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Global Just Transition case studies from a trade union viewpoint

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 14, 2021

Just Transition: Putting planet, people and jobs first” is the theme of a special issue of Equal Times, published in December 2020. The compilation of articles provides a trade union point of view to describe the just transition experiences in Bangladesh, Tunisia, Argentina, and Senegal, as well as the more frequently cited experiences in Spain and Scotland. The complete Special Issue is here , and was supported financially by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Although Spain’s 2018 agreement regarding coal transition is well known, this article is a welcome English-language text, translated from the original Spanish version written by Spanish journalist María José Carmona. Another useful English text on the topic is The Just Transition Strategy within the Strategic Energy and Climate Framework, translated and published by the Spanish government in 2019. And an earlier report from the Central Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) provides brief summaries of Spanish and other Just Transition frameworks, in A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada (2019). It covers Germany, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, and Canada in a brief 32 pages.

Employment Aspects of the Transition from Fossil Fuels in Australia

By Jim Stanford - Centre for Future Work, December 16, 2020

Climate change poses a fundamental threat to the well-being and security of people everywhere. And Australia is on the front lines of the challenge. We have already experienced some of the fastest and most intense consequences of climate change, in many forms: extreme heat, droughts, floods, extreme weather and catastrophic bushfires (as in 2019-20). Climate change is no longer an abstract or hypothetical worry. It is a clear and present danger, and we are already paying for it: with more frequent disasters, soaring insurance premiums, and measurable health costs.

The problem of climate change is global; emissions and pollution do not respect national borders. But to address the global threat, every country must play its part. And Australia has a special responsibility to act, and quickly, for several reasons:

  • We are suffering huge costs because of climate change.
    We are a rich country, that can afford to invest in stabilising the climate.
  • We are one of the worst greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters in the world.
  • In fact, as shown in Figure 1, Australia has the highest GHG emissions per capita of any of the 36 industrial countries in the

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Our emissions – around 22 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for every Australian – are almost twice as high as the OECD average. We emit 4 times per person more than the average Swede.

Worse yet, Australia has been very slow in addressing climate change with effective and consistent policies. Climate policy has become a political wedge issue, subject to reversals and changes in direction depending on the fleeting political imperatives of the day. After a temporary decline (largely sparked by a short-lived national carbon tax, which was then abolished in 2014), Australia’s total emissions have increased again in recent years (see Figure 2). Under existing policies, emissions are projected to stay at or above current levels over the coming decade.

Read the text (PDF).

Unions and Youth together: A Just Transition for climate ambition

After the Hazelwood coal fired power station closure: Latrobe Valley regional transition policies and outcomes 2017-2020

By John Wiseman, Annabelle Workman, Sebastian Fastenrath, and Frank Jotzo - Crawford School of Public Policy, November 2020

This paper reviews and evaluates key policy initiatives and strategies designed to strengthen regional economic, social and environmental outcomes in the Latrobe Valley (Victoria, Australia) in the three years following the closure of the Hazelwood power station. Prior to its sudden closure in March 2017, Hazelwood was the most carbon-intensive electricity generator in Australia. The debate over the future of Hazelwood became an icon in the nation’s ongoing political struggle over climate and energy policy.

Employment and economic outcomes in the three years since closure indicate promising initial progress in creating the foundations required to facilitate an equitable transition to a more prosperous and sustainable regional economy. The Hazelwood case study provides support for a number of propositions about successful regional energy transition including that well managed, just transitions to a prosperous zero-carbon economy are likely to be strengthened by proactive, well integrated industry policy and regional renewal strategies; respectful and inclusive engagement with workers and communities; and adequately funded, well-coordinated public investment in economic and community strategies, tailored to regional strengths and informed by local experience.

Read the text (PDF).

A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada

By Pia Björkbacka - The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK, June 26, 2020

Both the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the target of carbon neutrality by the year 2035 set out in the government programme of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin refer to a just transition for workers towards a low-carbon society. Such a just transition has long been sought by the trade union movement and is an important condition for achieving ambitious climate policy objectives.

The programme of the Marin government states that the government will work with labour market organisations to harmonise economic and labour market policies. Achieving climate objectives will also require co-operation with the social partners, and sectoral assessments in particular.

A just transition has been selected as one approach to reaching the target of a carbon neutral Finland by 2035. The government will pledge to implement emission reduction measures in a socially and regionally equitable way that involves all sectors of society. The government programme envisages establishing a round table on climate policy in Finland under the committee on sustainable development. Bringing together the various actors in society will ensure that climate measures serve the general interests of society and enjoy broad public support.

