The UNFCCC’s Article 4 principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” requires the burden of climate change to be borne by those that can afford to do so. This climate ‘solidarity’ ideal is also reflected in the requirement of a “just transition” to a green economy, outlined in the Preamble of the COP21 Paris Agreement. It follows that vulnerable communities should not bear the brunt of climate change, either on a global or national level.

On June 1, New York State Assembly passed a progressive “New York State Climate and Community Protection Act”. This act aims to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change, particularly in relation to vulnerable communities and job sectors in the wake of disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.

Not only ambitious in its green energy goals, the Act is particularly notable for its robust focus on environmental and economic justice. By 2017, New York will have to generate 27 percent from renewable sources. 40% percent of the funds generated from any new market scheme established to meet the targets must be used for research and development of energy programs in disadvantaged communities.

Particularly progressive aspects of the Act include its focus on the retraining and the retention of decent pay and conditions as workers from fossil-fuel heavy sectors transition to the green economy. The preamble states the Acts aims to:

  • Shape the ongoing transition in NY State’s energy sector to ensure that it creates good jobs and protects workers and communities that may lose employment in the current transition.
  • Set clear standards for job quality and training standards encourages not only high-quality work but positive economic impacts.
  • Prioritize the safety and health of disadvantaged communities as well as control potential regressive impacts of future climate change mitigation and adaptation policies on these communities.
  • Require that all projects contracted pursuant to the act that either receive financial assistance of more than $100,000 or have a total value of more than $10 million pay to building service workers and construction workers the prevailing wage rate of the locality in which the project is located. These projects must also include in their contracts labor harmony policies, dispute resolution mechanisms, prevailing wage compliance, safety policies, workers’ compensation insurance and apprenticeship program utilisation.
  • Provide that contracts by recipients of financial assistance pertaining to the prevailing wage are to be considered for the benefit of the applicable workers and these workers have a right to maintain an action in court if they are paid less than the prevailing wage.

Before implementing programmes or drafting regulations and guidelines in relation to emission reductions, the Act requires the Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct studies that identify the barriers that disadvantaged communities face in accessing and owning clean energy sources, as well as other climate-related programs.

This Act and the growing sea-change across the globe in relation to action on climate and “just transition” should provide food for thought for the Irish Government in advance of the National Dialogue on Climate Change. The implications of climate action for workers within Bord Na Móna’s Edenderry peat-powered plant, ESB’s coal-fired power station at Moneypoint and Ireland’s increasingly industrialised farming sector will have to be discussed in a robust, fair and just manner.