The climate challenge: a sacrifice or a panacea for work?

 The climate challenge: a sacrifice or a panacea for work?

In addition to the great meetings of technicians and negotiators, the UN Conference on Climate Change in Katowice (COP24) is made up of side events centred on a wide variety of topics somehow related to climate change.


During one of these events, focused on work and ecologic transition, we had the chance to meet the Head of the Environment Territory and Culture Department of CGIL Simona Ferrari. She welcomed us with a smile and embraced us with her great availability, which lead her to consent to be interviewed on a hot topic – especially for Italy. The environment is something we all care about… As far as work is not involved. But working and protecting the ecosystem are two strictly related activities, as they both have something to do with climate change.

How do international and Italian workers respond to the laws and rules on ecologic transition?

Priority is placed on the defence of planet Earth, because we are not facing climate change fast enough – as scientists constantly repeat. Disasters caused by the global warming are under everybody’s eyes: we all are witnessing floods, droughts, famine and forced migrations. To do everything possible to safeguard our ecosystems is the precondition to grant work and rights to everyone.
Then, obviously, the transition to a greener economy has impacts on all workers, and especially on those who are employed in the energy sector. Here in Poland, as in Italy, where 23 fossil-fuelled power stations should be closed soon. The first thought of those power stations’ workers is the loss of their job. And it is true, the trade union does not deny it. But it is also true that the transition will boost employment: numerous studies demonstrate that it will create more jobs than those it will destroy. On this very regard, the latest IPCC special report on global warming specifies that the proposed solutions to climate change are not only compatible with an energetic transition and climate goals, but they are also in line with the models of sustainable development the UN wants the countries to implement by 2030. Among the aims of sustainable development, number 8 is the full employment of the global workforce.

There are enormous possibilities, but someone must be responsible of the social aspects of the whole question. The public intervention in the economic system is crucial. States should take upon themselves the creation of jobs, the furthering of the research, the implementation of innovations, the modification of university courses, and so on. They should create the conditions for sustainable development while granting social protection to those workers who will need to requalify.Moreover, investment guarantees are needed. States are not doing a lot, however. Governments slack and are under the pressure of different lobbies. This problem concerns Italy and Europe, too. There is a tendency to hold other world regions accountable for climate change, but each country has its share in it.
Some days ago, the European Agency for the Environment issued a report which said that the EU will not be able to reduce its greenhouse gasses emissions by 40%: it will only reach a 32% cut. Thus, the Union will not contribute to fight against climate change as it promised to do in the framework of the Paris Accords. And it will be potentially co-responsible of the rising of the global temperature to +3.5°C – way higher than the acceptable limit of +1.5°C. Is this an ambitious Europe? To accuse the USA or other States of being negligent, as if there were good and bad countries, is just a way to deny our responsibilities. And to eliminate or avoid internal confrontations does not help in finding a solution. We must remember that the environmental crisis requires actions taken on a international (and we are here at the COP24 for this reason) and on a national and local scale.

What is university trade unions in the ecologic transition?

They have a fundamental role. We are talking about the future: thus, it is crucial that the young have an active role in the policy-making process which will define their own future. And young people have the energy and the knowledge necessary to invigorate the whole movement.

Are workers aware of the importance of the ecological transition?

They are, but a lot of work must be done. It really depends on the workers, on their age, for example. It seems that retirees are more reactive to the topic: maybe they have more time to worry about their children and grandchildren’s future, now that they do not have to work anymore.

The trade unions leaders in the agricultural sector are quite sensitive to the problem of climate change. But the group of workers which is most worried about the ecological transition comes from the energy sector, from the power stations. And anytime a power station closes, these people’s concern intensifies. CGIL always tackle the questions of sustainable development and the transition to a de-carbonified economy in its reports. We have elaborated an integrated platform for the negotiation of the measures to be implemented in the work market in relation to sustainable development. It is a tool meant for all degrees of negotiations, as the topic it tackles is interesting for all employers and employees. In general, I would say that the working world is becoming more and more aware of the environmental crisis we are facing – just like the rest of the population.Politicians, however, do not follow in the trend. In conjunction with the Coalizione Clima, my trade union called for public discussions of the situation before the political elections held in March. Very few parties responded in a positive way. And these have declared to share our opinion totally, but we all know how it ended up…

If the world wants to reach the Zero Emission goal by 2050, all countries must contribute. It is often argued that the first country which will start transitioning to a greener economy will be penalised, because its economy will be less competitive. Italy has often adopted this line of thought. But this is incorrect. In fact, the first country to transition will count on lots of competitive advantages and will create lots of new jobs on its territory. This means that the most penalised country is going to be the last to adopt a more ecological economic model.

The State has a great responsibility toward its community and citizens. The businessman’s goal is profit, not the preservation of the environment, public health and social equity. Businesses will continue to invest in fossil fuels for as long as they bring them profit. Thus, we need laws and rules which make the investment in fossil fuels too expensive. In Italy, the subsidies for fossil fuels and environmentally disadvantageous projects amount to 16 million each year. The government should invest those money in sustainable development-related projects. The last Budget Law did not even mention a similar operation.

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