The climate crisis has rapidly moved up the political agenda in the last 12 months, helped by a wave of primarily youth-led protests that have focused public attention on what is arguably the most pressing issue of our times.
Growing public awareness of the need for immediate climate action has impacted the general election campaign, with pledges from all the main parties of much greater action in response to the crisis.
This is definitely welcome, given the UK’s mixed record so far; while some emissions reductions have been achieved, progress has stagnated at precisely the moment it needs to be accelerated.
As the Committee on Climate Change said earlier this year, the next government must chart a credible pathway to net zero as a matter of urgency if we are to have any hope of mitigating the worst effects of global heating.
Much of the discussion about how to respond to the crisis tends to centre on the role of individuals in driving greenhouse gas emissions.
If, as consumers, we made better choices about the products and services we buy (e.g. by eating less meat, or taking fewer flights) emissions could be drastically reduced.
However, this fundamentally misunderstands how and why emissions arise; they are largely not the result of individual choices, but products of the way our economy and society is organised at a systemic level.
This is obvious if you think about key sources of emissions like domestic heating and ground transportation; most people have very limited power over the design of their homes or the distance (and available modes of transport) they have to travel to work or to the supermarket, for example. In reality, most emissions are already ‘baked in’ by the time consumers come to make choices.
Thinking about emissions in this way makes it clear that collective action is required to tackle the climate crisis.
The unequal and unsustainable organisation of our economy drives high emissions, and as trade unionists, we know that collective action by workers is the best route to changing that.
This is, in essence, why the climate crisis is a trade union issue, and why trade unions need to be at the heart of developing a credible response to this emergency
The concept of ‘just transition’, which trade unions like Prospect have long been advocating for, encapsulates the need for a fair, collective response to the climate crisis.
In basic terms, just transition is about ensuring no one is left behind as we move to a world without fossil fuels, with a particular focus on those workers and communities who are currently most dependent on high-emissions industries like energy supply or heavy manufacturing.
Ensuring that an appropriate package of support is available to help workers relocate and retrain for new, high quality jobs in the green economy must be a central element of our response to the climate crisis. But, the concept of just transition extends beyond this.
Building a low carbon economy will require every employer to fundamentally change the way they do business; trade unions will be key to ensuring those changes benefit everyone, and not just those at the top.
At the same time, for a transition to be just, it must also entail a progressive funding solution that spreads the costs and benefits fairly – expensive subsidies to private renewables developers, loaded onto consumer energy bills, is a regressive and unsustainable model.
So, while Prospect has been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of arguing at a national level for action on the climate crisis, there are steps all Prospect members can take in their own branches and workplaces.
Electing environment reps, organising an event on the climate crisis, and thinking about ways to integrate environment and sustainability goals into your bargaining agenda are all possible places to start, and as always, support and advice is available (firstname.lastname@example.org).
By taking action together, we can ensure a just and sustainable future for everyone.