Climate and human rights at the 2021 UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights

Anna Triponel

December 3, 2021

3 December 2021

Anna Triponel and Maddie Wolberg

The 2021 UN Annual Forum has come to a close. We have debated a wide range of topics, and as the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights underscores in its recently released roadmap, we have no time to lose in raising the ambition and increasing the pace of implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. As we have discussed elsewhere the UN Working Group placed just transition front and centre of the UNGPs’ discussion, emphasizing the role of the UNGPs as a compass for meeting global challenges including the just transition.

A number of you have asked us for our summary of the Forum. We have greatly enjoyed doing it in prior years – but have opted for a different approach this year in light of Richard Howitt’s excellent daily summaries – available here, here and here. We have decided instead to amplify the words of speakers at one session in particular. No prizes for guessing which one! So here goes, with some limited help from Artificial Intelligence.

The ‘Preventing and remediating climate harm: Who needs to do what?’ session is available to watch in full here.

In a nutshell:

  • Tessa Khan, Director & Founder, Uplift (as moderator) discusses why the discussion climate and human rights is timely
  • Surya Deva, Chair, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights discusses the upcoming guidance from the UNWG on climate and the UNGPs
  • Jenny Sandvig, Policy Director, Norway’s National Human Rights Institution discusses international and national jurisprudence on climate and human rights
  • Sophie Marjanac, Senior Lawyer / Climate Accountability Lead, ClientEarth discusses the implications of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights on the climate policies of businesses and recent climate pledges by companies
  • Caio Borges, Portfolio Manager – Law and Climate, Institute for Climate and Society discusses challenges of securing access to effective remedies in the context of climate change-related human rights harms and how communities have sought to overcome them in Brazil
  • Yann Wyss, Senior Manager, Social Impact, Nestlé, discusses the connections between climate and human rights due diligence and enabling regenerative agriculture in practice
  • Ruwan Subasinghe, Legal Director, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) discusses what just transition means and what it looks like in practice

Tessa Khan

Director & Founder, Uplift

Two reasons for why this discussion is timely:

  • The first is, of course, the recent conclusion of COP 26 and the adoption of the Glasgow climate pact, which while very importantly, including commitments to rights-based climate action, did not produce sufficient contributions from states parties to hold global temperature rise to that critical 1.5 degree threshold.
  • This is also a timely discussion given the forthcoming information note from the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, which will unpack what the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights entail for states and business enterprises in relation to climate change.

Surya Deva

Chair, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

On why the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights is issuing an information note on the UNGPs and climate:

  • I think the rationale is very simple. Because the UN Guiding Principles expect all business enterprises to respect all internationally recognized human rights. And what we see is that because of these deep, deep linkages between climate change and human rights, businesses cannot really comply with their responsibilities as part of pillar two, unless they take into account the climate considerations.
  • At the same time, if you look at the text of the UN guiding principles, they nowhere talk about climate change explicitly. Even in the commentary. In fact, climate change is not mentioned explicitly, even in the OECD guidelines, though they talk about emissions and all that. And I think that’s where this information note would hope to unpack the implications of UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, for states for businesses, for investors, for other actors, and provide them some practical guidance that what they need to do to integrate climate considerations otherwise they can’t simply follow UN Guiding Principles in my view going forward.

On the overarching content of the upcoming UNWG climate and UNGPs note:

  • The note will cover all three pillars of the UN guiding principles. So it will talk about what the state should be doing as part of the state’s duty to protect human rights. It will talk about the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights, how this climate change consideration should be integrated there. And of course, it will deal with pillar three access to remedy, corporate accountability.
  • It will also try to capture some cross cutting issues, for example gender, because we don’t often talk about gender in the context of climate change enough in my view, and when I say gender, this is the issue of differentiated impact. So it could be women, it could be migrant workers, it could be indigenous communities who may be disproportionately impacted by the climate change. So the question is, how do states and businesses and others take this differentiated impact approach into account when they’re designing their policies and actions?

