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It’s down to the crunch here in Copenhagen. All the big players are in town. This means, as expected, that the vast majority of NGO delegates, including labour folks, are on the outside of the Bella Centre looking in. This is an extremely frustrating situation but the CUPE delegation was not content to be left out in the cold. Klimaforum 09 – the People’s Climate conference – was again our refuge. Today we heard an impassioned discussion by Jonathan Neale about the British movement to create 1 million climate jobs. Neale heads up a coalition that has British trade unionists as its foundation.

His first point of distinction is that this movement is absolutely not about creating what are commonly considered green jobs. It is about climate jobs; jobs that directly cut greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy, building construction and public transportation are the movement’s three focus areas.

Neale’s movement is extremely practical. It does not include a broad scope of poorly-defined green jobs, as is too often the case. What’s more, Neale insisted – thanks to a CUPE-led point of intervention – that the 1 million jobs be unionized, public sector jobs. He is building an extremely wide support base from all sectors of civil society in the United Kingdom. But it is trade unions that are the driving force, at both the grassroots and at the national elected leadership levels.

The movement calls on the British government to develop 1 million climate jobs over the next ten years as part of the country’s shift to a low-carbon economy. Again, calling on the movement’s practicality, Neale spoke to the assembled crowd of international trade unionists (from Denmark, Britain, the Basque region of Spain and Canada) and other activists about how the climate crisis must be averted based on the type of work people do.

Carolyn Unsworth had this to say about Neale’s movement: “The reality is you know if you work in a clean or a dirty job and all of us would love to work in climate jobs that help clean the planet. We are the experts in our workplaces and we all desire our workplaces to be safe for us, for the planet and future generations. CUPE has an intelligent, dedicated workforce and should commit at all levels to a similar movement here in Canada.”

Deal or no deal?

Next we participated in a debate chaired by George Monbiot that focused on what an alternative international climate change agreement might look like if members of civil society had a more direct hand in decision-making at COP 15. This led to a predictably fiery discussion among a diverse, international crowd of about 2000. Many in the room wanted the COP 15 process to fail, citing their lack of faith in the international community’s ability to truly cut greenhouse gas emissions and other issues related to financing, corrupt clean development mechanism schemes and the rich nations’ reluctance to truly lead the way. Others wanted a deal to be reached, saying the situation is just too critical and even a less-than-perfect deal is better than no deal at all. But there was a clear divide in the room; speakers from dozens of different countries from all parts of the world participated in this authentic demonstration of democratic debate. In the coming hours, we will know whether there will be a deal or not.

Where do we go from here?

At the end of the day, the CUPE delegates met to debrief. As COP 15 winds down, our gaze is on the outcome of this historic conference but also beyond: on the immense amount of work that needs to be done once COP 15 ends. Recalling the practical message of Jonathan Neale, many in the CUPE delegation think that direct solutions like those he proposed are the way forward. This has been a hugely beneficial experience in Copenhagen, as we have witnessed first-hand (at least part of the time) UN negotiations at an extremely high level. We have also been able to forge partnerships with our international colleagues, be stimulated by passionate arguments on the many layers of climate change, and have had many, many hours together as a delegation to share ideas, plan work and set our sights on what CUPE needs to do to help steer the planet to a brighter, sustainable, climate-stable future.

COP 15 may soon be history. What is clear is that climate change issues are now at the core of everything we do from this moment forward. Particularly given the Canadian government’s deplorable standing on this file, CUPE will have to work that much harder in the coming months and years to do our part to help avert climate catastrophe while improving our members’ lives as the world tips to a new way of working that is both equitable and good for the climate. We can do it.

Matthew Firth in Copenhagen