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European Trade Union Institute (ETUI)

Response measures to the energy crisis: policy targeting and climate trade-offs

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, November 2023

Were national response measures to the energy crisis targeted, and were they social and climate friendly? 

These are the main questions addressed by this book, which examines whether and how short-term national responses to the cost of energy crisis applied social and ecological preferences. Europe has ‘survived’ two much-feared winters without energy shortages, power cuts and recession, showing a considerable level of resilience. Between September 2021 and August 2023, EU Member States allocated almost 700 billion euros to shield consumers and industry from rising energy costs. Were these resources properly targeted and is there a climate dividend? The national case studies included in this book reveal that the measures were mostly broad-based, including subsidies, tax cuts and price controls. The chapters also address questions on how such policies tackled the conflicting objectives and examine whether there are any good practices that can be identified in which short-term social protection can be aligned with longer term ecological objectives.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

The labour-environment nexus: Exploring new frontiers in labour law

GreenReads: IPCC 6th assessment report: New dire European State of the Climate report

By Willy De Backer - European Trade Union Institute, May 2, 2023

IPCC 6th assessment report – synthesis

On 20 March 2023, climate scientists published another ‘last warning’ on the climate emergency. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the synthesis report of its 6th assessment on the state of the global climate crisis. This synthesis draws together all the main findings of the three working group reports which were already published in 2021 and 2022.

The IPCC press release points to the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are still rising globally, and demands more ambitious actions to secure a ‘liveable future for all’. For a longer summary of the main messages of this synthesis report, read the analyses by Carbon Brief and the World Resources Institute.

Despite these scientifically alarming reports, the IPCC’s political impact in terms of real effective climate policies remains extremely low and therefore every cycle of reports leads to a more fundamental critique of the organisation’s way of working.

Hereunder, a collection of links to some of the critical articles we found on this new IPCC report:

ETUI training on energy poverty

By Ioannis Gkoutzamanis and Franklin Kimbimbi - European Trade Union Institute, May 2, 2023

In February 2023, the Education Department of the ETUI, in partnership with the French General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and the Institute of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), led a training activity at the CGT training centre in the suburbs of Paris called 'Energy poverty in the spotlight'.

Energy poverty is a pressing issue in the EU that can seriously affect the quality of life of its residents. Energy poverty is the inability to access and afford adequate energy services such as warmth, cooling and lighting. In the EU, at least 50 million people lived in energy poverty before Covid-19 (EPSU, 2021), with approximately 25 million households at risk of suffering from its effects. Lower-income families who cannot meet their basic energy needs are the most affected. The causes of energy poverty are multidimensional: low incomes, poor-quality homes, high energy prices, and energy-inefficient appliances.

Despite the complexity of issues behind energy poverty, this phenomenon is not set in stone. Civil society organisations such as consumer associations, alone or in association with trade unions, can play a critical role in reducing energy poverty by raising awareness, empowering communities, providing education and training, conducting research, and advocating for policies and programmes that address the issue:

  1. Advocacy and awareness-raising: civil society organisations and trade unions can raise awareness about the impacts of energy poverty and advocate for policies and programmes that address it, including increased investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and access to affordable energy for low-income households.
  2. Community engagement and empowerment: civil society organisations and trade unions can work with communities to identify their energy needs and help them develop solutions appropriate to their context, such as developing community-led renewable energy projects or energy-saving initiatives.
  3. Education and training: civil society organisations and trade unions can provide education and training to individuals and communities on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy management, helping them to reduce their energy consumption and costs.
  4. Research and data collection civil society organisations and trade unions can conduct research and collect data on the impact of energy poverty on individuals and communities, helping to inform policies and programs to address it.
  5. Partnerships and collaboration: civil society organisations and trade unions can partner with governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders to mobilise resources and expertise to address energy poverty and ensure sustainable and effective solutions.
  6. Direct assistance and support: civil society organisations can provide direct assistance and support to low-income households, including the provision of energy-efficient appliances, insulation, and other measures that can help reduce energy costs and improve living conditions

Tackling energy poverty in the EU requires a coordinated effort from governments, businesses and communities. By implementing a combination of strategies (e.g. increasing access to energy-efficient housing, or implementing social policies targeted at low-income families, older people, or those living in remote areas), it will be possible to reduce energy poverty and ensure that everyone in Europe has access to affordable and sustainable energy.

