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COP28: a step towards a Just Transition

28 December 2023

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) was the voice for maritime professionals at COP28, the United Nations Conference on climate change. What have workers gained from the latest round of negotiations?

COP28, held from 30 November to 12 December 2023 in Dubai, presented an opportunity for trade unions to make world leaders and institutions understand the need for a Just Transition for workers to new fuels and new technologies.

This is something that Nautilus is fighting for in its own campaigns – and the ITF (to which Nautilus is affiliated) is also bringing the message to global forums like COP.

What do we want?

Ahead of the conference, the ITF released its report Climate Justice, Worker Justice: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Future, outlining key demands needed to achieve 'a worker-led transition to a sustainable, resilient transport system'.

ITF general Secretary Stephen Cotton outlined the strategy: 'Workers must be at the heart of climate action in transport. The ITF has made important steps forward, joining up with key transport employers and cities as the climate emergency escalates, but we need global policies and financing.'

A landmark agreement for labour

Following extensive lobbying at the summit, governments made an announcement on 13 December 2023 that they would be taking a critical step forward on this issue. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said: 'Decarbonisation will create millions of decent new jobs, but governments must also ensure support, training and social protection for those who may be negatively impacted.'

COP28, the United Nations Conference on climate change was held in Dubai. Image: Wikimedia Commons

With COP28 heralded as the 'beginning of the end' for fossil fuels, it was recognised by leaders at the conference that a Just Transition is more necessary than ever.

They therefore agreed to adopt a new Just Transition Work Programme (JTWP) – cutting across all other climate activities. It has an explicit focus on issues including decent work, quality jobs and social protection. Crucially, COP28 recognised the importance of labour rights to a Just Transition.

Under the JTWP, a plan was approved to outline 'just transition pathways' for each country. These pathways will help them incorporate the social impacts of energy transition into their plans to achieve the Paris climate goals.

The governments also agreed to hold dialogues twice a year and a ministerial roundtable once a year to discuss the issues.

Unions keeping up the pressure

Despite this positive result, the battle is far from over.

The International Trade Union Confederation welcomed the references to labour rights and social protection at COP28. However, it warned that 'the lack of an overall commitment to fully engage with trade unions in transitioning away from fossil fuels and in other vital areas of climate action will hinder progress, as it risks leaving workers and their communities behind.'

On climate finance, the Climate Loss and Damage Fund was launched. However, worker issues have yet to be properly recognised. The ITF is also calling for all climate finance initiatives to include labour standards as a core component.

On training, it was noted that the vast majority of workers do not have the green skills they will need in future – and unions will have a key role in changing this. Nautilus, for example, has already helped to create the new UK cadet syllabus, and the ITF is working with maritime organisations to create a Baseline Training Framework for Seafarers in Decarbonization.

Finally, unions noted that action on transport is necessary to reach the Paris climate goals. All countries need to submit new climate plans by February 2025, so transport trade unions will be lobbying governments to include much stronger commitments to a Just Transition.

'Governments have now committed to an annual spotlight on the Just Transition,' Mr Cotton said. 'In the months and years ahead, the global labour movement will make sure that governments put workers at the centre of measures to make Just Transition a reality.'

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The ITF's demands

The ITF's produced a full report, Climate Justice, Worker Justice: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Future

Key demands:

  • commit to cut transport emissions by fast-tracking energy transition and ramping up the shift to sustainable transport modes
  • step up investment in climate-proof transport systems and bringing in safeguards for transport workers against extreme temperatures and natural disasters
  • take full account of action needed on transport and a Just Transition for workers during with critical negotiations on post-2025 financing
  • commit to Just Transition plans for every transport sector

Image: Danny Cornelissen

Read the full ITF climate justice report


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