India and supported by China and the United States watered down the call for a phase-out of coal to a “phase-down.” The final agreement signed at COP26 was the Glasgow Climate Pact. And while the final pact falls short of many goals, global excitement and engagement in climate activism helped push for meaningful and achievable action.
In addition to the Glasgow Climate Pact, on November 4, Canada and 13 other governments and the European Commission signed a Just Transition Pledge which commits them to:
- support workers in the transition to new jobs
- support and promote social dialogue and stakeholder engagement
- develop economic strategies that include wider economic and industrial support beyond clean energy
- promote local, inclusive, and decent work
- support human rights in global supply chains and in building climate resilience
- report on “Just Transition” efforts in biennial transparency reports and NDCs
The Canadian government will have to translate their commitments into action. This includes legislation to implement policy and practice to reduce our country’s greenhouse emissions, reduce our continued reliance on and development of fossil fuels, and invest in green energy initiatives. The role of organized labour will be to hold the Canadian government to account and to insist Canada meet its commitments and responsibilities under the agreement and pacts signed at COP26.
OSSTF/FEESO and labour’s ongoing involvement in COP and global justice work is key to the ongoing battle to save our planet from the climate crisis. Labour’s history of standing up for workers and for communities, and our ongoing dedication to advancing human rights makes our participation in COP an important part of the work we do. Not only is it the right thing to do but it is also politically and strategically sound, as we work to defeat conservative political ideologies that place profit over the well-being of humanity. In the area of climate crisis and justice, the conservatives are vulnerable and climate action and justice are unifying forces for social justice.
Highlights of COP26 events and outcomes can be found on the UN COP26 webpage (un.org/en/climatechange/cop26).
More information on the concept of a “just transition” can be found on page 8 of this issue of Education Forum.
Hayssam Hulays is an Executive Officer and Karen Littlewood is President, both working as elected officials at the provincial OSSTF/FEESO office. Tracey Germa is the editor of Education Forum and a member of the Communication/Political Action department at OSSTF/FESSO.