Further information:

Provisional agreement on energy efficiency: lights and shadows

By Paolo Tomassetti - European Trade Union Institute, May 2, 2023

On 10 March 2023, the European Council and the Parliament reached a provisional agreement to reform the EU Energy Efficiency Directive, which lays down rules and obligations for achieving the EU’s 2030 energy efficiency targets. The agreement aims to reduce final energy consumption at EU level by 11.7% by 2030, exceeding the Commission’s original ‘Fit for 55’ proposal. Rapporteur Niels Fuglsang (S&D, DK) presented the agreement as a great victory that is 'not only good for our climate, but bad for Putin'. Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy, added: 'Energy efficiency is key for achieving the full decarbonisation of the EU’s economy and independence from Russian fossil fuels'.

While this marks the first time EU policymakers have made an energy consumption target binding, trade unions, NGOs and civil society organisations are critical. ResCoop, for example, notes that the overall EU 11.7% target is non-binding at EU level: binding energy saving targets (1.49%/year) refer to the individual Member States only. Meanwhile, the Climate Action Network (Europe) regrets that, despite its binding nature, the target 'does not even align with the REPowerEU Plan, failing to recognise the skyrocketing energy prices as a result of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It is far below the 20% energy efficiency target that is needed for the EU to fulfil its obligations under the Paris Agreement'.

However, there is consensus that some progress has been made compared to the existing Directive. Firstly, energy efficiency requirements must now be integrated into public procurement. This normative technique echoes the horizontal policies promoted in EU public procurement and concession laws, under which the procurement or concessions of products, services, buildings and public spaces by public administrations are used as a lever to achieve social and environmental sustainability goals.

Secondly, the revised directive will lay down an obligation for large energy consumers to adopt an 'energy management system'. This includes SMEs that exceed 85 terajoules of annual energy consumption (a terajoule/TJ is equal to one trillion joules; or about 0.278 gigawatt hours/GWh, which is often used in energy tables). Otherwise, they will be subject to an energy audit (if their annual consumption exceeds 10TJ). Workers could be positively affected by this provision. For example, MBO’s plan of managerial staff could include indicators linked to energy efficiency targets under the energy management system. Workers’ representatives could negotiate collective agreements that redistribute the resources flowing from energy and cost savings to go towards wage raises. This would be consistent with the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee, according to which 'new awareness of the need for more restrained consumption will free up resources, which can then be used for other things. Trade union agreements on measurable targets and distribution of profits between businesses and workers could be a useful way of raising widespread awareness of the importance of saving energy'.

Thirdly, the agreement includes the first ever EU definition of energy poverty – a situation in which households are unable to access essential energy services and products. People affected by energy poverty – vulnerable customers, low-income households, and, where applicable, people living in social housing – should be given primacy when Member States implement energy efficiency improvement measures. The revised rules put a stronger emphasis on alleviating energy poverty and empowering consumers, acknowledging support for energy communities as one way to meet the targets. Since the condition of energy poverty affects many vulnerable people from the working class, this is certainly another area for collective action by trade unions. Unsurprisingly, unions from different EU countries are already engaged in cooperation with NGOs and environmental groups to promote energy communities as a way to democratise the energy system while connecting energy poverty and labour disempowerment (see initiative by CGIL and Fiom-CGIL Milan as examples).

The provisional agreement now requires formal adoption by the European Parliament and Council. Further comments will follow soon after the text is published in the Official Journal of the Union and enters into force.