Further detail on the upcoming UNWG climate and UNGPs note:

  • So when we’re talking about pillar one, the hope would be for states to really integrate climate change into the human rights processes. Because if you look at the  COP26 Glasgow pact, how many times is the term human rights there? I think if I remember correctly, it is only once right? This is unfortunate. So we want to change this and bring this holistic approach together.
  • Then the other issue is the policy coherence. So states talk about climate change, but when they negotiate trade or investment agreements, they somehow forget about climate change. So how do we bring it together? That it is not often, and climate change is a cross cutting issue, whatever government is doing to attract investment or negotiate trade agreements. Those should be driven and taken into account by the climate change considerations. How do we ensure that ESG does not become another greenwashing? And here, I think states would have a key role to play to exercise oversight, monitoring and all this.
  • And of course, we have to take into account the extraterritorial obligations as well as collective action. Because climate change in particular is an issue in which we can’t have a territorial approach. That idea of ‘Okay, I will just manage this within my territory,’ it doesn’t really work. So collective action, extra dual factor is going to be very, very vital. In relation to pillar two.
  • Of course, the integration in terms of human rights due diligence will be relevant but what about the typology? Because if you look at principle 30 it talks about causation, and there’s a tripartite typology right? A business may cause an adverse impact, it may contribute to an adverse impact or it may be directly linked to an adverse impact. So when we apply this in the context of climate change, who is excluded, if anything? So how do we apply this in this context? Again, how do we look at the corporate lobbying? Because businesses publicly say, Oh, we respect human rights, but the same companies may go and lobby to continue with fossil fuel or weaken corporate accountability legislation
  • And finally, when we talk about remediation and accountability as part of pillar three, this is quite vital. But I think climate change also poses some interesting challenges. about causation about contribution. What about the past wrongs? What about addressing victims? Which could be there in all six continents or seven continents everywhere, you know, who will contribute? Do we need some innovative remedies? Do we need a global fund to which companies should be contributing? You know, solving those issues will definitely be part of conversation
  • And my last point is about climate defenders. What is the role of states and businesses towards those people and these minded is climate defenders could be future generations, those who are not even born yet. So how should states and businesses take into account those considerations?

Jenny Sandvig

Policy Director, Norway’s National Human Rights Institution

Overview of recent jurisprudence in international judicial bodies:

  • So states have important obligations under international human rights to take action on climate change, depending of course, on conventions they are party to. But I’ll briefly sketch out some common denominators for some of the UN Convention system from the part of the International Bill of Rights, and second under the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • So first, several UN treaty bodies have noted that climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment of, for instance, the right to life, the right to health, the right to water and cultural rights, and that failure to take measures to prevent foreseeable harm for human rights caused by climate change, or to regulate activities contributing to such harm could constitute a violation of state’s human rights obligations.
  • This was most recently spelled out by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in several decisions against Germany, France, Switzerland, Turkey and Argentina, where the committee held that states in principle could be held accountable for climate-induced human rights violations and children not only within their borders, but also children in other countries, to the extent that they suffered real and significant harm which is reasonably foreseeable and caused in part by emissions under the effective control of a given state. So such emissions could for instance, be originating from businesses permitted to extract and export fossil fuels from the state’s territory.
  • Second, the European Convention on Human Rights ECHR: we have article two on the right to life which applies to any entity, public or private, in which the right to life may be impacted, and we have the ECHR article eight on the right to physical, psychological or moral integrity which protects against exposure to foreseeable environmental or industrial risk in a sufficiently close connection with an individual’s health. That’s according to well established case law.
  • And while the European Court of Human Rights has not yet pronounced itself on climate change, and greenhouse gas emissions, several international courts have held that these general principles of law apply to the inherent dangers of greenhouse gas emissions and states mitigation measures. Since it is undeniable that climate change and dangerous climate change above 1.5 degrees poses a serious and real risk to life that can only be averted through immediate and sustained emission reductions.
  • And it’s worth noting that these obligations under Article two and eight of the ECHR largely parallel the rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Articles 6 and 17. So I can perhaps delve into how the courts have interpreted those. The obligations for states under these provisions are first, to adopt the legislative and the administrative framework and adopt appropriate measures to provide effective deterrence against loss of life, and second to adopt preventive operational measures.
  • So of course, the only meaningful way to avoid dangerous climate change is to cut emissions and to cut emissions to zero. And various courts have approached this question of what would be an appropriate measure under the European Convention on Human Rights Article two and eight, to avert the risk of dangerous climate change. (During the session, Jenny Sandvig also delved into recent jurisprudence at the national level)
  • Although the European Court of Human Rights has not pronounced itself on climate change, the court is currently fast tracking two cases, one from Switzerland, in which all European national human rights institutions are intervening in support of the applicants, who are a group of elderly women who fear extreme heat induced by climate change.
  • And before we know more from the courts let’s say that the rapid developments in national jurisprudence do tell us that state’s human rights implications are closely tied to their obligations to protect their populations against injuries related to climate change. The defense that climate change is caused by a myriad of emissions worldwide no longer holds. Because courts all over the world have refused the drop in the ocean arguments and going forward the tendency towards individual responsibility of states and companies alike are likely to start.

