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Green Workplace: Briefing 158 on Protecting the planet - at work
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Green Workplace: Briefing 158 on...

Protecting the planet - at work

June 2007


Climate change is now accepted to be one of the biggest dangers facing humankind. This briefing aims to look at the problem, what is being done, and how we can all 'green the workplace', helping protect the planet for future generations worldwide.


Global warming: International effects and action

Few people now doubt the extent of global warming due to human activities. As well as the potentially catastrophic future effects, there are very real existing impacts already in the poorest countries. In Africa alone, the United Nations Environment Programme warns that as well as being a contributory factor to the Darfur conflict, due to failing rains and desertification, it threatens to trigger further wars. Christian Aid predicts that without urgent action, at least a billion people, largely in the developing world, will be forced from their homes by 2050 due to floods, droughts and famine. The UK is assessing future impacts here, amid warnings that climate change is a greater threat than international terrorism.

The 2006 Stern Review of the economic effects warned that the costs of not acting are far greater than the costs of ensuring we urgently limit carbon emissions. The Review, commissioned by then Chancellor Gordon Brown, recommended stabilising emissions using carbon pricing, new technology and behavioural change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's three reports in 2007 conclude that affordable and available solutions exist and governments must act immediately. Reducing energy consumption, improving public transport, preventing deforestation and not leaving improved vehicle fuel efficiency to market forces are key points.

UN talks in Bali in late 2007 aim to agree international action beyond the Kyoto agreement, which runs until 2012. Critics of the US decision to pull out of Kyoto a legally binding treaty for industrialised nations to cut greenhouse gases hope that the US will be compelled by international and internal pressure to sign the successor agreement. This is expected to include emissions caps for countries such as China and India. China has recently overtaken the US as the biggest emitter of CO2, although per head of population its emission levels are about half of the UK's and a quarter of US levels. Campaigners argue that international agreements should ensure rich nations compensate for their past pollution and commit to sharing clean technologies. The west is accused of 'green imperialism' - using cheap labour in polluting industries in developing countries, then criticising their high emissions.


Action at UK and Scottish levels

The UK and Scottish governments are both taking forward Climate Change Bills with higher targets than EU plans. The UK draft Bill, the first in the world, was published in March 2007, along with a strategy. These include proposals for:

  • legally binding targets for a 60% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
  • annual reporting to Parliament on progress towards five year 'carbon budgets' and 2020 and 2050 targets.
  • a move to a low carbon economy, improving energy efficiency, cutting demand and investing in carbon capture and storage, wind, wave and solar power.

The Scottish Bill, due by the end of 2008, will have world-leading targets, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. However, the SNP manifesto commitment to mandatory carbon reduction targets of 3% per annum has been dropped. While there is consensus that Scotland has huge potential for increasing the use of renewable energy, there are still controversies around which forms and the levels of government support and investment.

Politicians still have to tackle conflicts between various policies; for example, how road building and airport expansion fits with cutting carbon emissions. There are debates about the pros and cons and implementation of carbon trading, carbon allowances and the value of carbon offsetting. Other controversies include policy on biofuels and how to account for 'air miles' in calculating which products are 'greener' than others. Some of these conflicts are also featuring at local authority level. However, all Scotland's councils have signed up to Scotland's Climate Change Declaration. This may be opened up to other public bodies and other organisations. It commits signatories to produce plans with targets and time-scales for significant cuts in carbon emissions including from energy use and sourcing, travel and transportation, waste production and disposal, estate management, procurement of goods and services and improved staff awareness.


UNISON campaigning

UNISON has long been committed to sustainable development and protecting the environment, taking an international outlook based on social justice. Our members work in a wide range of environmental roles, including park rangers; inspectors, scientists and other jobs at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; council staff including in cleansing, waste recycling, planning and environmental health; water and sewerage posts in Scottish Water and staff throughout the NHS. They want to do more on climate change at work, in the way so many do in their personal lives. We have members in a joint TUC /Scottish Power green workplace project and many branches support initiatives such as green travel-to-work plans. Flexible working can also contribute. UNISON itself has a green taskforce to reduce our carbon footprint. UNISON Scotland is a member of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland. We campaign to eliminate fuel poverty, for 'Food for Good' - healthy, locally sourced food in the public sector - and for boosting renewables in a balanced energy policy. We oppose water privatisation and support WaterAid and mains drinking water at work.

We want massive investment in public transport, action to cut aviation emissions and we are examining quality contracts and road pricing schemes to reduce congestion and emissions. The Climate Change Bills must emphasise workplace action and we support proper facilities and facilities time for TU environmental representatives.


Action for branches

There are ten points for action in UNISON Scotland's environment manifesto, further ideas on UNISON's green pages and a comprehensive guide to greener, lower carbon workplaces is at www.tuc.org.uk/economy/tuc-13386-f0.cfm?theme=sustainableworkplace Let us know what you do so we can share good practice.



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Further Information

UNISON Scotland environment manifesto with 10 point action plan

UNISON green pages

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland

WWF carbon footprint calculator
(no need to join One Planet campaign to use calculator)

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Fiona Montgomery

Dave Watson

@P&I Team
14 West Campbell Street
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Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141 331 1203