The Commission President-designate Ursula von der Leyen has made the fight against climate change one of the top priorities of her new Commission. From the AK’s point of view, this approach is to be welcomed. However, it must be ensured that the measures, which will be taken in future, will be socially just: Europe needs a “just transition”.
The fight against climate change is one of this century’s key challenges. Already in November 2018, the Commission had published its Communication “A clean planet for all”, in which it set out scenarios to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by 2050. In its Position Paper on this Communication, the AK welcomes the ambitious approach of Commission. However, from the AK’s point of view, the targets and measures, which have to be taken over the coming months and years, have to be socially just and in accordance with employees to get the broad social support required. This means to take climate policy requirements seriously on the one hand and to put employees - not least in the negatively affected sectors - at the centre on the other. A fair distribution of costs must include measures, which ensure a just transition for the workforce.
To achieve a “just transition” it is important to exploit the experience and knowledge, which already exists in case of labour representatives, such as trade unions, works councils and Chambers of Labour. With regard to developing targets, plans, policies measures it is important to fully integrate social partners and labour representatives on all levels, not least to ensure a fair distribution of transformation costs and to avoid cases of hardship.
The effects of climate policy strategies and measures on jobs, working conditions and unpaid work have to be continuously made the subject of discussions and evaluated. If unfavourable effects are feared, suitable measures have to be taken and sufficient public funds have to be made available. Thereby, in particular those regions must be supported, which experience negative economic upheavals because of the process of change. This requires long-term and consistent economic concepts.
If jobs are lost, both politicians and companies must create framework conditions as well as compensation and supporting measures, which enable people affected to make the transition to other jobs and fields of activity to ensure a good income in another profession. Special attention has to be given to employees in sectors, which might be particularly negatively impacted by the changes. To achieve this, the globalisation fund has to be adequately funded at EU level within the scope of the Multiannual Financial Framework, as well as being even more orientated toward specific challenges as a result of climate policy. The Just Transition Fund announced by Ursula von der Leyen should be funded in a way, which enables it to adequately support especially affected sectors, regions and employees.
One must not forget that during the course of the process of change new job opportunities are created. Thereby it is essential to ensure that these jobs are permanent and that wages and working conditions are good and fair. In addition, work, which is dedicated to supply, education and looking after people or to the protection and care of nature is equally valid as work in other areas. A race to the bottom regarding social conditions must also be avoided.
Nevertheless, industrial production shall remain a supporting pillar of the European economy. The risk that companies, due to different CO2 costs (“Carbon Leakage”), transfer their production to third countries, must be taken seriously. However, regarding protective measures for companies, one has to apply stringent standards to avoid undermining the painstakingly introduced emission trade system. The decarbonisation of the industry whilst at the same time maintaining its efficiency requires a decisive approach by the Commission; apart from that, Member States have to be supported regarding their research and demonstration projects.
From the AK’s point of view, fighting climate change has to be linked to a new welfare and distribution model. The current neoliberal economic orientation of the EU must be replaced by a prosperity-oriented economic policy. Expanding binding social minimum standards at a high level of protection can make an important contribution to social progress and social upwards convergence. A key condition for a sustainable upwards trend, which is appreciated by all people, includes an increase in real terms of wages and salaries, in particular for people on low income. Here, a productivity-oriented and solidary wage police and a Europe-wide coordinated minimum wage policy are required. European policy must begin at last to focus on the issue of income and wealth distribution.