Briefing 158 on...
Protecting the planet - at work
Climate change is now accepted to be one of the
biggest dangers facing humankind. This briefing aims to look at
the problem, what is being done, and how we can all 'green the
workplace', helping protect the planet for future generations
Global warming: International effects and action
Few people now doubt the extent of global warming
due to human activities. As well as the potentially catastrophic
future effects, there are very real existing impacts already in
the poorest countries. In Africa alone, the United Nations Environment
Programme warns that as well as being a contributory factor to
the Darfur conflict, due to failing rains and desertification,
it threatens to trigger further wars. Christian Aid predicts that
without urgent action, at least a billion people, largely in the
developing world, will be forced from their homes by 2050 due
to floods, droughts and famine. The UK is assessing future impacts
here, amid warnings that climate change is a greater threat than
The 2006 Stern Review of the economic effects warned
that the costs of not acting are far greater than the costs of
ensuring we urgently limit carbon emissions. The Review, commissioned
by then Chancellor Gordon Brown, recommended stabilising emissions
using carbon pricing, new technology and behavioural change. The
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's three reports in 2007
conclude that affordable and available solutions exist and governments
must act immediately. Reducing energy consumption, improving public
transport, preventing deforestation and not leaving improved vehicle
fuel efficiency to market forces are key points.
UN talks in Bali in late 2007 aim to agree international
action beyond the Kyoto agreement, which runs until 2012. Critics
of the US decision to pull out of Kyoto – a legally binding treaty
for industrialised nations to cut greenhouse gases – hope that
the US will be compelled by international and internal pressure
to sign the successor agreement. This is expected to include emissions
caps for countries such as China and India. China has recently
overtaken the US as the biggest emitter of CO2, although per head
of population its emission levels are about half of the UK's and
a quarter of US levels. Campaigners argue that international agreements
should ensure rich nations compensate for their past pollution
and commit to sharing clean technologies. The west is accused
of 'green imperialism' - using cheap labour in polluting industries
in developing countries, then criticising their high emissions.
Action at UK and Scottish levels
The UK and Scottish governments are both taking
forward Climate Change Bills with higher targets than EU plans.
The UK draft Bill, the first in the world, was published in March
2007, along with a strategy. These include proposals for:
legally binding targets for a 60% reduction
in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
annual reporting to Parliament on progress
towards five year 'carbon budgets' and 2020 and 2050 targets.
a move to a low carbon economy, improving
energy efficiency, cutting demand and investing in carbon
capture and storage, wind, wave and solar power.
The Scottish Bill, due by the end of 2008, will
have world-leading targets, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by
80% by 2050. However, the SNP manifesto commitment to mandatory
carbon reduction targets of 3% per annum has been dropped. While
there is consensus that Scotland has huge potential for increasing
the use of renewable energy, there are still controversies around
which forms and the levels of government support and investment.
Politicians still have to tackle conflicts between
various policies; for example, how road building and airport expansion
fits with cutting carbon emissions. There are debates about the
pros and cons and implementation of carbon trading, carbon allowances
and the value of carbon offsetting. Other controversies include
policy on biofuels and how to account for 'air miles' in calculating
which products are 'greener' than others. Some of these conflicts
are also featuring at local authority level. However, all Scotland's
councils have signed up to Scotland's
Climate Change Declaration. This may be opened
up to other public bodies and other organisations. It commits
signatories to produce plans with targets and time-scales for
significant cuts in carbon emissions including from energy use
and sourcing, travel and transportation, waste production and
disposal, estate management, procurement of goods and services
and improved staff awareness.
UNISON has long been committed to sustainable development
and protecting the environment, taking an international outlook
based on social justice. Our members work in a wide range of environmental
roles, including park rangers; inspectors, scientists and other
jobs at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; council staff
including in cleansing, waste recycling, planning and environmental
health; water and sewerage posts in Scottish Water and staff throughout
the NHS. They want to do more on climate change at work, in the
way so many do in their personal lives. We have members in a joint
TUC /Scottish Power green workplace project and many branches
support initiatives such as green travel-to-work plans. Flexible
working can also contribute. UNISON itself has a green taskforce
to reduce our carbon footprint. UNISON Scotland is a member of
Stop Climate Chaos Scotland. We campaign to eliminate fuel poverty,
for 'Food for Good' - healthy, locally sourced food in the public
sector - and for boosting renewables in a balanced energy policy.
We oppose water privatisation and support WaterAid and mains drinking
water at work.
We want massive investment in public transport,
action to cut aviation emissions and we are examining quality
contracts and road pricing schemes to reduce congestion and emissions.
The Climate Change Bills must emphasise workplace action and we
support proper facilities and facilities time for TU environmental
Action for branches
There are ten points for action in UNISON Scotland's
environment manifesto, further ideas on UNISON's green pages and
a comprehensive guide to greener, lower carbon workplaces is at
Let us know what you do so we can share good practice.
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