Health crisis, climate crisis, jobs crisis: Climate justice in a pandemic

Statement from Workers for Climate Action, Sydney, 20 April 2020

We welcome feedback on the statement below on dealing with the health, climate and jobs crisis we currently face, to

In the midst of a global pandemic, the world is heading into unprecedented levels of unemployment and likely an economic depression. In Australia, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, with unemployment likely to reach more than 10 per cent this year.

The global pandemic has exposed the inability of a system run for profit to make health or safety a priority for all. Whilst this pandemic unfolds, the climate crisis continues to intensify.

It is estimated that over a third of the population of Vanuatu is homeless after the devastation of Cyclone Harold. The Great Barrier reef experienced its warmest-ever water temperatures in February and a severe mass bleaching event.

Communities and infrastructure still recovering from the devastating bushfire season are now hit with a frightening health crisis. Just as we saw the devastating impacts of cuts to frontline jobs in fire-fighting, we are now faced with the legacy of budget cuts that have produced a shortage of healthcare professionals, beds and equipment. The pandemic has laid bare the danger of semi-privatised health systems starved of adequate resources, underfunded public education systems, an economy reliant on casualised employment, and fragmented lowest-cost just-in-time supply chains.

The climate movement must continue to campaign, but reorient our politics to call for the jobs and justice we need to address the overlapping health, climate and jobs crises we face.

The crisis has also exposed the fact that governments can act decisively, spend billions and reorganise essential services in the space of a few weeks.

The pandemic has exposed the inadequacy of the transition to renewable energy being left to private investors with no just transition plan, and widespread non-union jobs and poor working conditions. Government support has been limited to fragmented ‘incentives’ for private renewables. A falling Australian dollar has suddenly increased costs for importing solar and wind components. Combined with the end of the Renewable Energy Target and enormous problems in our fragmented and part-privatised transmission grid, it is now expected that not a single new wind or solar project will reach financial close in 2020 – and we may see bankruptcies before current projects are completed.

Now, more than ever, we need direct public planning, financing and ownership of our energy systems, so they can be reorganised in the public interest – to provide good stable jobs building essential renewable energy infrastructure, and universal access to low-cost energy.

$320 billion has been spent by the Commonwealth and states on COVID-19 ‘stimulus’ packages. Yet most of this has gone to support existing operations of private companies, with few strings attached. The government’s new National COVID-19 Coordination Commission includes current and former executives of privatised emissions-intensive industries such as Fortescue Metals, Energy Australia, Strike Energy, Perth Airport and Toll. During the pandemic, the fracking ban was quietly lifted in Victoriacoal expansion approved in NSW, and renewable energy research jobs cut from the CSIRO. We must not allow the government to return us to business-as-usual.

Public investment must mean public ownership and control to ensure the money is spent in the public interest and provides good union jobs and universal access to essential services.

We demand massive public investment to provide thousands of jobs, to reduce emissions, and to provide the services people need.

We must build a publicly-owned renewable energy system that is planned to provide for a just transition and local manufacturing.

We must create jobs to reduce emissions across all sectors of the economy.

We call for justice and self-determination for First Nations people. Communities must have control of their lands and waters and funding for community development and jobs on country. Indigenous-led land management is vital to repair ecosystems and reduce fire risk.

We need to find new ways to organise and mobilise to achieve these demands. Workplace organising is more important than ever as it remains one of the few places where people are drawn together and have some power. Civil liberties restrictions must be lifted as soon as practicable.

Workers for Climate Action are determined to continue this struggle in whatever ways we can during this time, with a view to returning to the streets in our thousands when it is safe to do so.

We urge everyone to support the May 1 Movement in Sydney’s plans for May 1 decentralised actions for workers’ rights, social justice and climate action.

We urge everyone to participate in School Strike for Climate online rallies for 15 May.

We urge everyone to support the United Workers’ Union Workers’ Plan to Survive the Covid-19 Crisis.

We congratulate Friends of the Earth Australia for developing the Covid-19: Blueprint for Climate Justice.


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