Sophie Marjanac

Senior Lawyer / Climate Accountability Lead, ClientEarth

Implications of the UNGPs on the climate policies of businesses:

  • Just recently in April this year, we had a landmark decision from a Dutch court against Royal Dutch Shell that was relating to its climate policy. The court there found that under Dutch tort law, the company had a duty to reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030. And that was on the basis not only of tort law, but of human rights obligations, and the Court drew very heavily on the UN Guiding Principles in fleshing out the content of the tort duty under the Dutch Civil Code. And I think that decision will hopefully put more focus from companies on to their human rights obligations.
  • I think in the corporate space to date, there has been much focus on material financial risks arising from climate change on businesses, whereas, in fact, perhaps we should have been focusing more on the impacts of those businesses on human rights and the effects of their operations and their greenhouse gas emissions on human rights. Which of course, as we know, climate change is one of the most significant threats to the full and effective enjoyment of human rights globally.
  • So what do businesses have to do, what does this all mean? I think people often think that the Paris Agreement is an agreement between states and has obligations on states therefore how can these obligations be transferred to private companies operating in diverse sectors with diverse value chains and operations? But this is possible and it is being done by a range of different bodies.
  • Although of course the headline goal of the Paris Agreement is to reduce emissions in line with 1.5. That clearly, of course, allows us to calculate a clear carbon budget. And these carbon budgets can be translated into sectoral emissions reduction pathways for private enterprises to follow and there is a number of bodies and groups that are applying the Paris goals to business sectors.
  • So the very first thing that businesses really need to do is to establish science-based emission reduction targets across all of their operations and value chains. So this means in accordance with the greenhouse gas protocol, which separates emissions into scopes, one two and three, scope one are those emissions that are directly result from operation, scope two those from used energy, and scope three those emissions all the way through the value chain. So for example, Royal Dutch Shell, an oil company, includes the use of its products, so petroleum products that are used for energy. So businesses need to establish science based targets across their value chains.
  • They then need to disclose those targets, and they need to disclose their emissions year on year. And they also need to have short term plans to meet those targets that is to effectively reduce those emissions in line with science.
  • It’s also quite interesting to consider the cause-contribute framework in the UNGPs because this applies not just for companies in the oil and gas and utilities, energy production sectors, those more obvious sectors; the UNGPs of course apply to financial sector as well. So for example, when a financial institution such as a bank is applying the UNGPs, they also need to consider net zero goals and how their financing business can be aligned with the Paris goals. And there are a number of initiatives that are assisting financial institutions to do that.
  • We do note the obligation that where a business’s relationships result in a negative human rights impact, that the business has a duty to attempt to remediate that effect through consultation and engagement with their stakeholders. So for example, in the case of a bank, we say that this means that financiers need to be talking to fossil fuel companies attempting to engage with them to secure their improved climate change policies. And then potentially banks need to be looking at the those financing relationships very carefully to consider whether or not they can remediate those significant human rights impacts arising from relationships and the finance of fossil fuel projects. So that’s, I think, an important implication for financial sector businesses. That is yet to be really fleshed out, but we think is highly relevant in this context.

