Just Transition or not?

The transition to a greener economy is not only important for climate change, it is part of rebuilding Europe’s social contract, says Petros Kokkalis.
Photo credit: Adobe Stock

By Petros Kokkalis

04 Mar 2020

To paraphrase Karl Marx, a spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of ecosystems and solidarity collapse.

The European Green Deal constitutes the one opportunity for Europe to restore climate and social justice by transforming its economy and means of production. It will be a Herculean task to deliver the breadth, speed and depth of change required.

To achieve climate neutrality with a just transition for all, leaving no one behind must mean that this process will be open, deliberative and enhance the resilience of the most vulnerable and marginalised Europeans.


It must offer them ample opportunity to design their future and reap the fruits of this transformation. If this transition is not implemented by policies that are inclusive and alleviate social injustice, it will fail to deliver.

This isn’t an academic exercise; it concerns real people and today’s problems and requires immediate bold action.

The first challenge Europe is the fair transition to a post-coal era in carbon-intensive regions, which will have to end fossil fuel dependency and develop alternative economic activities. Just Transition must become a policy approach, not just a fund.

“To achieve climate neutrality with a just transition for all, leaving no one behind must mean that this process will be open, deliberative and enhance the resilience of the most vulnerable and marginalised Europeans”

Better living and working conditions, retraining and reskilling of the workforce for the 4th Industrial Revolution, promoting local and more sustainable production and consumption models, are a fragment of what is needed.

Stranded regions, communities and workers should be at the core of the Just Transition process. Regions that, have sacrificed the wellbeing and the livelihoods of their people for decades now face an existential crisis.

Western Macedonia in Greece, Silesia in Poland, Jiu Valley in Romania; only a few of the 41 EU coal regions that deserve a better future, based on sustainability, equity and social justice.

The Green Deal will be put to the test in the black heart of Europe. The Commission will establish a Just Transition Mechanism based upon three pillars, with the aim of delivering €100 bn for the period 2021- 2027.

The first pillar consisting of grants of €7.5 bn of fresh money from the EU Budget, which aims to leverage €30 to €50 bn from the European Structural and Investment Funds and national co-financing.

The second pillar will leveraging €45 bn under the InvestEU programme, while the third will involve the European Investment Bank, which will offer financial products for the transition process.

This is a noble intention and a good start but is inadequate if Europe desires to remain on track with the Paris Agreement goals and the 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent.

According to the Commission (Impact Study, Energy Efficiency Directive, 2016) for achieving a goal of 47 percent greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, €529 bn of public and private investment are needed annually.

Moreover, this funding gap does not take social cohesion nor adaptation needs into account. Increased climate ambition must go hand-by-hand with increasing the means to achieve this goal.

“It is unthinkable that we cannot afford to save the ecosystem”

The Climate Law will enshrine climate neutrality by 2050, therefore all fossil fuels will become stranded assets and we have to think big and act bold.

First, by phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

Second, the Stability and Growth Pact, capping national deficit at 3 percent of GDP, is an obstacle to the transition to a zero-carbon economy and needs immediate reform.

It should be replaced by a Climate and Employment Security Pact, fi t to face the climate emergency.

Third, the EU’s Climate Bank should support the transition with zero-interest loans in each Member State worth 2 percent of EU GDP, approximately €300 bn annually.

Four, a European tax on corporate profits - a great Delors idea - and not on the consumers - a horrible Macron idea - could add up to €100 bn annually.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the ECB came to the rescue of the financial system with a quantitative easing to the tune of €2.6 tn. It is unthinkable that we cannot afford to save the ecosystem.

The ECB can proceed with a Climate Easing programme, buying EU-issued Green Deal Bonds thereby creating resources to fund the transition.

The Green Deal provides an opportunity for the EU to reinvent its social contract with the European citizens and reassure them that the 2017 Rome Declaration’s pledge for a social, sustainable, and prosperous Europe is genuinely the bedrock for a European 21st Century.

To paraphrase JFK, we choose to save the planet in this decade, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.