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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.

Labour and Environmental Sustainability

By Juan Escribano Gutiérrez, in collaboration with Paolo Tomassetti - Adapt, December 2020

There is consensus that the separation between labour and the environment, as well as that between the legal disciplines that regulate both domains, is meaningless and outdated. Since business activities affect the health and the environment of workers and human beings, synergies between the two spheres have to be created. Yet there is still a long way to go in order to bring together labour and environmental regulation.

In all the selected countries (France, the Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain) the legal systems regulating salaried work, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other hand, remain disconnected, although no formal obstacles exist to their integration. With regard to the scope for collective bargaining to become a means to integrate both spheres, no legal restrictions apply in any of the framework considered, although explicit references to workers and employers (or their representatives) to bargain over environmental aspects are far less evident.

It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour and environmental regulation. Despite research shows how the social partners, especially trade unions, are more and more willing to negotiate environmental aspects, the narrative on the trade-off between labour and the environment is still evident, especially in the Hungarian context. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.

One explanation is that the legal mechanisms in place to limit the impact of business activity on the environment (i.e. environmental law) legitimize firms to consider environmental aspects as their own prerogative. For this reason, in some legal systems, employers tend to discuss environmental commitments outside collective bargaining, including them into corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanisms. By doing so, the company avoids enforceability, limiting the effectiveness of the tools to regulate environmental issues.

Read the text (Link).

The Hydrogen Hype: Gas Industry Fairy Tale or Climate Horror Story?

By Belén Balanyá, Gaëtane Charlier, Frida Kieninger and Elena Gerebizza - Corporate Europe Observatory, December 2020

Industry’s hydrogen hype machine is in full swing. An analysis of over 200 documents obtained through freedom of information rules reveals an intense and concerted lobbying campaign by the gas industry in the EU. The first goal was convincing the EU to embrace hydrogen as the ‘clean’ fuel of the future. Doing so has secured political, financial, and regulatory support for a hydrogen-based economy. The second task was securing support for hydrogen derived from fossil fuels as well as hydrogen made from renewable electricity. Successful lobbying means the gas industry can look forward to a lucrative future, but this spells grave danger for the climate as well as the communities and ecosystems impacted by fossil fuel extractivism.

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).

Blueprint for Europe's Just Transition: The Green New Deal for Europe (Edition II)

By various - The Green New Deal for Europe, December 2019

Europe today confronts three overlapping crises.

The first is an economic crisis, with rising levels of poverty, insecurity, and homelessness across the continent. The second is a climate and environmental crisis, with severe consequences for Europe’s front-line communities and even more perilous ones on the horizon. And the third is a crisis of democracy. Across the continent, people are disconnected from the locus of political decision-making not only in Brussels, but also in the communities where they reside.

These crises are products of Europe’s political decisions, and they are closely bound together. The promotion of extractive growth has driven environmental breakdown, and the devotion to budget austerity — over and above the democratic needs expressed in communities across Europe — has constrained our capacity to respond to it.

A radically new approach is necessary to reverse this destructive trend — and to deliver environmental justice in Europe and around the world. We call this approach the Green New Deal for Europe, and the following report is a comprehensive policy pack-age charting a course through Europe’s just transition.

Read the report (PDF).

Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign

By Chrislain Eric Kenfack - University of Alberta, 2019

In the current context of climate change and its accompanying adverse effects on natural, human and social systems, the imperative of transitioning to low- and preferably post-carbon societies has become a non-negotiable reality if we want to avoid reaching the point of no return in terms of environmental and climate catastrophe. Such a transition requires that the interests and needs of workers and their communities be taken into consideration to make sure they do not bear the heaviest part of the burden in terms of loss of jobs and means of survival, and that they are prepared to face the new, post-carbon labour environment.

The concept of Just Transition was coined to describe both the socio-political project put forward by trade unions in response to climate change, and the recognition by climate activists that the livelihoods and security of workers and their communities must be ensured during the transition to a post-carbon society. However, just transition movements are divided between two quite different orientations, which are labelled “affirmative” and “transformative.” On the one hand, affirmative just transition advocates envisage a transition within the current political-economic system. Transformative just transition activists, on the other hand, envisage a post-capitalist transition.

This article, drawing upon an extensive case study of the Portuguese climate jobs campaign, goes beyond showing how these orientations shape the positions taken by union and climate activists. The article also analyses how the conflicts and cooperation between these key actors can shed light on the possibilities and/or limitations of just transition as a framework for the collective action needed to achieve rapid, deep decarbonisation of economies in the Global North context.

Read the report (PDF).

Why we need a European Green New Deal

By Srećko Horvat - ROARMag, February 14, 2019

The damage caused by air pollution is now being compared to the effects of tobacco use. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution poses the greatest environmental threat to global health in 2019, killing seven million people prematurely every year, which is around the number of deaths caused by cigarettes.

No wonder a common joke about air pollution in contemporary India says that “living in Delhi is just like smoking 50 cigarettes in a day.”

Or that a joke in China even suggests ways of dealing with the air pollution in the best Graucho Marx manner: “Individual therapy: put a mask on. Family therapy: buy health insurance. If you have money and the time: go on holiday. If you’ve no class: emigrate. National therapy: wait for the wind.”

Unfortunately, as usually with dark humor, the joke is reality. When in January 2017 China announced the first ever nationwide red level fog alarm, haze-avoidance soon became a trend and hundreds of thousands of Chinese would start traveling abroad during winter months — when pollution is critical — specifically to escape air pollution. At the same time, those who do not have the means to escape have to stay with masks and literally wait for… air.

When we hear or read about air pollution, we immediately think of India or China. Yet the death rate from air pollution in Hungary happens to be the second highest in the world, coming just behind China. As many as 10,000 people die prematurely in the country each year because of diseases linked to air pollution.

In 2018, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a report showing that air pollution causes almost 500,000 premature deaths in Europe every year. The report warned that the toll on health was worse in Eastern European countries than China and India.

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).

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