Oregon AFL-CIO to consider Kyoto Protocol resolution

The Oregon AFL-CIO may take a position on the Kyoto Protocol at its Dec. 16 General Board meeting.

The Kyoto Protocol is a commitment by developed nations to reduce emissions of “greenhouse” gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) that are contributing to global warming. It’s known as the Kyoto Protocol because it was the product of a special meeting of the United Nations in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan.

The United States never signed the treaty, complaining that it required no equivalent commitment by developing countries, like China or India.

A resolution to endorse the Kyoto treaty was introduced at the September biennial convention of the Oregon AFL-CIO. Delegates referred it to the General Board for a final decision. Passage by the Executive Board, however, would put the state labor federation at odds with the national AFL-CIO, which opposes the Kyoto treaty.

According to a January 1998 Executive Council resolution, the national AFL-CIO supports “rational, achievable solutions to climate change threats that both solve the global problem and protect the economic interests of American workers.”

But it opposes Kyoto, arguing that it unfairly burdens rich countries and lets developing countries off the hook.

The treaty commits signatories in the developed world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012. That would represent about one-tenth of the reduction needed to stabilize the earth’s atmosphere, says Patrick Mazza, research director of Seattle-based Climate Solutions. Mazza is on the steering committee of the Apollo Alliance, a union-backed coalition calling for government investment in alternative energy technologies.

Mazza said job losses are just not happening in countries that signed Kyoto — Japan, Russia, Canada, and the European Union. To meet the Kyoto targets, they are improving automotive gas mileage, imposing carbon taxes, and developing alternative energy solutions like wind turbines or hybrid auto engines.

“Our lagging is letting others take the lead,” Mazza said. “We’re losing competitiveness.”

Mazza supports Kyoto as a first step, but says it’s too late for the U.S. to sign on and achieve Kyoto’s goals by the 2012 deadline. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have grown dramatically since 1990, such that it would have to reduce emissions by about 27 percent in six years to get back to 1990 emissions levels.

Mazza says it’s still important that the United States take part in the next round of UN discussions and to take unilateral steps of its own. Regardless of its position on Kyoto, Mazza hopes organized labor will be on board when those future discussions occur.

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