EU governments failing to exploit low-carbon and green job potential

Written by Jean Lambert on 1 June 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

Member states are wasting time propping up job sectors and energy sources that have no long-term future, argues Jean Lambert.

Arguing the need for a coherent, long-term policy on investment in resource efficient, low-emission sectors and workforce engagement to ensure a 'just transition' is not always easy. Especially when governments seem intent on propping up coal rather than supporting low carbon energy and job creation. 

But we need to fight this battle, and this is why I am authoring a report on the green employment initiative: tapping into the job creation potential of the green economy in parliament's employment and social affairs committee. 

It picks up on the former European commission's paper and is informed by expert input from the international labour organisation, social partners, including the SME sector EU agencies, training bodies and other relevant stakeholders.


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With political will, many things are possible. Between now and 2023, direct and indirect employment in the wind, wave and tidal energy sectors alone could grow from 34,000 in 2013 to over 100,000 within the EU.

The potential to create and support many thousands of green jobs should be viewed as an attractive and sensible opportunity, especially given current unemployment rates, and it's worth considering just what such a job is. It could be a park ranger or landscape gardener. 

One definition of a green job is any decent job that contributes to preserving or restoring the quality of the environment: whether it is in agriculture, industry, services or administration.

And it must be a decent job that is fairly paid with good working conditions.

The green agenda is intrinsically linked to jobs, skills and economic issues. As we extract more polluting oil from the earth's crust we will have to drill deeper to reach new wells. 

Eventually this will become so uneconomical that it will be cheaper to invest in other forms of power. Why wait for that to happen?

We are starting to see real change, yielding real results from the fossil fuel divestment movement. It is a worldwide movement, growing fast and gaining popularity, with universities and other institutions committing to divest from fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions.

These are welcome developments but as well as divesting we need to invest, for example in solar. There are many opportunities for pension funds to invest in a clean energy future, whether putting solar panels on schools and car parks in large cities or supporting sensitively sited tidal and wave technologies. 

Looking at the built environment, there is still so much more we can do in order to increase energy efficiency and reduce consumption, emissions and fuel poverty.

According to the European environment agency, the green goods and services sector grew by more than 50 per cent between 2000 and 2011, generating over 1.3 million jobs that have benefited the EU's export balance and its economic competitiveness. 

The EU2020 strategy to promote sustainable and inclusive economies recognises the pivotal role of a transition towards green and socially fair economies. 

Perhaps the real question that needs to be answered is will we let government timidity choke this much needed growth sector? 

We know much of what works: a shift in taxation from labour to environmental taxation - while counterbalancing any regressive effects; investment in energy and resource efficiency and developing the supply chain from concept to production, through a clear industrial strategy.

Stakeholders were generally clear about the need for a coherent, consistent and clear policy framework and that appropriate binding targets play a role in providing that sense of direction and consistency. Many mentioned the importance of ambitious outcomes for the 'circular economy' package and this December's Paris conference on climate change.

In bringing about this transition to a green economy, workforce engagement is not only desirable but also necessary. It is a fact that some sectors will undergo considerable change, even decline, and managing that change will be more positive with the provision of effective support mechanisms retraining and possible change of production. 

EU funds can really contribute if they are used efficiently. Local and regional government have a key role to play - not least through developing 'just transition roadmaps' - so they can manage change for the benefit of workers and communities and not simply just react to circumstances.

Change is inevitable, in the light of increasing pressure on our environment, climate change and growing demands on the world's resources - with all the social pressures this can bring. 

We therefore need to do our utmost to maximise the job potential of measures taken to tackle these problems and target our policies, investment and skills development in that direction - not cling to yesterday's ideas.

 

About the author

Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA, UK) is parliament's rapporteur on the green employment initiative: tapping into the job creation potential of the green economy

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