A special labor report from UN Conference on Global Warming

BALI, Indonesia — Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint became the first ever U.S. trade union leader to address the main meeting of the UN’s climate change negotiations.

Toussaint, speaking for the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents 365 labor federations in 150 countries, spoke in the debate on adaptation to climate change. The N.Y. transit union leader told the body, “As trade unions, we recognize that the best way to create the conditions for adaptation to climate change is to address poverty by creating a decent living standard for people, which includes fair wages and benefits.”

Countries in the global South are feeling the effects of climate change in ways that are both immediate and deadly, as seen in the recent cyclone in Bangladesh that killed 10,000 people.

The trade unions in Bali have called on rich countries to honor their commitments to poor countries made under the Kyoto Protocol. The developed world is responsible for the much of the global warming that’s occurring, but it’s the poor countries who are paying the biggest price.

Toussaint urged national governments to fully fund the Nairobi work program adopted at the 2006 negotiations in Kenya. “The program is crucial because the poor are the most vulnerable. They lack the resources to respond to climate change,” said Toussaint.

The Nairobi work program commits resources for adaptation infrastructure such as flood defenses. However, the resources have been slow to materialize. According to the UN’s Development Program, just $26 million has been spent on adaptation in the poor countries, compared to billions of dollars spent on adaptation measures in countries like Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and the United States.

The nine-day climate change meeting was held in Nusa Dua, near Bali, Indonesia, and concluded Dec. 15. The objective of the talks was to lay down a roadmap for a global response the climate change. Toussaint was part of a 20-person delegation from the U.S. labor movement. For more information about the delegation, visit http://tinyurl.com/39xq7x.

Sean Sweeney is director of the Cornell Global Labor Institute.