On recent climate pledges:

  • There are many, many pledges particularly some that came up particularly around the Glasgow COP from businesses promising to get to net zero. But when you scratch the surface of many of those policies, they are relatively paper thin on the detail.
  • And often businesses are cherry picking parts of their business that they will reduce to net zero and then for example, leaving out their scope three emissions where their most significant impact might be. So there’s a real significant risk of greenwashing because there are no common standards.
  • However, around COP we saw many announcements by governments recognizing this issue and flagging new regulation and legislation to address the risk of greenwashing around corporate net zero pledges.
  • So of course the EU corporate sustainability reporting directive has begun the legislative process. That will be a hugely significant piece of legislation and it could mean that transition plans to get to net zero for corporates operating within Europe could be mandatory within the next five years.
  • The UK government also flagged a desire to require mandatory transition plans. There’s still a quite a lot of detail to be worked out there. However that is the direction of travel so regulators will be coming out with relevant criteria mandatory criteria.
  • We’ve also got a range of private sector initiatives including the Science Based Targets Initiative which is very popular among the corporates, the Climate Action 100+  benchmark is an investor led initiative, also providing verifiable, independent third party data on corporate commitments.
  • And then we’re seeing a lot of other initiatives as well arising through the TCFD process. We’ve got the Net Zero Investment Framework, and the UN-convened Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance. So there are a range of standards. We’ve also seen the UN Secretary General recently announced a task force on greenwashing and net zero plans. So it’ll be interesting to see which of these initiatives emerge as the global benchmark, but it’s clear that that process will be moving forward at pace in the coming few years.

Caio Borges

Portfolio Manager – Law and Climate, Institute for Climate and Society

Challenges of securing access to effective remedies in the context of climate change-related human rights harms:

  • So it is a fact that vulnerable groups and those who are already marginalized will suffer the biggest impacts from climate change. And amongst the several groups that will experience the impacts of climate change more closely, traditional communities and indigenous peoples they are especially vulnerable because of their connection with to the environment and to their lands.
  • So climate change impacts such as changes to rainfall regimes or increased forest burnings or loss of biodiversity may impact these groups in multiple ways. So my focus is exactly as you said, on how I see the challenges for access to remedies, especially for traditional communities and indigenous peoples.
  • So access to justice for these groups is a major challenge. And this is even before climate change began to appear explicitly as a component of especially judicial cases. So this community already faced enormous challenges in receiving judicial and non-judicial based remedies for human rights impacts, especially in relation to their collective rights to land, to health and also their livelihoods.
  • In relation to judicial remedies, of course, we all know that in many jurisdictions, the judicial system is very slow and a decision can take years and even decades. Also we have seen courts that prioritize economic development over human rights
  • Actually these decisions that favor economic development or projects that have an impact on indigenous people’s livelihoods, they tend to be actually very recent in terms of balancing between these conflicting interests.
  • In relation to the extra judicial mechanism, I think it has been very well documented, what are the limitations, such as the fact that many non judicial grievance mechanisms like operational level mechanisms, or settlement agreements in cases of disasters, for instance, they tend not to abide by a human rights based approach. This is both in terms of the procedure and substantial aspects. And also the fact that many of these mechanisms, they tend to favor prospective action and policy change, but not to remediate the past.
  • In the current context of the climate change litigation, more explicitly, I think, the main challenges with cases are the enforcement of the decisions. And we’ve seen in cases like the future generations case in Colombia, which is one of those landmark cases that bring together human rights and climate change action, the enforcement of these decisions has been a challenge, because sometimes the state is unwilling to do the action that it should.
  • In relation to businesses, of course, the asymmetry of power between communities and businesses is still a major reason why these communities struggle to hold businesses accountable. And why we have seen developments in corporate climate accountability through climate litigation in the Global North, such as the recent case of Shell in the Netherlands, the issues of causation and attribution, they are still challenged, even in these jurisdictions. In the Global South, more particularly, you also have the issue of the political interests that are involved in projects that aggravate the climate crisis. So this can be also an impediment

On examples of how individuals and communities are overcoming barriers to remedy:

