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European Trade Union Congress (ETUC)

The promise and perils of Biden’s climate policy

By unknown - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is properly recognised as the largest climate policy in US history. In this short essay I will first summarise and comment on its provisions, then outline the reactions to it, with a focus on labour unions, and will close by providing my own thoughts.

The IRA allocates around $370 billion over a period of ten years. About 75% of that is in the form of incentives (rather than direct investments or regulatory mandates) to advance the transition to ‘clean energy’ that includes renewables but also nuclear power, biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration. These incentives focus primarily on advancing the production of clean energy but also on stimulating its consumption. Smaller energy investments focus on tackling pollution in poorer communities and on conservation and rural development.

The IRA also authorises as much as $350 billion of loans to be disbursed by the Department of Energy. While such loans have been around since the Bush Administration, the amounts and the likelihood that they will be used during the Biden Administration are much higher. Finally, its main regulatory provision is the designation of carbon, methane and other heat-trapping emissions from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas wells as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, one of the bedrocks of US environmental legislation, which the Environmental Protection Agency implements. Overall, it is estimated that by 2030 the IRA will help reduce emissions by around 40% of 2005 levels, compared to the about 25% reduction projected without it. 

However, the policy mandates that renewable energy siting permits cannot be approved during any year unless accompanied by the opening up of 2 million acres of land or 60 million acres of ocean to oil and gas leasing bids, respectively, during the prior year (for more details see 50265 of Act). In either case, the amount of actual leasing and drilling is subject to market dynamics rather than regulatory limits, while the Act also streamlines the permitting process for pipelines. The growing transition to electric vehicles will lessen the market for oil but the strategic repositioning of natural gas in energy production (as well as plastics) suggests that it (along with nuclear power) will be a long-term source of energy, including in the production of hydrogen. Nevertheless, overall, it is the prevailing view that the IRA will decisively transition the US into renewable energy as part of a broader energy mix.

Democratising Work in the 21st Century

By Isabelle Ferreras - Green European Journal, September 14, 2022

With digitalisation and shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather, the world of work is changing rapidly. But this transformation should not become an inevitability that workers must passively endure. Rather, it should be a democratic process shaped and decided by workers themselves. On the sidelines of the European Trade Union Institute’s Blueprint for equality conference, we sat down with Isabelle Ferreras, who has co-authored a new book calling for a re-organisation of the economy, to discuss democratising work in the 21st century.

Green European Journal: Digitalisation and automation are transforming how we work. How do you see the new face of work?

Isabella Ferreras: What is most notable about digitalisation is the loss of work’s physicality. As soon as jobs adopt technological tools that allow remote or computer-assisted working, workers cease to come together in the same place. In Marx’s analysis of the first age of industrial capitalism, the concentration of workers in factories was an important factor in the development of class consciousness. It enabled the working class to shift from what he called a “class in itself” to a “class for itself”. The opportunity to come together in one place, at a frequency imposed by industrial capitalism, meant that workers could get to know one another, take their breaks together, talk to one another. They realised that they shared very similar lives and problems that needed shared solutions.

The digitalisation of the economy individualises the experience of work. You might find an engineer based in Delhi, another in Boston, and a third who is subcontracted to write some lines of code from South Africa or Ukraine all working on the same project. All these people interact via an online platform, without getting to know one another and without the opportunity to realise that they are all part of the same “work investment” necessary for a business. By work investment, I mean all the workers required to successfully produce something or provide a service.

So the fragmentation of work, brought about by digitalisation, leads to a less social experience of work and, in the end, a loss of power for workers?

As this fragmentation has taken root, workers have grown more aware. Workers aspire to something else. We can see this in two ways. First, since the pandemic, there is a massive rise in people changing careers because they aspire to more meaningful work. There was a real misery for “non-essential” workers slaving away in front of their computers, stuck at home with this interface. In the hope of keeping their workers, some British companies have embarked on a full-scale experiment: the biggest ever trial of a four-day working week has just begun in the UK. About 50 businesses are implementing it, offering a better work-life balance for the same salary. Workers are expected to be just as productive over four days and gain a better quality of life.

