Warning message

Please note that this page is from our archives. There may be more up-to-date content about this topic on our website. Use our search engine to find out.

CUPE 3902 at the University of Toronto has adopted a workplace climate change policy and action plan.  Entitled Greening the Local: CUPE 3902 Climate Change Policy and Action Plan; the document provides comprehensive background information on climate change, links climate change and labour interests, and outlines actions the Local can take to reduce its carbon footprint.

Specifically, CUPE 3902 has called on the Local to:

”Change its organizational practices in accordance with sustainable environmental practices, develop its role as an educator in classrooms and on campus at the University of Toronto, and to engage in direct political activities to promote environmental awareness and responsibility.” 

The Local is looking to do a complete environmental audit of its practices as a first step to developing a green office strategy.  Green bargaining is also identified as a key objective of the Local’s action plan on climate change.

Policy and Plan of Action…

CUPE 3902

March 11, 2008

 I. Introduction

The science on human-induced climate change is unequivocal: two centuries of unrelenting industrialization has made the Earth sick, with a rising temperature.  We can expect more frequent and intense floods, droughts and hurricanes resulting from climate change that will displace hundreds of millions of people, cost trillions of dollars in damage, disrupt food production systems, and accelerate biodiversity loss.  And this is not even the worst of dangerous climate change, the very real possibility of which gets closer and closer each day.  Urgent action is required.  We have a brief and closing window of opportunity to make the necessary changes to our economy and society.

As IPCC chairman and 2007 Nobel Prize laureate, Rajendra Pachauri, stated: “If there’s no action by 2012, that’s too late.”

As educators and researchers, we have helped to identify the problem and, as educators and researchers, we will help find solutions. The University of Toronto is the country’s largest research centre – we have a crucial role to play in raising awareness around climate change and inspiring the necessary social changes.

As part of the global labour movement, CUPE 3902 has a further responsibility to work against the uneven causes and effects of climate change – between the Global North and South, and between privileged and marginalized workers and populations in the North. Climate change is intrinsically an issue of environmental justice.

Our current system of consumption, production and distribution that is causing climate change, revolves around workplaces; therefore, the workplace is a critical site for the struggle towards creating a new sustainable society.  Consequently, unions will play a central role in leading this transformation, underpinning the basic premise that union members are also members of communities dependent on a healthy environment.

CUPE 3902 has a commitment to be a leader within the University of Toronto and the broader community – in its organizational practices, educational role, and political activities promoting environmental awareness and responsibility.

II.      What is Climate Change?

Climate change is a result of global warming or the rise in the average temperature of the oceans and air close to Earth due to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, compounded by the decreasing capacity for ecosystems to absorb these greenhouse gases (e.g. because of deforestation).  Greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, act as a “greenhouse” by trapping heat within the Earth’s atmosphere.  While this natural trapping of heat has been beneficial for life on an otherwise cold planet, the problem is that humans have released too much of these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which is causing rapid global warming and climate change.

Since the industrial revolution in the 1800s, the Earth has warmed by 0.8ºC and is now warmer than any period during the past 1000 years.  This temperature increase is a direct result of human activities that release greenhouse gases, such as the combustion of fossil fuels for energy and transportation, landfills, livestock, deforestation and cement production.  The level of the primary greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is now higher than at any point over the past 400,000 years.

This means that the Earth is likely to warm another 2º to 5º C before the end of the 21st century depending on how we choose to confront this problem.  Scientists agree that a change greater than 2º C will result in dangerous climate change.

III.      Uneven and Unjust Effects of Climate Change

The Global North has benefited from its disproportionate consumption of fossil fuels – and the Global South will disproportionately suffer the effects of climate change.  In a similar way, marginalized groups in the North are disproportionately subject to the negative impacts of climate change.

The effects of global warming are felt both at home and abroad.  In Toronto, an increase in extreme weather events such as flash floods and tornados will further undermine an already aging infrastructure.  Meanwhile, we can also anticipate more frequent and intense heat waves in addition to the spread of new diseases (e.g., West Nile and lyme disease) which will strain the healthcare system and cause pre-mature deaths.

