Blog: There is no future on a dead planet

Green UNISON Week is our time to highlight a once-in-a-generation challenge

The devastating impacts of the climate emergency are felt across every part of the globe, but they fall heaviest on the disadvantaged.

UNISON doesn’t need any persuading that climate change is real, dangerous and destructive. There is no future on a dead planet, so we need commitments and action now from government and employers. And if the transition to net zero is not just, workers and their families will suffer.

We are determined to be part of the necessary change. Trade unions are the only force that can ensure urgent policies and measures deliver a fair transition.

Green UNISON Week is our time to highlight these issues, as part of our ongoing work on tackling climate change and greening the workplace. Last year, UNISON supported the UK and global trade union movement at COP26 in Glasgow. Important commitments were made, but sadly it looks like the current government will remove regulations rather than implement vital new ones.

Putting Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of the energy brief is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. We’re already hearing opposition to onshore wind and any expansion of solar power, with excuses that “We don’t have enough space”. Aggressive new plans for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, and pledges to lift the fracking ban, prove that this government can’t be trusted with the environment.

This is a once-in-a-generation challenge that we must rise to, and a key part of that is decarbonising our public services. Our own research, Getting to net zero in UK public services: The road to decarbonisationhas shown that the UK government can only meet its Just Transition pledges by committing to urgent additional funding (around £140 billion) and implementing a social dialogue and partnership with the representative organisations of workers and employers.

The costs of renewable energy continue to decline dramatically ahead of expectations. At the same time, leaked Treasury analysis in August showed that excess profits for UK-based fossil fuel producers would reach £170bn in the next two years; it’s clear, from this, that political choices could make the money available for a Just Transition.

The UK also has one of the oldest and most energy inefficient housing stocks in Europe. We are the least prepared and most vulnerable to the current unprecedented energy price hike across Europe, further compounding the cost of living crisis. This could have been avoided if an urgent national programme of home insulation measures had been implemented. UNISON has been calling for this for nearly a decade.

We know there are many urgent funding issues facing this government, but they are all political choices. While we accept that windfall taxes, or any taxes, aren’t the whole answer, it’s clear that greening the workplace and getting to net zero will require money to be raised fairly, and to be targeted at what works best. It’s also clear that we can’t afford to wait.

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