  • In the reality that I am more familiar with, like Brazil, for instance, we have seen communities, forging alliances with other actors, actors that might have more resources, or more capacity to litigate on their behalf.
  • So in this case of Brazil, for instance, but also in other jurisdictions, the public prosecutors have been playing a great role in the literature and climate change litigation that has been emphasizing the role of these actors in bringing forward the climate cases in the Global South. In Brazil, also political parties, because they have standing before the Supreme Court to bring constitutional cases, have also been particularly important to bring the climate change dimension to traditionally rights cases.
  • The second thing is also educating the judiciary. We have seen and also experienced already that many judges, they still they do not have the proper, sufficient knowledge of the science and the law of climate change. So training the judges and making sure that they understand the connection between climate inaction and rights violation is also very important.
  • We see indigenous peoples leading also and taking action themselves on how to overcome these challenges. We have seen indigenous peoples becoming more strategic in the litigation. So they’re making more use of strategic litigation.
  • We have seen cases that are beyond national and also state based litigation, which is the traditional way of these communities to enforce human rights obligations of states. So we saw, for instance, a Brazilian case has been brought in front of the International Criminal Court that seeks to establish connections between climate change and international crimes. We have seen transnational cases being brought in France against Groupe Casino under the duty of vigilance law. And it addresses the alleged omission of the company to trace its suppliers to ensure that they’re not sourcing from suppliers responsible for deforestation.
  • And finally, I would like to point out to some very interesting developments, like for instance, initiatives that seek to ensure that climate damages are included in the compensation, so to claim climate damage as a specific and autonomous category of climate of damage, in addition to the environmental damages, and we have seen cases of this nature being brought into the situation.

Yann Wyss

Senior Manager, Social Impact, Nestlé

On the connections between climate and human rights due diligence:

  • There are a lot of synergies between climate and human rights. Our human rights due diligence program (created in 2011) has shown us the importance of mainstreaming human rights, and the importance of integrating human rights, both in business activities, but also at the policy level and monitoring mechanisms level and governance level. This is key, and no human rights program can work in isolation.
  • I think this is relevant to not only for companies, but also for any organization or governments that have human rights programs, mainstreaming integration is really key. And this is not only the right thing to do, this is also the most effective and the most sustainable option when it comes to a human rights program.
  • So this mainstreaming has two components. Basically, first, it’s about how a company is going to identify the rights that are salient for its own business activities, and that have a direct connection with climate change. For us, this is quite clear, we have identified the right to water and sanitation, indigenous people and local communities and the right to food and access to nutrition as the key rights that have a direct impact on climate change. And of course, the list is longer. They’re also like child labor and forced labor and living income that are relevant, but maybe less directly relevant to climate change, although we could argue otherwise with living income, and I’ll come back to that in a moment.
  • But it was also the other way. So it’s also a matter of integrating mainstreaming human rights into the other priorities that we have as a company. So starting with climate change, but also going into waste management, biodiversity, regenerative agriculture, or even like deforestation. And this work is very important. So again, it’s not about having a dedicated human rights program, and run it to implement it throughout business activities. It’s about exploring where human rights needs to be integrated into those other programs.
  • So let me give you a couple of examples starting with our net zero roadmap that we released back in December last year, and we said back then that we would have our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Basically, the roadmap is fully aligned with the criteria of the science-based targets initiative. It covers our entire value chain, and you will see in a moment what that means exactly from a segmentation perspective. And it comes with a quite significant investment of 3.2 billion Swiss francs, roughly $3.5 billion. So from the beginning, we really made sure that people were at the center of this roadmap and the just transition is clearly referred to in the roadmap itself. And this is important, not only because this is the right thing to do, but because it’s actually very relevant.
  • Scope three emissions is 95% of our GHG emissions, and actually 70% of these emissions are linked to the upstream supply chain so not downstream, not the consumer aspects of our business activities, but the sourcing aspects of our activity. So where we source our raw materials like coffee, cocoa, sugar, and others.
  • It’s very interesting to see that this is also where we face the most risks, the most serious human rights risks. When it comes to the upstream supply chain, you know that when we talk about forced labor, child labor, living income, or even right to water and sanitation or land rights, this is where they are in our business activities, not that much in our operations. Again, not saying that everything is cleared, we have issues to deal with. But the vast majority of the issues we have to deal with are in the upstream supply chain just as our GHG emissions. So it felt natural that, you know, we need to look at them together, not in isolation.
  • A couple of things about this integration. I think this is important because both the human rights and the climate change agenda has called for the same thing, and I’ve not seen the UNWG guidance yet. But I hope that we’ll agree at least on some of these; increased traceability, we know that this is key for both agendas. Basically, it’s impossible for a company to know its scope of GHG emissions, if it doesn’t know actually where the ingredients or the raw materials come from. But we also know that this is key for human rights, due diligence, right? You cannot actually appreciate the scope of your impact, if you don’t know where these ingredients come from. So very important, traceability should be at the core of both programs.
  • Awareness of farmers and farmer cooperatives, but also traders is key. I really like the need to develop their capacities and capabilities here, because we should not assume that these are things or topics that everybody knows or is aware of. It comes with technology and knowledge that needs to be factored in the supply chains.
  • And the end, the final thing, which is maybe the most important, this calls for consolidation of global supply chains, establishing long-term relationship with a business partners, especially for us in the upstream supply chain is key. These are long term programs, when we talk about climate change human rights, it requires building capacities as I said before, and there is no way that you can actually afford as a company to switch from a supplier to another or from a farmer to another that easily because it comes back to you with significant investments that take some time actually to bear fruit.
  • So farmers for us are front and center of what we do both on climate change and human rights. And speaks in favor of this concept of just transition to regenerative food systems. This transition needs to be inclusive, or it won’t happen

