Carbon pricing, unions and climate change

Solidarity spoke to James Goodman, National Tertiary Education Union member at UTS, about unions and climate change policy

The ACTU had a position where it supported first the CPRS and now a carbon price. What has been the response in the NTEU?
We took a position against market mechanisms. We said we didn’t believe these measures were sufficient to reduce emissions and we had concerns about [the impact on] cost of living.
We were critical, in our national policy, of the CPRS and I think we were the first union to take that stand. As to the carbon price, at our last national council I was involved in putting a resolution to affirm our position that market based solutions were not enough. That was passed, where we said the NTEU would seek a change in ACTU policy.
Within the wider union movement until three years ago it was really unions that had members in the coal industry and high emitting industries that were setting climate change policy. The head of the ACTU environment committee is Tony Maher, of the CFMEU [mining division].
Over the last two or three years other unions have started to develop policies on climate change, not just the NTEU also the LHMU, now called United Voice, and the electrical unions. A major debate is now starting in the union movement around this.
I’m really concerned as a union member that the peak body that represents unionists in Australia [has a] position that there can be no reduction in jobs in carbon intensive industries. There a number of aspects of ACTU policy, its reliance on markets, its belief in carbon capture and storage (clean coal), to maintain jobs in the coal industry, that have to be dealt with.
The government’s carbon pricing solutions are terribly inadequate and lead to us thinking we’ve done something if the thing gets passed. In fact it might affect brown coal, it won’t even touch black coal and it’s difficult to say how it will affect other industries at all given the amount of compensation that’s going to be dished out. We need a debate that’s led by the union movement so that any proposals that emerge reflect the interests of the wider working class as opposed to industry.

Do you think things like the Beyond Zero plan which points to feasibility of installing renewable energy and what it would cost, can help in pushing the argument for alternatives to carbon pricing?
I think what’s crucial is that people develop feasible alternatives to market based solutions.
The Beyond Zero model is very well developed in terms of putting forward a model for a surprisingly modest [amount of money] given they are seeking 100 per cent renewables.
It’s very useful because it does offer a starting point for that debate. There are limits to that—Beyond Zero’s position is they just talk about what is required in terms of infrastructure and electricity production. They don’t talk about how governments could go about raising the funds. But it begs that question of who pays for the transition which is one that unions need to be involved in.

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