Executive Council Statement | Better Pay and Benefits

Greening the Economy: A Climate Change and Jobs Strategy That Works for All

It is time for our nation to take bold steps to meet the 21st century challenges related to climate change. Scientific evidence has confirmed that human use of fossil fuels is undisputedly contributing to global warming, causing rising sea levels, changes in climate patterns and threats to coastal areas. Unrestrained growth in greenhouse gas emissions poses critical economic and environmental issues.

Climate change is the most pervasive form of globalization because the atmosphere recognizes no borders. The accumulated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the past two centuries of population, agricultural and industrial growth move freely across the planet. The threat of climate change has triggered a call to action globally and is a driving force behind proposed climate change legislation in the U.S. Congress.

The world is looking to the United States for leadership because we are the most energy-intensive nation in the world and one of its leading emitters of greenhouse gas. Our nation can lead a new technological revolution in the way energy is generated and used—a revolution that will be of immense benefit to the world as a whole and which can be the foundation of a revival of the middle class in the United States. But to accomplish this, we need a strategic approach centered on domestic investment in new technologies and good jobs. And we need to lead in fostering a shared international response to this issue.

The production, transportation and distribution of electrical energy is critical to the success of the U.S. economy, since reliable and affordable electrical energy is the lifeblood of the manufacturing, transportation, construction and service industries. To ensure a stable, reliable and affordable supply, we support diversity in the electric utility industry and the retention of all current generating options, including fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro and renewable energy.

The AFL-CIO supports a new industrial policy, an environmental economic development policy, which places manufacturing and trade at the center of a green economy program. New investment in a sustainable energy infrastructure must be structured to create good jobs and ensure stable energy prices. These must be supported by effective trade policies. Without these key elements, there is a serious risk of driving good jobs offshore into nations without emission regimes and far less carbon efficient production.

A set of environmental economic development principles has helped guide the federation’s efforts:

1) Our nation should embrace a balanced approach that ensures diverse, abundant, affordable energy supplies, creates good jobs for America’s workers and improves the environment.

2) Our nation should adopt an economy-wide cap-and-trade program that is transparent and requires all sectors to come to the table to reduce their carbon emissions. It should have timetables and standards that allow for the development and deployment of new technology and should help finance the new technologies that can provide clean energy at prices close to conventional sources.

3) Energy incentives and investments by the federal government must be based on a set of economic development principles that clean the environment and create jobs but will not encourage offshoring of manufacturing jobs.

4) Investments must be used to identify, develop and capture cutting-edge technologies and to manufacture and build these technologies here for domestic use and export.

5) The international component of any climate change cap-and-trade program must provide both incentives and a border mechanism enforced through a trade regime, to ensure that major developing nations, such as China and India, participate.

The AFL-CIO believes we can have both a healthy economy and a cleaner planet. The investment portfolio supported by the AFL-CIO—carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS), domestic production of advanced technology vehicles, renewable energy and biomass, electric grid modernization, relief for low- and moderate-income families and more—has been well received. In a major breakthrough, pending legislation includes domestic investment requirements and international provisions regarding the participation of developing nations, including a border mechanism. However, other issues remain.

In the coming years, the nation will face a series of challenges and choices about the path we take to achieve a low-carbon future over a 40-year period. In electrical generation, the AFL-CIO recognizes that coal- and nuclear-powered plants are the primary sources of base load power and that both technologies are needed to meet future energy needs while also helping the nation meet lower carbon emission goals. The federation supports the expansion of both IGCC coal plants with carbon capture and sequestration and new nuclear technology that meet federal developmental, financial, regulatory and environmental requirements.

The need for immediate investment in CCS technology over the next decade is critical. Efforts by the United Mine Workers and IBEW to garner the support of the Environmental Protection Agency and the coal industry for legislation to create and fund a trust for CCS development are a critical step forward. In the short term, there are a wide variety of options for emissions reduction that can help bridge some of the gap between the coal technology of today and the carbon capture and sequestration technology of the future.