Why we need a reform of the EU electricity market and how we can make it more socially just

‘Megathreat Mountain’: challenges for 2023

By Willy De Backer - European Trade Union Institute, February 20, 2023

The year 2023 promises to be at least as challenging as the previous one, with war still raging between Russia, Ukraine and the West. The climate emergency turning into a real climate collapse also for countries in the Global North which had been spared some of the deadly and devastating effects which some countries in the Global South had already experienced for years.

At the beginning of the year, many ‘expert’ commentators and think tanks published their forecasts for the next 12 months. All of them agree that the new year looks challenging, if not to say scary. In an excellent comment on Project Syndicate, Nouriel Roubini refers to Thomas Mann’s great novel ‘The Magic Mountain’ comparing the current ‘age of mega threats to the tragic period between 1914 and 1945 and stating that we are ‘sleepwalking on mega threat mountain’.

Let us have a quick look at some of the chief challenges for Europe in 2023 but mostly in the form of questions (with further reading links) instead of predictions.

ETUI Webinar on climate-induced migration

By Mehtap Akgüç and Franklin Kimbimbi - European Trade Union Institute, February 20, 2023

Climate change and rising temperatures are the leading causes of natural disasters such as flooding, storms, land sliding, wildfires, drought, and desertification, to name a few. With the rate of change of climate, the frequency and scale of these disasters have also gone up over the last decades. Related to these natural phenomena, although it may feel like it often happens far away and not in the immediate term, climate-induced migration is emerging in several regions across countries, including Europe, leaving almost no country immune to its consequences. Even though it is hard to disentangle the root causes of migration, and several push and pull factors are at play during the mobility process, environmental reasons are emerging as a significant push factor.

Some of the key characteristics of climate-induced migration, research suggests, are that it takes place mainly within the borders of a country (i.e. internal). That return migration is very common (95 per cent of the time). While it is a complex task to come up with exact figures, it is estimated that nearly 350 million people have been displaced because of weather conditions and natural disasters from 2008-2021. Most of these people returned (except around 6 million), and an even smaller proportion crossed international borders. The type of natural disaster, fast- versus slow-onset events, also determines the nature of displacement, e.g., involuntary versus voluntary or temporary versus permanent. 

All in all, the pace of climate change and existing inequalities in adaptation and resilience capacities suggest that climate-induced migration will rise as an important issue to be addressed in the coming years. And the key question remains: how will climate change adaptation and mitigation policies interact with migration (and eventually integration) policies? 

Homoploutia or why the traditional division between capitalists and labourers is less relevant today

By Branko Milanović - European Trade Union Institute, October 4, 2022

Web Editor's Note:: in spite of the confusing title, the speaker is anti-capitalist, and is trying to show how complicated class formation is under current objective conditions.

The talk, based on Branko Milanović’s recent book "Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World", will discuss and analyze systemic inequalities in liberal capitalist societies with the special emphasis on the phenomenon of homoploutia, that is, of high incomes from both labor and capital received by the same persons. Homoploutia is one of the key defining characteristics of modern capitalism, distinguishing it from its classical version. It is a desirable development because it reduces class-based distinctions, but it also encourages the formation of an elite that is more stable (thanks to its diversification of assets, including skills) and able to transfer these advantages across generations.

GreenReads: IEA World Energy Employment Report - Energy transition or energy descent?

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

On 8 September, the International Energy Agency published its first comprehensive report on jobs in the global energy sectors. The World Energy Employment Report provides data on energy jobs ‘by sector, region, and value chain segment’ and will be published annually.

The global energy sector (including energy end uses) employed over 65 million people in 2019, equivalent to around 2% of global employment.

The main messages of the report are:

  • Employment is growing in the global energy sector, especially in clean energy;
  • Around a third of workers are in energy fuel supply (coal, oil, gas and bioenergy), a third in the power sector (generation, transmission, distribution and storage), and a third in key energy end uses (vehicle manufacturing and energy efficiency);
  • More than half of energy jobs are in the Asia-Pacific region;
  • Women are strongly under-represented in the energy sector. Despite making up 39% of global employment, women account for only 16% in traditional energy sectors. They are even more under-represented in management functions.


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