(Government Programme of Prime Minister Marin 2019)

The implementation of climate policy is causing restructuring in various sectors, meaning that climate policy decisions and actions also have social implications.

The European Commission has estimated that mitigating climate change will create more jobs in the European Union than it will cost (European Commission, 2019), but the changes will be sectoral. Even though labour market restructuring – which is also guided by climate policy - is creating new employment opportunities, it also brings fears of unemployment.

Realising employment opportunities requires substantial investment in employee skills and innovation. It is very important for the benefits and costs of low-carbon restructuring to be evenly shared across various sectors, occupations, population groups and regions. Successfully transitioning to a carbon-neutral society will not only require emission reduction measures and business and energy policies, but also employment, social welfare, education and regional policies.

The principle of a just transition will seek to meet these challenges. This means implementing emission reductions in a way that is fair to workers. It is about creating new, decent and sustainable jobs, in-service training for new employment, and security of earnings. The goal of a just transition is to increase the participation and commitment of workers in deciding policies for mitigating climate change nationally, regionally and within businesses, thereby promoting a smooth transition to a carbon-neutral society.

Read the text (PDF).

(Working Paper #13) Transition in Trouble?: The Rise and Fall of "Community Energy" in Europe

By Sean Sweeney, John Treat and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 2020

This TUED Working Paper explores the current crisis of local, community, and cooperative energy. Our focus is Europe where these types of initiatives have made the most progress but now find themselves facing an uncertain future. In this paper we will explain what happened, and why. The goals of this paper are twofold.

The first goal is to draw a clear line of demarcation between the bold claims being made in the name of local and community energy, “energy citizenship,” and similar concepts on the one hand, and the cur-rent reality on the other—a reality that largely confines local energy initiatives to the margins of energy systems. In the case of Europe, the distance between the claims and the reality is vast, and it is widening.

Local and community energy has attracted a lot of support and enthusiasm from activists, and it is not hard to understand why this is the case. Efforts to advance community energy are frequently carried out in the name of a commitment to social justice, advancing equality, and empowering ordinary people to take a more active role in the transition to a low carbon future. Additionally, the activists and organizations undertaking such initiatives nearly always identify with a “values-driven” mission and aim to rise above considerations of personal gain or private profit.

For a period, it seemed that such initiatives were emerging everywhere across Europe. The growth of renewable energy and the proliferation of citizen and community ownership seemed to be in-separable from each other. Spurred on by falling costs of wind and solar technologies, a radical transition in energy ownership—and a shift in control away from large energy companies to small producers and consumers—seemed not only possible, but perhaps even imminent.

But recent policy changes in Europe have placed community energy into a pattern of decline. The removal of subsidies, particularly the Feed-in Tariff, and other incentives has led to a dramatic slow-down in local energy initiatives and cooperatives. The number of households installing solar photovoltaic panels (solar PV) has slowed to a crawl as onshore wind projects have also declined. While offshore wind installations are increasing, the total level of investment and deployment of renew-able energy in Europe has fallen dramatically.

Read the report (PDF).

Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future

By staff - UAW Research Department, January 2020

The American automotive industry is constantly evolving and, throughout the union’s history, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has fought to ensure industry changes result in quality jobs that benefit workers and the economy.

The auto industry is facing a new shift in technology with the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs). This shift is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing. But this opportunity will be lost if EVs or their components are imported or made by low-road suppliers who underpay workers. In order to preserve American jobs and work standards, what is needed is a proactive industrial policy that creates high-quality manufacturing jobs making EVs and their components.

Read the text (PDF).

German Unions Are Waking up to the Climate Disaster

By Mark Bergfield - Jacobin, August 16, 2019

The call to stop the production of coal and cars often sounds like a threat to jobs. But German trade unions have realized that the green transition needs to happen — and they’re fighting to make sure it’s bosses, not workers, who pay for climate justice.

If the summer holidays interrupted the school walkouts, the teenager-led Fridays for Future movement hasn’t let up its fight to save the planet. Ever since the start of the movement, leaders like Sweden’s Greta Thunberg and Germany’s Luisa Neubauer have worked to build broader social ties than previous generations of environmental activists, including with organized labor. In this spirit, September 20 will see the beginning of the “Earth Strike,” a planned week-long general strike around the world to stop production and draw political attention to the climate emergency.