Nationally, warmer winters have encouraged an infestation of pine beetles and intensified forest fires, devastating forests in British Columbia.  Global warming is also melting the polar ice caps leading, in turn, to rising sea levels and coastal flooding particularly in low-lying countries and cities.  Melting sea ice threatens the extinction of polar bears and other arctic animals that are economically and culturally important for many northern Indigenous communities.  Already, melting permafrost is damaging infrastructure in the Arctic while more intense tidal erosion linked to rising temperatures has already forced the dislocation of at least one coastal community in Alaska (Shishmaref).

By 2050, the United Nations has estimated that global warming will result in 150 million environmental refugees worldwide. Increasing droughts in Africa will cause food shortages, while other regions will face water shortages due to disappearing glaciers that serve as the source for many rivers and lakes.  Finally, the World Health Organization has linked global warming to more than 150, 000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year (e.g. due to heatwaves, the spread of malaria and malnutrition, etc.).  These are only some of the effects that call for immediate political action on global warming at all levels of government.

IV.      Climate Change and Labour

As an issue of justice and the distribution of wealth inside and outside of Canada, climate change forces labour to identify and work with progressive partners and to assume a role of responsibility and leadership in creating change.

The challenges posed by climate change can cement alliances between the labour and environmental movements.  Recognizing that the two groups have not always been the best of bedfellows, it is important to highlight times when labour had been at the forefront of environmental action, as it was with workplace safety and chemical hazards.

Indeed, disruptive climate change will likely accentuate the social and economic disparities that provide the foundation of the labour movement’s work, making our struggles for good jobs and global peace, for example, all the more pressing.

Sustainable Jobs
In 2006, the British Government released the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.  The Stern Report details how climate change will negatively and disproportionately affect those who are already the most marginalized.

Modern industry must contribute to reversing climate change. In doing so, industry and governments have the duty to recognize meaningful and just employment as a right of workers.

Within Canada, responses to climate change may lead to drastic changes within key Canadian industrial sectors – such as automobiles and natural resource extraction.

These industries and governments have a responsibility to workers in these sectors, but this is not separate from a responsibility to the earth and sustainable environmental practice.

From Canada’s industrial beginnings, workers in coal, oil, and mill towns have been working to sustain their families and to make industry barons wealthy.  This work has often been repaid with devastated and polluted lands, no job security, and disappeared populations – it is an obvious myth that industry is a natural ally of labour.  The scenario in auto and natural resources will be the same if labour, capital and government do not work together to reverse the damage of climate change and develop green strategies for sustainable jobs and sectors.

Even in the short term, a fossil-fuel bonanza and the continued production of gas-guzzling SUVs serves few, and certainly not workers in any long-term way.

Promoting Peace
Beyond jobs, a profound belief in peace and global justice must inform the work of labour to correct climate change.  The flooding of coastal areas, and restriction of fossil fuels to these lands and populations will compound resource scarcity.  The strong possibility that future (and indeed current) wars will be waged over access to land, makes the need to plan for peace immediate.

V.      The Role of Research and Education

As researchers and educators, we value the role of knowledge creation in shaping Canada’s national economy.  There is a key role for the university sector in the development of new and clean forms of energy, leading to just employment for Canadian workers.

Research into hydrogen, wind, solar and geothermal power, as well as into the social and political economic factors that can create sustainable energy systems, can put Canadian researchers and knowledge workers at the forefront of these industries.  Such a change is both good for knowledge and education workers and good for the Canadian industry.

Likewise, we acknowledge the importance of university education to develop the technical expertise and critical thinking that will be needed to combat climate change and the social disruptions that it may produce.  As educators, we must be committed to fostering this awareness, expertise and critical thought in our classrooms.

