Why we must have a workplace conversation around climate change

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Today is Climate and Employment Proof our Work (CEPOW) Day. This annual event is organised by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and here in the UK we are only too eager to play our part. The aim of the day is simple enough; we want to encourage a conversation in your workplace, between you and your managers, about the amount of energy you use, and whether simple steps can be taken to bring this down. This year, you might need to extend that conversation towards protecting your work in the age of Covid-19.

Lowering energy use is critical to meeting the challenge of climate change. That challenge is now urgent; two years ago, the respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we need to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030. If we fail to do this, we will miss the target of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the target set at the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Missing that target, in turn, could be devastating for the planet. Even a 1.5 degree increase could put 20-30 per cent of species at risk, according to WWF. A two per cent increase would see most ecosystems struggling. We also know that climate change hits the poorest – those who did least to cause the problem – the hardest. UN figures also show that 80 per cent of those displaced by climate change are women. A two per cent increase, in short, is unthinkable.

Lower energy use is a simple and effective way to reduce carbon emissions. It can also help to safeguard jobs. That message is important at any time, but this year, it has even more resonance. Covid-19 is destroying jobs and creating real poverty across the world. In the UK alone, an analysis by the independent Office for National Statistics has shown that the unemployment count could reach 3m as a result of Covid-19.

So if urgent action was needed to protect jobs before this pandemic, it is even more urgent now. Covid-19 and climate change present twin threats to the livelihoods of millions. Governments and businesses must step up to this challenge. The TUC has been campaigning hard and has scored significant wins in the creation and extension of the Job Retention Scheme. But bosses and workers in offices, shops and factories have a part to play too.

Many workplaces have strong trade unions and good relationships between workers and managers. You probably have regular meetings and you could use one of those meetings to discuss energy use. Ask simple questions: Do we use low energy lightbulbs? What about heating systems? Even recycled loo rolls? No initiative is too small or too insignificant. If we all take small steps then those steps, taken together, can make a real difference.

Where you don’t have regular meetings, or even unions, there’s no need to miss out. Most employers will be keen to help. The best of them will know that workers on the shop floor are well placed to spot simple changes that can have an impact.

We know how creative our trade union members are, so put social media to work. Don’t get into an argument about this, but if your boss is willing, tweet a photo of both of you, perhaps against a background of the company logo, showing your conversation, using the hashtag #CEPOW. Workers from across the world will be doing the same thing.

Some conversations will be more difficult. You might need to ask your boss how she or he can safeguard your job in this age of Covid-19 and climate change. For many, that won’t be easy, but there might be some steps that you could both take. Can you rearrange shifts, or working patterns, to ensure that jobs are protected? If your job is likely to go, can you reskill to take on a new one within the company? Will your boss support you in that? Employers should have a responsibility to their employees and they should be doing everything they can to protect you at this time. That might not be an easy conversation to have, but we are asking employers to both ‘climate’ and ‘employment’ proof our work today. So try your best.

Finally, as we move towards 2050 and a net zero economy, we will need to plan a path, to ensure that we get the just transition that is so important. Our sisters and brothers in Scotland have a Just Transition Commission, bringing together government, employers, unions and others to chart the course to net zero. The TUC believes that workers in Wales and England need to same. If you agree, write to your MP and ask for a Just Transition Commission. To make it easier for you, we’ve drafted a letter already. Just click here and send.

Unionlearn has a page dedicated to Green Skills at Work which is full of resources and ideas to help you reduce the carbon footprint of your workplace.


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Tim Page

Tim Page is a Senior Policy Officer at the TUC, responsible for economic and industrial policy. He also covers just transition, science policy, public procurement and high performance workplaces.