Only transformation will guarantee resilience

Public Services International’s Inter-American Committee on Environment, Just Transition and Climate Change met for the first time on 21 October in Lima, following IAMREC

Representatives from all of Inter-America’s sub-regions participated in this first meeting. The Committee discussed the role of public service workers' unions in Just Transition and the climate emergency that the world is experiencing. Milimo Kapombe, from the University of Zambia and Allied Workers Union, shared some perspective from the African continent, which has already formed a committee.

Most of our countries emit very little and need to invest a lot in mitigation"

Africa is the region most affected by the impacts of climate change, despite contributing only 4% of global emissions. Further, Africa is responsible for 10% of global investments in mitigation plans. "Most of our countries emit very little and need to invest a lot in mitigation," said Kapombe, who also warned that it is public sector workers who are most affected by extreme temperatures and adverse weather events in municipalities, in the health sector and in the care sector. "We have to advocate for adequate policies to defend the adaptation strategy," he said.

David Boys, PSI's deputy general secretary and global lead on climate change, called for more mobilisation for the decarbonisation of the world and said that the issue of care is also part of the crisis debate. "The war in Ukraine is driving up food and energy prices and even causing shortages in many countries. All this is contributing to a rise in inflation and the cost of living in many countries. But the climate crisis is making things worse, which is nothing new. But it is a reality for developing and poorer countries, and we need to move forward.”

A few weeks away from this year’s United Nations Climate Conference which will place in Egypt, Boys does not believe that there will be much progress, as the global political environment does not have momentum. The trade union movement cannot solve all this alone according to Boys. "The changes we need are not easy and there is a lot of resistance from companies, so we have to continue to organise and mobilise across sectors and across borders, with local and national governments," he explained.

Caribbean: "In some parts, we are living a real war on climate", Steve Joseph

The Caribbean is one of the regions in the world most affected by climate change and the consequent increase in extreme weather events. For the Caribbean countries, although the Covid-19 crisis and the global economic crisis have been severe, the climate emergency remains the greatest threat. And, says Steve Joseph, co-chair of the LGR Steering Group, there are lessons to be learned from what they are doing about climate change in their territories. "Because impacts are felt at a local level, looking at local governments is key when we are looking to fund mitigation initiatives," he said. The sub-region was part of the "Building union capacity and quality public services for a just transition" project organized by PSI with the support of Union to Union between 2019 and 2021.

Steve and PSI’s Subregional Secretary for the Caribbean, Sandra Massiah
Steve and PSI’s Subregional Secretary for the Caribbean, Sandra Massiah

Some of the outcomes of the project presented by Steve and PSI’s Subregional Secretary for the Caribbean, Sandra Massiah, involve working with other partner organisations in the region, such as Caribbean Climate Justice, the Caribbean Community Climate Changes Centre, the Caribbean Youth Climate Change Network and CANARI. "What we want to do with this partnership is to ensure that workers are present and to make sure that it is a just transition and that governments understand what we mean by transition, which has to do with a change in the economic model itself," she explained.

What we need is a change of model"

The role of public services in times of emergency response to disasters is critical, so public service workers need to be part of the response. "What we need is a change of model, and the message we want to spread is that to be resilient we have to transform ourselves and the only way to do that is to invest in public services," Sandra concluded.

What is PSI doing?

Juan Diego Gómez and María Laura Benítez, from PSI Interamerica, have both coordinated extensive and important work through the realization of a joint project with Union to Union and PSI on the climate crisis and just transition. Benitez presented the tools that have been built together with trade union leaders in the region, one of which is the Online Trade Union School on the climate crisis which aims to strengthen the education and training of other trade union leaders on the defence of the environment and the role of public services; the realization of a writing contest, with a workers' perspective on the climate crisis, which resulted in the first digital trade union publication on the subject. Gómez presented the recently created platform that brings together best practices of public service unions in the region, which includes examples from Argentina, Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The Committee on the Environment, Climate Crisis and Just Transition proposes to:

1. Finalise the Committee's representatives by December, as approved by IAMREC, defining that each sub-region will have one titular and two substitutes. Among these three, there should be at least one woman and one young worker.

2.           The Regional Committee should be well articulated with Sub-regional and National Committees, where they exist, and stimulate the organisation of the latter where they do not exist.

3.           The focus of the Committee's work should be trade union issues and perspectives, with priority given to the issue of collective bargaining including environmental issues. It should also encourage the adoption of good environmental practices in the workplace.

4.           The Committee should build alliances with civil society, in particular environmental groups, academia, universities and progressive governments.

5.           The Committee should address environmental issues with a clear gender perspective and a young worker-friendly approach.

6.           We have many instruments for environmental work: the best practices database, the trade union school, publications, and a toolbox that is currently being updated. We need to continue and even improve these instruments and make good use of them in the work of each affiliate.

7.           At the 2023 World Congress we must organise a meeting with Africa and other stakeholders, promoting a global articulation in PSI on the issue.

8.           Further disseminate and work for the implementation of the Escazu Agreement.

9.           One aspect that should be further developed in the region is the debate on emergency care in the face of disasters. 

10.         For the COP in Egypt in December we need to disseminate PSI and ITUC material/texts.

11.         National Climate Change Plans: to be updated regularly at national level, we must influence these plans to include the real situation of each country in these reports.

12.         The issue of patents on global warming mitigation equipment should be further investigated and publicised. We must fight against these patents, which make energy transition policies very expensive.

13.         If there are further contributions to this report, they should be submitted in writing to be incorporated.