On enabling regenerative agriculture in practice:

  • Another example of this is regenerative agriculture. It’s a bit more specific to our own fields in the food and beverage sector. But I thought it would be an interesting one to bring up for this discussion. So in our sector, regenerative agriculture is one of the key elements of our climate change roadmap, we are working with 500,000 farmers directly, so we buy actually directly from them, and 150,000 suppliers, so it’s quite a significant scope of work. We are investing 1.2 billion Swiss francs over the next five years to spark regenerative agriculture across the entire supply chain in the entire supply chain. And to do that we’ve identified three levers
  • The first one is access to science and technology and technical assistance. It goes in the lines of what I was saying before. So there is a need to step up our game on for example, good practices. We know that there are practices we need to change collectively, for example, irrigation or water conservation or use of fertilizers. All these actually need to change and we definitely have a role to play there, together with our foreign farmers.
  • The second is access to finance. I don’t think it was mentioned before, but this is key, because these changes require investments, significant investments, and they won’t just happen like that. I mean, they do require a change of how supply chains are structured. And so those require access to finance and investments support.
  • And the third one is, we said that we pay premiums for regenerative agricultural goods. This is important because it basically says that we will not only pay farmers for the quality and quantity of the raw materials we buy from them, but we’d also reward these farmers for the benefit they provide to the environment and to society at large. So it’s like an incentive that we want to give to farmers to look more closely at these impacts that they can generate, that we can generate for them, and take action. And it does require incentives for them to do that, because as you know, they’re quite stretched. And it’s important that we encourage them to do that, not only by telling them, but by also like giving them the means to do it.
  • This is a quite significant shift. And I don’t know if everybody appreciates that. But it basically says that a company like us will start paying actually for non-financial, non business services. So we are valuing what farmers can contribute to the planet and to people, but valuing also in the financial and business sense. And of course, this is very much related to the discussion on living income, because the gaps are quite significant in the agricultural supply chains. And in parallel to that we are developing specific programs on living income starting with cocoa and, and coffee.

Ruwan Subasinghe

Legal Director, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

On what just transition means and what it looks like in practice:

