Canadian Labour Leaders Tell Harper to Lead in Climate Talks, Focus on Building Green Economy

December 17, 2009, 11:52 AM EST

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Leaders of Canada's largest private industrial and public sector unions are issuing a rare joint call to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, demanding he lead the global effort to reach a fair, ambitious and legally-binding international agreement as the high level segment of UN climate talks begin in Copenhagen.

Harper is expected to lead negotiations over the final days of the UN conference, alongside other world leaders. He takes over from Environment Minister Jim Prentice, who has so far refused to meet with Canadian civil society delegations during the climate talks, including the Canadian trade union delegation.

Canada has received extensive criticism in the past days for obstructing negotiations and for allegedly weakening its own emission reductions targets for domestic industry. Canadian labour unions are calling on the federal government to negotiate strong science-based emission reduction targets based on a 1990 base line as well as just transition language for affected workers.

"Countries around the world are increasingly turning their attention to tackling climate change through new economic development and job creation strategies that promote sustainability in the products they make and services they provide," said Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza. "Rather than moving our economy forward, the Harper government is content with holding us back."

Over the past year,
Canada's economy has shed half a million jobs from coast to coast, with the manufacturing sector bearing the brunt of that loss. Since 2002, over 500,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared through plant closures and massive layoffs.

"The Canadian government is missing an opportunity to help transform our industry so that it prospers in a low carbon economy," said Ken Neumann, Canadian director of the United Steelworkers union. "The Harper government has so far not delivered the necessary investment in new green technologies to encourage a clean energy future."

In their respective 2009 federal budgets the Obama administration outspent Canada by a margin of 14-1 per capita on renewable energy initiatives, which has put the United States in a better position to achieve hard emissions reduction targets and create new jobs, said Canadian Union of Public Employees President Paul Moist.

"In the absence of strong and ambitious federal emission reduction targets our government has given itself a free ride to take the path of least resistance on dealing with climate change," Moist said. "Nothing is holding this government accountable to make meaningful green public investments and, in the meantime, public services are suffering from a massive infrastructure deficit."

Canadian labour leaders are joining the chorus of civil society voices calling on the Prime Minister to approach these high level negotiations with the intent of reaching a new climate deal that also includes an extension to the existing Kyoto Protocol. 

The joint call comes just as the Prime Minister is arriving in
Copenhagen for the final two days ('high level segment') of UNFCCC/COP15 negotiations. The Prime Minister is expected to address the UN plenary session later today.

Together CUPE,
CAW and the USW represent close to one million workers in Canada.

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