Second, businesses are going to great lengths to improve job satisfaction. This is essentially a retention strategy whereby companies work to increase job satisfaction so that employees remain loyal. Employers are giving workers more say in decisions that affect them, such as combining working from home and the office.

In France, a survey conducted by the Association Pour l’Emploi des Cadres (APEC) in January 2021 revealed that 9 out of 10 managers are listening much more, building bonds within teams, and empowering employees as a result of the pandemic. This is an opportunity to be seized. On 16 December 2021, the European Parliament passed a historic resolution demanding, among other things, a revision of the European Works Council Directive. In Democratize Work, we call for a collective veto right for workers so that they can influence decisions taken by company boards or works councils.

The opposite trend is the growing physicality of work in the care sector. What does the rising need for care, both for people and the planet, mean for the world of work?

Alongside the trend towards automation is a realisation that we’re going to need more human labour and, let’s hope, not more unrecognised and unpaid exploitation. Taking care of both the planet and other human beings, like through public services, requires more and more work but nobody is talking about paying for this work. Neglecting the remuneration side of care comes from misconceptions about the future of work.

The intrinsic content of all jobs has changed with each technological revolution. But the key issue we must grasp here is that there’s much more work for us to do so that we’re no longer dependent on our energy slaves [the quantity of energy required to replace human labour]. We must also formalise that part of the care sector which just exploits women’s labour. Equalising living standards and giving men and women the same number of opportunities means investing massively in childcare, for example.

Trade Union Papers and Positions

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, June 14, 2022

IndustriAll policy brief on the energy crisis

In a policy brief, IndustriAll union analyses the causes and effects of the recent energy price increases with a thorough criticism of the response measures being taken at the EU level. The policy brief notes that the observed rise in energy prices in the EU in 2021 was mainly driven by price developments in EU and international commodity markets, while the gas price on wholesale markets has reached unprecedented levels. It also adds that the impact of the commodity price increase on electricity goes beyond the share of the related commodities in the power generation due to the applied price-setting mechanism. This means that an electricity mix made of a majority of decarbonised sources, but requiring fossil-based sources to ensure part of its supply, is also exposed to the price increase of fossil-based electricity. Europe`s structural dependence on energy imports has even increased in the last decades, as in 2019, 61% of its gross energy consumption relied on imported energy products. IndustriAll also points to the investment challenge the EU is facing: beyond the electricity grid investment needs, reaching the EU 2030 emission reduction target would require €438 bn of additional annual investment, equivalent to 2.7-3% of GDP, while current investment commitments are massively falling short of this. The paper also claims that, not least due to market liberalisation, the EU has a fragmented energy supply chain where final consumers bear risk. An overview is provided about the response measures member states have undertaken to alleviate the effect of the price increases on consumers, from the temporary reduction of energy-related taxes and levies to handouts and `energy cheques`. The EU has recently published a toolbox to tackle energy prices. This document lists the initiatives that Member States can implement within the framework of the EU Energy and Single Market rules. Compensation measures and direct support for poor end-users, safeguards against disconnections, tax reductions, reform of the renewable support schemes, and the provision of state aid to companies and industries are among the most important recommendations to Member States.

IndustriAll argues that while reaching climate neutrality must remain the EU’s main objective, the current geopolitical situation and its impact on energy supplies and costs demand the mobilisation of all available means to secure affordable energy for all in the coming months.

IndustriAll Just Transition Manifesto

IndustriAll Europe launched a Just Transition Manifesto as the measures of the Fit for 55 package that implement European Green Deal objectives are taking their final shape. The union stresses that 25 million industrial workers in Europe potentially face restructuring and job losses due to the green transformation - exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, digitalisation, trade and market developments and a volatile geopolitical situation.

The manifesto is calling to policymakers Europe to ensure a transition to a green economy that is fair and just to ALL workers, and that does not destroy but preserves and creates good quality jobs. It speaks out for a transition that is anticipated, managed and negotiated with workers for every aspect that concerns them. For achieving this, the union demands a comprehensive Just Transition framework that provides guarantees for adequate resources, is based on effective policy planning, promotes and strengthen workers’ rights, and involves trade unions through intense social dialogue. 