VI.     The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is a binding international agreement that Canada ratified in December 2002. It requires signatories to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below their 1990 levels by 2012.  Canada is legally obligated under the Protocol to adhere to its specific commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

How’s Canada doing?  We currently stand at approximately 33% above 1990 levels and the current Conservative Government is dragging us further down the path of international laggards.

To avoid dangerous climate change, the International Panel on Climate Change forecasts that global emissions need reduced by 25-40% below 1990 by 2020.  Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s solution is to reduce Canada’s emissions by 20% below 2006 levels by 2020 or approximately 2.3% above our 1990 emission levels.  This is way out of sync with both our Kyoto commitment to reduce emissions by 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, and with what the rest of world requires for 2020.

Contrary to government and media myth-making, many other industrialized countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol are on target.  The European Community is on track – Germany alone has already achieved a reduction of 17%.  Feeling the effects of a devastating drought in 2007, Australia has now formally joined the Kyoto Protocol and expects to be only 1% shy of its target by 2012.

Is the Kyoto Protocol doable?
The Protocol sets country targets and Canada is free to choose how to meet these.  It is true that domestic actions alone will not put Canada on-target.  International actions and mechanisms are also permitted, such as the purchase of emissions quotas (“hot air”) from Eastern Europe and Russia together with credits from emission reduction projects undertaken in developing countries (Clean Development Mechanism).  The Conservative plan has rejected the purchase of hot air credits and limited use of the Clean Development Mechanism to 10%.

Canada’s Place is In Kyoto
Despite the challenges ahead, we should strive to meet Kyoto to the best of our ability and carry-over our excess emissions with a penalty surcharges where we do not succeed.  This is a fair price for Canada’s vast wealth and energy consumption and sends the appropriate signals to the rest of the world that we take international commitments seriously.

Canada’s role in the world is not to head up a retroactive energy fight or to promote lawlessness in the international issue of climate change.  By abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, Canada risks losing its often influential role in an international system of law that, while far from perfect, is the clear preference of Canadians and best alternative to climate change.

CUPE 3902 must act as a political force and call for the current government to respect the spirit, commitments, and penalties of the Kyoto Protocol.

VII.      Greening the Local

This analysis of climate change implies clear commitments for CUPE 3902.  The responsibility of this local is to change its organizational practices in accordance with sustainable environmental practices, develop its role as an educator in classrooms and on campus at the University of Toronto, and to engage in direct political activities to promote environmental awareness and responsibility.

CUPE 3902 seeks to minimize the use of natural resources and lessen our impact on the environment.

Objective: to reduce the carbon footprint of CUPE 3902.

• Present a budget for following actions at Annual General Meeting, April 2008.

• Conduct an audit to assess office practices and recommend benchmarks for change. The audit and benchmarks should address the following areas:

– paper, office supplies, and recycling
– purchasing and contracting relationships, including requirements for material and waste reduction, post-consumer recycled content
– office energy practices and alternatives, travel policy and consideration of carbon offsets and alternatives

• Request support from CUPE National for this audit and that they create a “Green Practices” Template for all CUPE locals.

• Complete the environmental audit by the General Membership Meeting in Fall 2008.

• Develop a comprehensive Green Office Strategy as a result of the audit – an action plan with real targets to be regularly reviewed – to be brought to Annual General Meeting in Spring 2009.

Objective: Encourage members to promote green policies in their own practices, classrooms, and departments

• Develop partnerships with allies at the University of Toronto, such as the Sustainability Office

• Help develop and distribute educational tools for tackling climate change on campus.

Objective: Participate and join in political events and coalitions aimed at promoting green political agendas – from the University to global level.

• Identify a calendar of key political goals, events and actions for 3902’s participation: university, community, national, and global level.

• Develop a green bargaining agenda for contract negotiations with the University.

• Support resolutions at 2008 conventions of CUPE Ontario Division and the Canadian Labour Congress to support the Kyoto Protocol.

• Identify strategies and work with CUPE National to promote Kyoto and climate change as part of the next federal election campaign.

cope 491