Climate Change Awareness


How this course works

The Introduction briefly outlines why the climate crisis is a vital issue for trade union members and their unions.

The course that follows is made up of 4 Modules, with a Quiz to test your knowledge at the end of each section!

Module 1: Climate Change Explained:

The evidence

Module 2: International Responses:

How the United Nations, governments and trade unions are working for an international agreement to tackle the climate crisis.

Module 3: Trade Union Responses:

Demands for a fair and just transition.

Module 4: Getting Involved:

What you can do at work, in your union and in your community.


Climate Emergency! The world is overheating

The world is overheating. This is caused by ‘greenhouse gases’ trapped in the atmosphere, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane from burning fossil fuels – oil, coal, gas, petrol and diesel.

The ‘normal’ seasons of the past thousands of years are changing. The evidence is everywhere across the planet.

  • On Tuesday 22 July 2022, Britain experienced its hottest ever July day, at 40.3 degrees Centigrade and the Fire Brigade had more callouts than on any day since the Second World War. In February 2019, firefighters tackled a “ferocious” moorland blaze in West Yorkshire after the warmest winter day on record. February 2014 brought our worst ever floods, with damage estimated at over £1 billion.
  • These impacts are greater in the Global South. The world is increasingly at risk of “climate apartheid”, according to the United Nations, where the rich pay to try to escape the heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis while the rest of the world suffers. Through the Summer of 2022, the combination of a heavier than usual monsoon and faster melting Himalayan glaciers led to floods in Pakistan that left a third of the country inundated, displaced 33 million people, killed 1,200, destroyed 12,718 kilometres of roads, 390 bridges, and over 1.8 million homes. As Pakistan’s Climate Minister Sherry Rahman pointed out, “We hardly create any of the emissions that turn our climate into a living hell.”

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report said ‘urgent and unprecedented changes’ are needed to match the pledge made by 193 countries at the UN’s Paris Agreement in December 2015, to keep temperatures below a 2C increase and as close to 1.5C as possible.

At the rate we are polluting the atmosphere, there are less than 8 years left for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C. And beyond 1.5C, even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Climate breakdown is a trade union issue

A shift to a green economy by eliminating carbon emissions brings both opportunities and risks to jobs and communities in unionised industries like car manufacture, power and steel.

It means our public services – from firefighting, education and healthcare to local and central government – must become part of the solution themselves.

That’s why the TUC and unions are campaigning for a ‘Just Transition’ to a greener, fairer economy. See our accompanying course. Many unions are acting to green their workplaces and join wider environment campaigns.

A failure to make this transition fast enough on the part of governments and businesses makes it a trade union issue to step up and force the pace, locally, nationally and globally.

Solutions – A Just Transition and a Green New Deal

The UK government is formally committed to reducing the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, but its plan to meet that target has been found to be in breach of the Climate Change Act (2008) . Their updated plan, published in March 2023 failed to match up to the radical new policies that are required – a Just Transition, where unions play a part, and a Green New Deal to build a sustainable and fair society.

Change cannot wait. A Global Survey of young people’s understanding of the climate crisis in 2021 by Bath University found that

  • 45% felt sufficient anxiety about the climate crisis that it was affecting their daily lives and functioning and 59% were extremely worried
  • 75% find the future frightening
  • 58% said that governments were betraying them and future generations
  • 64% believed they were failing to act on the scale and at the speed required.

Fighting the climate emergency and inequality

We must confront the climate emergency and inequality and acknowledge the link between them. As global overheating continues, the gap between rich and poor has never been wider. The richer you are the more you consume.

  • The ownership and consumption patterns of the top 1% alone have been responsible for 25% of the increase in carbon emissions since 1990.
  • The emissions of the top 10%, those earning over $80,000 a year, will take us beyond the 1.5C limit on their own unless there is a rapid and drastic redistribution of wealth.

That applies within countries but also between them. Wanting to live like the wealthy do is not “aspirational”, its suicidal.

The poorest half of the world’s population are responsible for just 10% of daily carbon emissions. Yet developing nations are on the climate frontline, including many in sub-Saharan Africa, facing the greatest of extreme weather, and in Bangladesh, or the small island states, facing relentless sea rise. Yet they contribute the least per person to greenhouse gas emissions. The dual crisis of climate change and rising inequality are deeply interconnected.

No jobs on a dead planet

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.’ As Sharon Burrow, former ITUC General Secretary, said, ‘There are no jobs on a dead planet¹’.