The inclusive nature of the Paris Agreement means more collaboration is needed between various stakeholders to actually implement the climate deal. Moving from the “what" to the “how", the next missing jigsaw piece will need to consist of cross-sectoral partnerships that accelerate the implementation of transformational, low-carbon solutions.

Sharan is the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and a climate leader we had the pleasure of meeting at the COP23 climate conference in Bonn. Her thoughts are part of a series of high-level interviews aimed at raising public awareness of big climate conversations in the global arena. The goal of each interview is to focus on one relevant issue that is crucial for the transition to a zero-carbon, climate-resilient economy and society.

Previously President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Sharan Burrow has led union negotiations on major economic reforms and in labour rights campaigns. In her words, "All companies must have transparent business plans for transition to net zero and negotiate with workers and their unions a pathway to secure good jobs and protect workers in the process." Read her reflections on what the last climate negotiations meant for trade unions and the commitments companies still must make in the face of climate change.

What have been your personal ambitions for the fight against climate change and what have been, in your opinion, the three big themes at recent climate negotiations? Why?
Sharan Burrow (SB):

The three central climate demands for the trade unions are:

  1. That governments raise their ambition. We are heading to a world far beyond 2 degrees if we maintain a business as usual approach.
  2. That global financing for mitigation and adaptation be realised. Neither just development or a sustainable planet will be attained without a solidarity that ensures finance is available for the infrastructure, services and just transition measures available for poorer national governments and communities.
  3. That measures for Just Transition be included in all national development plans. Unions will campaign for a Katowice Declaration on Just Transition to be announced at the COP this year

Sadly, Bonn was largely a business as usual COP with no sense of urgency. In the Beyond Coal announcement launched by a small number of governments and supported by the ITUC, some employers and multilateral organisations included a commitment to just transition. However, governments will need to act as there are less than five governments today in negotiations with unions, employers and communities on this urgent issue.

Which innovations are needed to ensure a just transition to a low carbon economy?

While renewable energy is the foundation for this transition, all industries must undergo an industrial transformation that ensure plans for a net zero carbon footprint by 2050. The Just Transition Centre was established by the ITUC and will bring together and support unions, businesses, companies, communities and investors in social dialogue to develop plans, agreements, investments and policies for a fast and fair transition to zero carbon and zero poverty.

Governments must negotiate with unions, employers and civil society leaders for an agreed national development plan. And all companies must have transparent business plans for a transition to net zero including, through negotiations with workers and their unions, a pathway to secure good jobs and protect workers in the process. No pension funds should be invested in companies that refuse to negotiate a plan for just transition.

What is needed to scale up and expand success stories?

Promoting case studies for success provides motivation to others. This is the work of the ITUC’s Just Transition Centre. It supports labour to the negotiating table for the industrial energy transformation and documents the range of planning at industry, community and national level.

Where are the biggest roadblocks?

Political commitment by government leaders cowed by the fossil fuel industry is the greatest obstacle. Unless government ambition is clear and includes appropriate regulation and international support for infrastructure and services delivered to poorer countries, progress will remain unbalanced. Working people want good jobs for themselves and their families - this entails secure pensions and other social security measures. Realising these aspirations requires urgent investment in enabling green infrastructure and a robust ‘Care Economy’ - aged care, child care, health and education.