Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Federation

Former Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharan Burrow was in Sydney last week speaking about how to manage the training and re-training of workers as we transition to a low carbon economy.

Ms Burrow, now general secretary of the International Trade Union Federation, said a national development plan for deep decarbonisation was required. This needed to be coupled with investment in vulnerable communities as strategies were found to replace the emissions-intensive industry base, she said.

This big shift also meant there needed to be a “dialogue between workers and industry”.

In regional areas that were economically dependent on emissions-intensive sectors, there needed to be “advanced planning and dialogue”.

Ms Burrow spoke to The Fifth Estate after a City of Sydney global roundtable last week convened under the banner of the B Team, to accelerate action towards net zero emissions. Attendees included Mirvac, Lendlease and Cbus Super, and representatives from government, academia and labour unions.

Net Zero Roundtable members in Sydney

Ms Burrows said that while investment in green growth opened up many possibilities for regions, “it won’t happen if people are allowed to exit [high emissions operations] without considering workers and communities.”

The goal needed to be to leave “no community and no worker stranded”, she said.

“We won’t fix vulnerable communities without regional planning.”

Incentives for industry included cost savings, lower vulnerability to carbon pricing and reliance on natural resources. This could then lead to industry being able to increase wages and invest more in its own future.

“What’s better for our planet is also better for our people and our businesses. Our aim is to get millions of business and government leaders committed to a better way of doing business, because Plan A clearly isn’t working.”

Ms Burrow told The Fifth Estate the big picture was about how cities and industries and their mutual supply chains were making the transition.

Barangaroo was a good example of upskilling workers in net zero.

“Lendlease has effectively created a TAFE on-site,” she says. “This creates a legacy both for workers and for the community.”

To ensure labour is not left behind, the Just Transition Centre that emerged out of the Paris talks is bringing the unions to the table, she said.

In terms of how this plays out for the finance realm, Mr Burrow said there needed to be long-term finance for sustainability, rather than a short-term focus on equity and market gains.

During the roundtable moderators included ClimateWorks chief executive Anna Skarbek, former Labor minister Greg Combet, Investor Group on Climate Change chief executive Emma Herd and Cbus chief executive David Atkins.

Ms Burrow said finance and property were the major business interests represented at the roundtable because the built environment was a large contributor to emissions.

In the business world global examples of good transition behaviour included Italian firm Inel, which has increased its renewable capacity and inked an agreement with trade unions around transitioning workers.

The City of Oslo was currently looking at electrification of the city, and at making the centre of the city carless, which had strong potential for jobs growth.

There were also changes afoot in the big emitters, such as heavy industry.

For example, Sweden’s Saab is making changes in the supply chain to become free of process emissions through using renewable energy and fuel cells.

Dalmia in India has managed to reduce its emissions from concrete production by 50 per cent.

Ms Burrow said the city was a “great good news story”.

“The city has seen a 17 per cent decrease in emissions but growth is going up,” she said.

“If this is correlated with business as usual [pathways], emissions would have increased by 50 per cent [due to growth].”

She said cities such as Sydney were “key actors” in the global transition to meet the Paris targets and get to net zero by 2050, “particularly where governments are not taking responsibility.”

Attendees at the Sydney workshop included representatives from IKEA, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, representatives from the Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development and the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage Sustainability Advantage program.

The B Team was co-founded by Richard Branson and former Puma SA chief executive and chairman Jochen Zeitz.

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