The need to “save jobs” has historically been counterposed to the call to shut down harmful industries. Yet the sheer scale of the catastrophe we face has focused minds on the need to overcome the divide between green and labor activism. In particular, the mainstreaming of the demand for “climate justice” — arguing that the poor, vulnerable, and exploited shouldn’t be the ones paying for the transition to a green carbon-neutral economy — has shown that saving the planet and social justice really can go hand in hand. This is epitomized by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a Green New Deal.

Germany has an especially deep-seated history of ecological mobilization, with even radical campaigns enjoying wide popular support. Its environmental movement has historically been characterized by a strong anti-authoritarian current — indeed, in the 1970s and 1980s, the movement to halt nuclear-waste transports used forms of civil disobedience associated with the US civil rights struggle.

Unlike in many other countries, these movements are not on the fringes of politics but are deeply rooted in neighborhoods and communities. Yet whatever the strength of climate activism, labor unions have traditionally remained aloof from green struggles. But now, riding the wave driven by the Fridays for Future movement, organized labor is beginning to adopt the call for the green transition as its own.

Towards a just transition: coal, cars and the world of work

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2019

The role of trade unions and social dialogue is key in demonstrating the major differences between coal-based energy generation and the automobile industry. This book presents two faces of a just transition towards a net-zero carbon economy by drawing lessons from these two carbon-intensive sectors. The authors regard just transition not as an abstract concept, but as a real practice in real workplaces. While decarbonisation itself is a common objective, particular transitions take place in work environments that are themselves determined by the state of the capital-labour relationship, with inherent conflicts of interest, during the transition process.

The case studies presented in this book highlight the major differences between these two sectors in the nature and magnitude of the challenge, how transition practices are applied and what role the actors play.

Read the report (Link).

Beyond Coal by 2030

By Florent Marcellesi and Joanna Flisowska - Green European Journal, November 29, 2018

The COP24 climate talks in Katowice, Poland are set to start on December 2. This year, the negotiations follow a clear warning from the global climate science community, which highlighted in the recent IPCC report that urgent steps are needed to slow global warming. Without action, the world faces the grim prospect of extreme weather events and a massive loss of species. Florent Marcellesi, Green MEP, and Joanna Flisowska, coal policy coordinator at Climate Action Network Europe, discuss COP, the energy global transition, and the gender dimension of climate change.

Green European Journal: In a matter of days, almost 200 countries will meet in Katowice, a city at the heart of a Polish coal mining region, to try and finalise the details of how the Paris Agreement will be put into force. Increasingly, the main timeline for taking steps to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5, now seems impossible. Where are we going into the talks?

Joanna Flisowska: The objective of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees was in the Paris agreement from the very beginning. But with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we found out just how urgent it has become to act on climate change. The report brings the impact of climate change beyond the 1.5-degree mark to light and shows how disastrous and far-reaching it will be.

Florent Marcellesi: The IPCC report is a tipping point. We can now clearly say that we have to go faster and act with greater ambition for two main reasons. First, the drastic consequences if we do not. In Spain, from now to the end of the century the soil could become a desert and Spanish people could end up as climate refugees. Second, the opportunities. Achieving the 1.5-degrees limit means people living healthier lives and the creation of new and better jobs. Climate change will have negative consequences for the economy and for identity, traditions, and culture too as it disrupts ways of life. But we must turn it into an opportunity and act with commitment to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement.

The IPCC report sets out some potential pathways for the world to stabilise global warming at 1.5 degrees. These depend on an unprecedented effort to cut fossil-fuel use, among which coal is a particularly high source of carbon emissions. How can we transition from coal to clean energy sources?

Joanna Flisowska: The way forward is somewhat different depending on whether we look at the global perspective or the EU one. The EU has to consider its historical contribution to today’s climate change and must therefore reduce emissions even faster than the rest of world. According to many scientific studies, the fastest and most effective way to stay on the path to 1.5 degrees is to phase out coal by 2030 at the latest. This assessment is certainly true and is why environmentalists are emphasising that coal has to be phased out in order for the EU to reduce its emissions in a timely and cost-effective manner. Today’s reliance on coal can be overcome through renewables, investments in energy efficiency, storage, and with better management of electricity networks.

Florent Marcellesi: We are phasing out of coal for two reasons. The first is economic: coal is not profitable right now. Many plants are closing simply because it cannot compete with renewables. But second, we need to phase out coal well before 2040 for ecological reasons. The IPCC was very clear on that point and, for Europe, a coal phase-out has to mean 2030 at the latest. In some countries like Spain, coal plants must be closed even earlier by 2025.

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