The main demands of the manifesto are:

  • An industrial policy fit for ambitious climate goals and good quality jobs.
  • Adequate resources to fund the transition.
  • Stronger collective bargaining and social dialogue to negotiate the transitions.
  • A toolbox of workers’ rights and companies’ duties to anticipate and shape the change.
  • Tackling new skills needs and a right to quality training and life-long learning for every worker to support the Just Transition.

Decarbonizing energy intensive industries: what are the risks and opportunities for jobs?

Balancing objectives? Just transition in national recovery and resilience plans

By Sotiria Theodoropoulou, Mehtap Akgüç, and Jakob Wall - European Trade Union Institute, June 2022

This paper assesses how well national recovery and resilience plans (NRRPs) aim at jointly tackling the social and climate/environmental challenges of recovery from the crisis and the transition to a net zero carbon socioeconomic model. Drawing on the conceptual frameworks proposed by Mandelli (forthcoming) and by Sabato et al. (2021) on how economic, social and green objectives can be integrated in general, and more particularly in the EU Recovery Policy framework, this paper goes a step further and examines NRRP documents as well as secondary evidence from, among others, the assessments of the European Commission. We develop some indicators which operationalise, at ‘bird’s eye view’ level, the balance between policy interventions aiming at social and green objectives and which explore how well they promote the concept of ‘just transition’. Moreover, the paper looks in more detail at the plans of France, Greece and Germany to provide more qualitative evidence on how these countries have articulated their proposed policy interventions to have a joint impact(s) on both green and social objectives.

Our analysis suggests that planned spending from the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) is tilted in favour of green transition objectives relative to social objectives. This might be a reason for concern about a new imbalance at the expense of the EU’s social dimension, beyond that already in existence with regard to the economic dimension; namely that there is an imbalance between the environmental/green dimension and the social one. Such a new imbalance, however, will also depend on a Member State’s capacity to cushion the impacts of the green transition beyond the use of RRF funds.

On the way to net-zero mobility: what does this mean for European automobile jobs?

Working-class environmentalism and just transition struggles in the Americas

Challenges and perspectives of a just transition in Europe

Just Transition Partnership 2021 Manifesto: Action to Turn Just Transition Rhetoric into Reality

By Matthew Crighton - Just Transition Partnership, September 2021

The Just Transition Partnership was formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Trade Union Congress in 2016. Membership includes Unite Scotland, UNISON Scotland, UCU Scotland, CWU Scotland, PCS Scotland, and WWF Scotland. We advocate for action to protect workers’ livelihoods, create new jobs, and deliver a fairer Scotland as part of the move to a low-carbon economy.

Ahead of the Holyrood 2021 elections, and in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are calling for all parties to commit to policies which move beyond warm words and can deliver decent green jobs now while laying foundations for a sustainable, inclusive economy in the future.

Industrial policy in Europe and new “Fit for 55” proposals

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, August 30, 2021

For a fair and effective industrial climate transition is a working paper newly published by the European Trade Union Institute, evaluating the support mechanisms for heavy industry (such as steel, cement and chemicals) over the past twenty years. Looking specifically at Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, the paper describes and evaluates policies related to the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), energy tariffs, and other taxes and subsidies at the national level. The authors conclude that the policies have largely been defensive and insufficiently ambitious, and have had negative distributional effects. They call for a more cooperative approach across EU national jurisdictions, and highlight some “best case” current practices, particularly from the Netherlands. Finally, the paper makes specific suggestions for future transition roadmaps which incorporate a “polluter pays” approach, and which incorporate an environmental and social evaluation of all subsidies, tax breaks and other support mechanisms.

The ETUI working paper was completed before the European Commission announced its  ‘Fit for 55’ package on July 14 – proposals for legislative reforms to reduce emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 . Fit for 55 includes comprehensive and controversial proposals which must survive negotiation and debate before becoming law, but offer reforms to the Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Taxation Directive, the Energy Efficiency Directive, and the European ETS, including a carbon border adjustment mechanism. Also included: a circular economy action plan, an EU biodiversity strategy, and agricultural reform. The Guardian offers an Explainer here; the Washington Post calls the scope of the proposals “unparalleled”, and highlights for example the transportation proposals, which mandate reducing new vehicles’ average emissions by 55 percent in 2030 and 100 percent in 2035, which “amounts to an outright ban of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 ….”.

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