Graham Petersen, GJA Secretary
07879 492339
environment, employment & skills

Climate Change Awareness – Background

An introductory course for trade unionists



Serious climate change is now underway according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It’s already affecting the world we live in and if global temperatures continue to rise, we will face devastating consequences. We’ve been hearing this message from top scientists for some time now.

Nevertheless as climate change became undeniable, attention was drawn away from this most pressing problem by another global crisis, the economic one, started by the financial crash of 2008.

Now, as global warming continues to rise and the global economy continues to falter, the world is facing a dual crisis never seen before. This was one of the key messages to emerge from the Global Risks Report 2013, published by the World Economic Forum.(1) The dual crisis of climate change and economic recession are deeply interconnected.

The Global Economic CrisisEndAusterityDemo

The 2008 financial crisis began in America but it had a ripple effect that shook the world. It not only impacted on the banking sector and other financial institutions, it had a terrible effect on the lives of ordinary people. Almost 9 million Americans lost their jobs and 7 million lost their homes.(2) It took huge taxpayer-financed bail-outs to shore up the financial industry. In the UK and Europe, it led to an unparalleled period of austerity, of poverty wages and job insecurity, and savage cuts to public spending and investment.(3)

Rising Inequality

However the decline in people’s standard of living following the global recession has not been felt by all. In the advanced economies, the gap between the rich and poor is at its highest level in decades. Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report of 2014(4) revealed that wealth inequality continues to grow. Their research showed that since the financial crisis of 2008, wealth inequality has risen, especially in the developing world. In 2016, Oxfam predicts that the wealthiest 1% will own more than half of all global wealth.(5) (6)

Rising Global Temperatures

Running parallel to these increased levels of inequality has been the steady rise in global temperatures. As with the economic crisis, its effects will not be felt evenly. It’s the poor of the world who are hit hardest by natural disasters and the full force of climate change – the widespread droughts, floods, sea level rises, shortages of food and water. The wealthy can afford a measure of protection from some of the fallout from global warming. In addition, it’s the poorer, developing countries which suffer more from its devastating effects than the rich countries of the world which have done the most to cause climate change with their emissions.(7)

Inter-Connected Crises

The economic recession, rise in inequality and climate change are all deeply connected. This interconnection is increasingly recognised by scientists, economists, environmentalists and the trade union movement.Campaign Against Climate Change badge

The TUC believes that dealing effectively with the problem of climate change has the potential to create jobs and a better, fairer society.

The ‘Campaign against Climate Change’ involving trade unions and the National Union of Students is calling for the creation of one million climate jobs through investment in renewable energy, insulation schemes, public transport and energy reduction.(8) All of this would significantly reduce UK emissions of greenhouse gases.

Joseph Stiglitz, an economist and Nobel laureate, believes governments need to invest to address simultaneously the problems of global warming, global inequality and poverty, all of which would boost the global economy, ‘the entire world needs to retrofit itself to face the reality of global warming.’(9)

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) calls for unions ‘to demand of their governments and employers the dialogue that will see a national plan for decarbonisation, clean energy and jobs – a plan that includes commitments to ensure a just transition for all. Climate justice requires us to leave no-one behind in what is now a race against time.’(10) As Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said, ‘There are no jobs on a dead planet.’

Course Structure

The issues introduced in this background section will be explored further in the following modules:

Module 1: Climate Change Explained: will look at the science of climate change, its causes and effects.

Module 2: The International Response: will look at the various efforts made by governments and policy makers to come to international agreements on tackling climate change.

Module 3: The Trade Union Response: will look at how trade unions are organising and campaigning around climate change and promoting ideas of climate justice.

Module 4: Getting Involved: will look at ways we can all take action to tackle climate change at work and in our communities.

At the end of each section, there are references and links to additional materials if you want to go further. As you work your way through the materials, there are also quizzes you can choose to do to check your understanding.


Course Author: Valerie Petersen (email:

Designer: Wendy Mayes (email:


References and further reading:

  2. Figures taken from the film ‘The Big Short’ an American biographical comedy drama documenting the 2008 financial crisis.
  3.  Alistair Milne, (author of The Fall of the House of Credit), thinks the UK could be in for 25 years of economic stagnation.
  4. The top 1% owned 48.2 % of global wealth compared to the bottom 50% who own just 1%. (2014 Global Wealth Report)
  6. In the UK, there have been significant increases in wealth inequality this century, the most significant happening after the financial crisis.
  7. Extreme Carbon Inequality. Oxfam media briefing:
  8. One million climate jobs now 3rd report
  10. ‘Inequality and Climate Change’ Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz in conversation

Module 1: Climate Change Explained