Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Wired contributor Daphne LePrince-Ringuet, the kind of anti climate policy protests which rocked France can be prevented with a few government handouts, and by convincing ordinary people of the good intentions of government.
To win the climate change battle, we need to talk about gilets jaunes
By DAPHNE LEPRINCE-RINGUET
Saturday 22 December 2018
Shifting to a low-carbon economy won’t be painless, and politicians need to win the public over
On the first day of this year’s COP24, nearly 50 heads of state – including British prime minister Theresa May – signed a declaration proposed by the Polish government and ambitiously named the “Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration”. The paper didn’t make waves in the media, yet it addresses a key issue in the fight against climate change: ensuring that the transition towards a low-carbon economy comes with jobs and an decent quality of life.
Ironically, the story that hogged the limelight in the press was the gilets jaunes protests in France – whose root cause is linked to the very same issue. The carbon tax on diesel fuel announced by the French government as part of low-carbon strategy didn’t go down well with the middle class rural population, who can’t jump on a metro to go to work – but who also can’t afford to see their salary whittled down by an extra tax.
Building on those pillars, David Wei, director for climate at sustainable consultancy group Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), has written a guide for businesses to implement low-carbon models while reducing disruption for their workers. Wei’s handbook includes advice and case studies that are more hands-on than the ILO’s guidelines, such as increasing transparency or implementing re-skilling programmes. And it also highlights the importance of working hand-in-hand with governments. Political decision-making, it insists, is crucial to orchestrate a fair transition.
As an example of good behaviour, Wei points to Canada, where this year unions set up a Just Transition Task Force after the government announced plans to phase out the use of coal-fired electricity by 2030. The organisation bridges between policy-makers and the workforce, meeting with the communities affected by the plans, and then reporting to the federal government on how to create opportunities for them. A further $35 billion (£27.55bn) budget was allocated to support training and re-skilling, with the end-goal of making for a smoother shift of the workforce away from coal.
For Wei, this “inclusive economy agenda” should be the focus of governments and businesses alike for the years to come. “We have to look at the threats and risks that decarbonisation poses to the people,” he says. “You can’t ignore the social impact of a transition. If you don’t tackle the human dimension of climate change policy, you will never generate the political will necessary to meet the two-degree target [agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement].”
Businesses and policy-makers will also need to communicate effectively if they want to win over those that will be impacted first-hand by the new rules of the game – especially if those rules imply sacrifices such as paying higher taxes.
See – if you want to defuse protests by mainly rural workers smashed by unavoidable fossil fuel tax rises, all you have to do is convince businesses to work more closely with governments, better communicate your good intentions, and give money to the unions, who will ensure the cash is fairly distributed to their members.