There is also an enormous potential for energy savings and good jobs in making our economy more energy-efficient. One important step would be to modernize and extend the 160,000 miles of high transmission lines that make up the electrical grid. This will increase energy efficiency by an estimated 20 percent and provide new, smart access for renewable energy projects. Retrofitting public, industrial and commercial buildings and home weatherization also increase energy efficiency and creates jobs. The expansion and increased usage of mass transit and passenger rail offers similar opportunities for the economy and the environment. Also, over the next decade, federal biofuel initiatives, the UAW-supported CAFE standards and state renewable portfolio standards will drive investment into new automotive, wind, solar and geothermal technologies that will contribute to the reduction of GHG emissions. Ensuring these public and private funds are invested domestically to save and create jobs is a priority for the federation.

All the AFL-CIO-supported investments and actions serve to broaden the “green jobs” brand so it includes all kinds of work. Our members and workers everywhere—with their knowledge, skills and experience—have valuable insights to offer for the greening of the workplace and the community. The greening of the economy means that every job that contributes to a low-carbon future is a green job.

At the international level, the AFL-CIO has worked with our international counterpart, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), as a part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. At the December 2007 UNFCCC meetings in Bali, Indonesia, AFL-CIO members served as part of an ITUC delegation. The ITUC’s statement on climate change sent a powerful message about the nature of the crisis and an opportunity for change that creates good jobs, improves communities and reduces poverty. We demanded a workers’ voice in the UN process, a role for workers at all levels of decision-making, skill development and stronger laws that promote "employment rights and the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

One major breakthrough in Bali was an agreement by China and other developing nations to take steps to cut their rate of greenhouse gas growth. In turn, the United States and other developed nations made important concessions on financial assistance and technology transfer. However, rather than caps, developing nations agreed to reduce their future emissions below an unspecified baseline, subject to their right to pursue “sustainable development,” and they seek compensation for reducing emission growth. All of these points will require further negotiation.

The uncertainties of the open-ended Bali Action Plan make it essential that Congress enact balanced job-friendly and technology-friendly national climate legislation that will define our commitments before the 2009 Copenhagen UN meeting to set new carbon emission protocols. The anticipated “Copenhagen Protocol” would replace the Kyoto Protocol, and would entail Senate ratification.

Labor’s expanded presence at the Bali meetings needs to carry forward at all negotiating sessions prior to Copenhagen. Our allies at the ITUC will be instrumental in working with governments in the developing nations to ensure that the agreement explicitly recognizes labor’s vital contributions to emission mitigation and adaptation and the need for appropriate transition assistance and incentives for new “green jobs.”

The AFL-CIO will continue to promote a balanced approach to an economy-wide cap-and-trade program. It is our belief that all sectors should be required to participate, that no sector should be disadvantaged and that there must be a border adjustment trade regime to ensure a level international playing field.

As the debate moves forward, the AFL-CIO Energy Task Force principles will guide our legislative efforts to ensure:

1) Standards and timelines are realistic in relation to available technology;

2) Any investment portfolio is invested in the United States;

3) The system encourages investments in domestic energy-intensive industry and discourages the offshoring of jobs;

4) Developing nations participate in climate change solutions;

5) An effective cost-control mechanism is in place to ensure energy pricing stability;

6) Adequate resources for transition and training and education are available for workers and their communities;

7) Assistance is available for low- and moderate-income families impacted by energy prices; and

8) State climate change measures integrate appropriately with a federal cap-and-trade program to achieve environmental goals and avoid economic dislocation.

Congress must be unambiguous in establishing an environmental economic development policy that seeks to increase the per capita income and protects the interests of working families. Workers exercising their free choice to form unions and bargain collectively and the respect for legal standards protecting workers' wages and benefits are fundamental to this goal.

Climate change and energy policy will play a dominant role in the economy for the foreseeable future. These already have taken on an increased importance in the 2008 election cycle. The call for energy policy and green jobs will grow as the economic downturn drags on. The same discussion is at the center of an international carbon emission regime. The labor movement has a crucial role to play in both arenas.

Like our brothers and sisters in the ITUC, the AFL-CIO has a vision and a focus on a cleaner planet and an economy that works for all. We must continue to work with the ITUC to insist that decent work and workers' rights are international requirements in a worldwide climate change regime.

The nation stands at the crossroads of opportunity for domestic investments in innovation, new technology and energy efficiency that will save jobs, create new jobs and new industries and revitalize American manufacturing. There is no guarantee that these will be good jobs or that the investments will be made here unless we fight to make it so.