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The Road Towards a Carbon Free Society: A Nordic-German Trade Union Cooperation on Just Transition

By Dr Philipp Fink - Friedrich Ebrt Stiftung, December 2020

This project, “The Road Towards a Carbon Free Society A Nordic-German Trade Union Cooperation on Just Transition”, is a collaboration between the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS), the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES) and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB).

Represented by the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS) in the project are 13 national Trade Union Confederations within NFS, from five Nordic Countries: Denmark (FH, Akademikerne), Finland (SAK, STTK), Iceland (ASÍ, BSRB, BHM), Norway (LO-N, Unio, YS) and Sweden (LO-S, TCO, Saco).

About the reports

A total of six country reports on the Just Transition path of the participating countries (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) have been formulated.

Each contains an analysis of the climate policies, economic and societal consequences, an evaluation of the respective national instruments and offers European perspectives.

The main findings of the country reports are brought together in a synthesis. It features policy recommendations that aim to help guide the transition to a decarbonised society and an economy that is just and sustainable. The reports and their results are presented and discussed in a series of events nationally as well as in terms of Nordic and European cooperation and at the international level.


A Just Transition towards a carbon neutral future is the most urgent environmental, social and economic issue of our times. This project aims to develop strategies and requirements from a trade union perspective on how to manage the process to a carbon free society.

The participating labour organisations are united in their vision that this goal can only be reached if the social costs of this transition process are socially mitigated.

This means harmonising efforts to combat climate change with the aim of ensuring decent working and living conditions.

To this end, the participating labour organisations have not only analysed their respective countries’ transition path towards a fossil free future but have also formulated joint policy recommendations for the national and European arenas, jointly adopted by the NFS and the DGB in November and December 2020.

The ensuing discussions and debate have strengthened the cooperation and dialogue between the Nordic and the German trade union movements on common challenges and solutions.

Read the text (Link).


When discussing Danish climate policy, its impacts on employees and, accordingly, elements of a Just Transition, it is important to consider the context of the Nordic/Danish model. As described by NFS (2018), the Nordic model, which implies – among other things – tripartite cooperation between trade unions, employers and the government, rests on three mutually supportive pillars: 1) organisation of working life through cooperation between the social partners and coordinated wage determination; 2) the welfare system and 3) economic policy. The model and approach may be helpful in coordination, realigning expectations and providing some predictability and flexibility in times of uncertainty. One reason for this is that the model provides flexibility for employers but also a high level of security to workers. It has generally served workers and businesses well in previous transitions, e.g. in the financial crisis and phases of globalisation. The Green Business Forum adopts some of the elements of the tripartite negotiations by inviting business and trade unions to discuss the framework conditions for the green transition with the government. It may be worth exploring how the model can best be used to support a green and Just Transition in the coming years.

Read the text (Link).


The government’s goal is to make Finland a carbon-neutral country by 2035. The objective of the government led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin is to turn Finland into the world’s first carbon-neutral welfare state by 2035 (Finnish Government 2020a). To achieve this, Finland must find new means to reduce emissions and strengthen carbon sinks. Finland’s present objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from non-emissions trading sectors at least 16 per cent by 2020 and 39 per cent by 2030 from the levels in 2005. Finland has finalised its national energy and climate plan, which was submitted to the EU Commission in December 2019 (Ministry of the Environment 2020).

The National Energy and Climate Strategy (NECP) outlines the actions that will enable Finland to reach the targets specified in the government programme and adopted in the EU for 2030, and to systematically set the course for achieving an 80−95 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Read the text (Link).


It is clear that Germany faces several challenges linked to climate change. Thus, climate and energy policy have been high on the political agenda for some years. Just last year (2019), the Climate Protection Act was passed. The legislation sets the goal of climate neutrality by 2050. Achieving climate neutrality requires a complete transformation of society and the economy.

To better illustrate the situation in Germany, some more detailed information is helpful: final energy consumption is divided between industry (29.5 per cent), transport (30 per cent), private households (25.5 per cent) and commerce and services (15 per cent) (BMWI 2019:5). This shows that measures must be taken in each sector, because final energy consumption is widely distributed among them. Of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2018, some 84 per cent were related to energy. In total, energy-related emissions equalled 752 mt of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) (Umweltbundesamt 2020a).

Therefore, by shifting the energy supply to climate-neutral sources, an 84 per cent reduction in emissions is possible. The remaining emissions originate from industrial processes (7.5 per cent)1, agriculture (7.3 per cent) and waste management.

Read the text (Link).


GHG emissions per capita in Iceland are almost twice as high as the EU average. The main GHG emitting sectors in the Icelandic economy are air and water transport, manufacturing of basic metals, agriculture, fisheries and road transport. In 2017 almost 90 per cent of the GHG emissions were in sectors that generated 25 per cent of gross output and employed 20 per cent of the workforce. In 2017 exports contributed 46 per cent of Iceland´s GDP, mostly from carbon-intensive sectors such as basic metals manufacturing, fisheries and tourism.

The revised Climate Action Plan for Iceland is coherent and gives a clear overview of the government´s goals and policies for the reduction of GHG emissions. However, the proposed actions are not sufficient for reaching the government’s goal of a 40 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. In December 2020, a more ambitious goal of 55 per cent reduction was set by the Icelandic government in cooperation with the EU and Norway. The goal remains to be established since no further actions have been introduced.

The strongest policies for reduction of GHG emissions in Iceland cover road transport. Carbon is taxed and carbon-free alternatives, vehicles and charging stations, are subsidised. The tax disproportionately burdens low-income groups and the subsidies benefit higher income groups. Comprehensive policies to reduce GHGs in agriculture and fisheries are lacking and today, air and water transport are not accountable for any reduction goals.

Climate change will affect output in most basic industries in Iceland, but the impact is unclear in the medium term. Iceland needs a coherent policy to get it on the path to a low carbon economy consisting of investment plans for adaptation and new technologies, educational schemes and active labour market policies for decent jobs.

Given the urgency of the issue of climate change and the importance of Just Transition, ASÍ, BSRB and BHM propose the establishment of a special working group within the Economic Council to lay the foundation for successful structural change for a sustainable future.

Read the text (Link).


Just Transition means that decent work and social protection are provided for those whose livelihoods, incomes and employment are affected by the need to act against and adapt to climate change, and this is done through socially responsible green investments and zeroemission development strategies.

In Norway the trade union movement has fought and won several of the rights connected with a Just Transition. But no right is won forever, and we still need to fight for these rights.

We need better measures to ensure that people can get access to new skills and lifelong learning. In Norway we have seen that workers’ access to training and skills development has been reduced in recent years and in 2019 the number of workers participating in lifelong learning activities was at its lowest level in ten years. This negative development is particularly strong for workers aged over 50. Unfortunately, we have seen less investment in upskilling and competence over the recent years. However, the corona pandemic has probably reversed this trend.

Read the text (Link).


The purpose of Sweden’s climate policy framework is to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Sweden aims to be climate neutral in 2045 and have negative emissions thereafter.1 By 2045, territorial emissions from activities in Sweden should be at least 85 per cent lower than they were in 1990. With the current population size, this would mean territorial emissions equivalent to 0.8 tonnes per capita.

There are also sub-targets. By 2030, Swedish emissions in the sectors covered by the EU Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) should be 63 per cent lower than in 1990 and, by 2040, should be 75 per cent lower than in 1990.

Read the text (Link).


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