An interview with Claude Généreux, national secretary-treasurer of CUPE.
By Pierre Ducasse
Pierre Ducasse: CUPE attended the last UN conference on climate change. Why is it important for CUPE to attend these conferences?
Claude Généreux: Last year in Copenhagen, some delegates were still questioning the science behind climate change. This year, in Cancun, the thinking was more advanced and the delegates were looking for more concrete commitments.
It was important for us to be there, firstly, to put pressure on our own federal government to participate in good faith and not block an international consensus. That took some effort, but it was partially successful. The conference ended with an agreement.
It’s also important to work with our allies in the International Trade Union Confederation. More than 200 trade unionists from around the world were in attendance. CUPE sent a delegation of five and our contribution was useful and appreciated by the other unions.
We also worked closely with civil society organizations, it was an opportunity for us to network and think about future partnerships.
PD: One of the key issues for organized labour is the principle of a “just transition.” Can you explain what that is?
CG: In order to really deal with climate change, we need to move towards a new, green economy. That will entail major transformations in the economy, and we want the transition period to be equitable.
This is where environmental issues and trade unionism intersect. If the economy has to change, we need green jobs that are also good jobs with decent working conditions.
The message is clear: Unions must be involved in the efforts to curb climate change. We want to be a part of the solution, while protecting workers and our communities.
PD: Has there been any progress on that front?
CG: In Copenhagen, we managed to have a reference to “a just transition and decent jobs” included in the official texts. But on arriving in Cancun, we learned that the passage had been removed. By applying pressure and mounting a well-coordinated campaign at the conference, the unions managed to get the passage reinserted.
PD: What does all this mean for us here in Canada?
CG: In the last five years, the Government of Canada has had two different emission targets, three action plans and four changes of ministers. It’s total chaos. Canada had committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by six per cent by 2012, as compared to 1990 levels. Instead, our emissions have increased by 24 per cent. We’re 30 per cent off target, and in the wrong direction!
We want a real action plan from the federal government. Some countries that are rich in oil and gas, like Norway, have managed to grow economically while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. It’s possible to accomplish that in a gradual and progressive manner, without damaging the economy. Here in Canada, Prince Edward Island and Quebec have reduced their emissions by one per cent compared to 1990, and Quebec’s gross domestic product (GDP) has increased by 46 per cent at the same time.
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