City College Student Protests Labor Rights Standards at COP 21

City College Student Protests Labor Rights Standards at COP 21
City College student Martha Hawthorne near Eiffel Tower in Paris wearing red in support of’s red line campaign emphasizing the necessity for a just and livable planet that includes sustainable energy transformation, justice for impacted people, and the right to food and water. (Photo courtesy of Martha Hawthorne)

By Patrick Fitzgerald/ Online News Director

Chanting “we are unstoppable — another world is possible,” union members and activists confronted riot police, got arrested, and left their shoes at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21) in Paris in protest for a strong, just and binding climate change agreement.

City College student Martha Hawthorne, who is fluent in English, French and Spanish sent on-the-spot updates from Paris as an official representative for Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 (SEIU 1021). The union collaborated with others worldwide highlighting awareness of worsening climate-induced migrations, the need for adequate salaries, and for a fair and equitable transition to a carbon-free economy.    

“It was exhilarating, exhausting, fascinating, sometimes scary, inspirational, and sobering…two weeks in Paris as part of the international delegation of trade unionists attending COP 21,” Hawthorne said.

The primary goal of the conference is to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. This week the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services, a leading climate research hub in the United Kingdom, announced for the first time the cumulative increase in world temperature is 1 degree Celsius.


Hawthorne characterized the conference as a small step forward yet she had reservations as to what government alone could do without uncompromising corporate support. She felt conference delegates did not listen enough to demands of grassroots organizations and expressed frustration with the final agreement negotiated between delegates from 190 countries.

“We fought so hard to get the words ‘just transition and decent work’ into the agreement,” Hawthorne said. “Our real message was ‘leave no one behind.’”

Yet, advocates were unsuccessful getting these words inserted into the preamble of the agreement to address the needs of workers employed in industries adversely affected by greenhouse gas reductions — like coal mining and oil extraction.

Hawthorne also charged media with not adequately covering the protester’s messages about fairness and equity issues. Her sentiments were echoed by a Brookings Institution’s blog post that determined the four highest circulation print news sources in the United States failed to adequately inform readers on the agreement’s division of responsibilities, on social and human rights issues, and on transparency for billions of dollars in climate financing.

Paris Agreement

The “Paris Agreement” as it has become known, is a commitment calling for climate changing greenhouse gases to peak “as soon as possible” and to completely stabilize by 2050. An enforcement mechanism was developed to make the reduction pledges, from 184 countries responsible for 96 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more binding over time. The next assessment happens in 2018 and every five years thereafter.

Developed countries also accepted responsibility for causing the loss and damage of climate change but did not accept legal liability for the harm. Yet the agreement reaffirms a previous goal by developed countries, made at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, of annually maintaining a $100 billion-dollar fund by 2020 to assist poor and developing countries in adapting to climate change and mitigating greenhouses gases.

A key demand from U.S. representatives for internationally recognized, transparent emissions standards was also accepted by delegates but specifics were left to be determined by a select panel at a later date.

The next report on climate change will focus on local efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including City College’s own work to reach sustainability. In 2012, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office released The California Community College Sustainability Plan Guidebook as a blueprint for community colleges in responding to California’s landmark legislation the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB-32) of 2006.

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Send an email to: Patrick Fitzgerald or tweet to @HitSquarely


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