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4 December 2014

Europe’s green energy transition: jobs miracle or jobs destroyer?

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What will the green energy transition, and more broadly the socio-ecological transition, mean for jobs in the future? Such was the leading question debated by one of the panels at the final NEUJOBS conference.

The event took place on 1 and 2 December in Brussels and marked the completion of a FP7 project in which the ETUI had participated as dissemination partner.

Willi Haas from the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt who, together with Marina Fischer-Kowalski, had developed the theoretical backbone of the project, namely the work on socio-ecological transition and employment implications, briefly presented the findings of this working package.

Haas explained that, in order to decrease the environmental impacts and at the same time reduce unemployment, a systemic change is needed that will entail, in his view, a socio-ecological tax reform in which the tax burden would be shifted from labour to resources. Other challenges needing to be tackled include the problem of relocation of energy-intensive sectors outside Europe, the improvement of energy efficiency of the existing infrastructure, healthy diets, and the generalisation of the circular economy. Haas concluded that the EU will need a great deal of innovation, not only with respect to products but also with respect to policies: ‘Tough decisions demand new approaches’, he said.

In his comments on these findings, Christian Kjaer, former CEO at the European Wind Energy Association, underlined that it is important to understand that the so-called energy transition will inevitably both create and destroy jobs. The problem is very much the high degree of rigidity in the energy sector. ‘The power sector is changing but not fast enough to keep world unchanged’, Kjaer said, while stressing also that housing is the sector with the highest potential for creating jobs.

Béla Galgóczi from the ETUI argued that we should not focus on greening jobs but should look rather into the ways in which work itself will necessarily undergo a thorough transformation, the really important issue now being how to manage the transition. There is a conflict between the long-term inevitability of global warming and the need to adjust to it, on the one hand, and the short-term processes, especially in the current macro-economic situation of lack of cheap energy and falling wages, on the other. Alongside a clear investment framework, what is also crucial, he said, is to keep in mind that ‘the transition is about people’ so that a just transition is the precondition for success. ‘Mining needs to be phased out but it is society that must bear the burden and not the miners’.

Moderator Willy De Backer (ETUI) referred to an additional aspect, namely, the digital transition which, according to a recent French report, will lead to a loss of three million extra jobs in France. ‘Should we not also look at these developments?’ he asked.

Issues raised in the lively ensuing discussion included the following: policy innovations at local levels; the imbalance among lobbying groups that leads to an illogical imbalance in the policy measures taken; the lack of cooperation between ministries in one country or DGs at the EU level; the question of whether people who lose their jobs will undergo re-skilling to enable them to take up the new jobs; the importance of quality jobs as distinct from ‘just any’ jobs; social innovations; de-growth; paradigm change. A final message from LSE Professor Iain Begg – who had been asked to draw some conclusions – was that the ‘neu’ component (German for ‘new) of the NEUJOBS debate should be given more emphasis, making it clear that the jobs being referred to here are not only those created by the green energy sector but also, and much more, the ‘green-enabled’ jobs that will be the product of a wider job creation mechanism.

Further reading:

- Neujobs blog

- Neujobs website

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