  • I think for us in organized labor, we have a pretty clear understanding of what a just transition means. And I think it is important that we’re clear about this concept as there’s a real risk of the term being co-opted.
  • So I think as a starting point, we got to say that, you know, there’s no precise legal definition of the just transition, although it is reflected in the Paris Agreement.
  • However, the content of the just transition concept is clearly elaborated in the ILO Guidelines on Just Transition of 2015. And these guidelines, I must stress, were reached by tripartite consensus. So that’s government, employers, and workers, all agreeing. So these guidelines, set out the key policy areas needed to address environmental, economic and social sustainability as a package. And this includes everything from macroeconomic policies, fundamental labor rights, Occupational Safety and Health, enterprise level policies and practice and social protection and a bunch of others.
  • So if we look at this from a UNGPs perspective, this is both pillars one and two. And so for us, just transition is really about securing the future and livelihoods of workers and their communities in a transition to a low carbon economy through social dialogue.
  • I think it’s critical that we take a rights based approach to just transition. In fact, recently, my colleague and Jeff Boyd and I wrote a paper where we argue that the core elements of any conceptualization of a just transition is already well rooted in international human rights law. So what we’re arguing for is that we should really stop talking about a just transition as an abstract public policy concept. But we should be talking about it as a human right itself, right.
  • So if we look at the human right to work, for example, if this is to have any meaning, in the context of a climate crisis, it must mean that states have an obligation to adopt mitigation and adaptation policies that at the same time, ensure that people are both able to access employment, and provide means to obtain work through active labor market policies, active labor market policies.
  • Then if we look at the right to just and favorable conditions of work, in the climate crisis, this must mean that the so called green jobs, are good safe, well paid union jobs. If we look at lithium mining, for example, for electric vehicle batteries we’ve seen significant issues.
  • Then if we look at fundamental labor rights, climate related issues fall within the scope of collective bargaining. And if we look at the right to take collective action, including the right to strike over climate matters, this is clearly protected under international law.
  • So right now, we are exploring ways to get a right to a just transition recognized through legislation and possibly litigation. And at the ILO right now, we’re lobbying for an ILO Convention on a just transition, which I think could possibly also encourage governments to consult with workers and employers in implementing their nationally determined contributions. So you could have that, you know, added layer as well.
  • So if that’s the theory, and you also asked me about practice, the role of business is pretty fundamental. Good transition models would necessarily require businesses to ensure that there’s proper social dialogue, or mitigation and adaptation, they must anticipate and properly plan the transition to net zero, they must prioritize upskilling workers, they must support social protection for job losses and displacement and the list goes on right.
  • And businesses must also ensure that the HRDD processes factor in just transitions for the supply chain workers as well. Perhaps just to cite a couple of good examples. In 2017, when the Italian oil company Enel decided to close some of their thermal power stations, but were looking to expand the renewable energy uptake, the company entered into a framework just transition agreement with the unions. And this agreement covered everything from job retention, redeployment, rescaling, early retirement for elderly workers. And what I love about this is that there was a recruitment plan, using apprenticeships to ensure that there’s a knowledge transfer of competence from older to younger workers, right.
  • And similarly, you know, another energy producing company in Australia AGL Energy when they similarly announced the closure of a plant to move towards renewables, the union representing these workers drew up plans to ensure that existing employees would remain in employment at the repurposed plant, would transition to a nearby plant, or take voluntary redundancy. A key thing here was that there were no involuntary redundancies. So these are good bipartite models.
  • And if we look at tripartite models, I think the Scottish just transition commission is a really is a really good example. Some of the things they achieved are pretty incredible. They established a ministry for just transition with guarantees for workers in carbon intensive sectors, detailed transition plans for every industry, all while having a strong representative union voice.
  • In Canada, similarly, when the plan was to phase out coal fired electricity, they coupled that with creating a national task force made up of industry, labor, environment, and core community representatives, who made several recommendations to the government.
  • And just three weeks ago, my organization, the ITF, together with our social partner, the International Chamber of Shipping, and the UN Global Compact, the ILO and IMO set up a Global Commission on a just transition for maritime workers. Now, if we consider that shipping transports 90% of all goods shipping accounted for two to 3% of GHG emissions. It employs 1.6 million seafarers and millions of others in the supply chain. This sort of global sectoral model could really be a precedent for other sectors as well.
  • I do think that if we are really to stand a chance of making a just transition truly fair and equitable, we need governments, employers, investors, civil society all part of the pocture. And we must take a strong intersectional approach to this, recognizing the specific needs of vulnerable groups and those who are otherwise structurally disempowered. And we need to go beyond tick box exercise, of course, just transition reporting is going to be key. And hopefully, we can develop a fully fledged human right to a just transition so that we can make this work for workers.

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