What is a ‘Just Transition’ and what should be the key priorities for Europe to ensure this transition takes place? 

BPIE’s Climate Conversations series aims to shine light on a diverse range of perspectives on buildings and climate policies, engaging stakeholders from various backgrounds. We seek to identify solutions and blind spots to key challenges related to reducing the climate impact of buildings and to a just transition to a climate-neutral society.

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In this Climate Conversation, BPIE connected with Andrea Casamenti, Policy officer for Just Transition at SOLIDAR, a European and worldwide network of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). The aim of the discussion was to dig into the concept of ‘Just Transition’, a concept that is linked to energy transition and climate cirsis. In this interview, SOLIDAR not only suggests how to define a ‘Just Tranistion’ but also what the key priorities for Europe should be to ensure this transition takes place.  

Hélène: SOLIDAR has been representing the rights and interests of civil society, including groups representing trade unions, education, gender equality, and local communities, among others, since after the second World War. You have a clear mandate to work for solidarity, peace, social justice, and sustainable development, with the aim of ensuring universal human rights and freedoms, decent work and a decent life for all. This is indeed a noble – and ambitious objective. In terms of the energy transition and climate crisis we are now facing, the concept of a ‘Just Transition’ is one of your major focus areas. Can you explain how you define ‘Just Transition’? And in terms of big picture, what do you believe should be the key priorities for Europe to ensure this transition takes place? 

Andrea: In today’s world, which is overrun by recurrent and mutually reinforcing global crises such as the climate and environmental emergency, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian Federation’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, SOLIDAR sees advancing social justice and fighting climate change and environmental degradation as two sides of the same coin.

   People in vulnerable situations and systematically marginalized communities everywhere are the ones most adversely impacted by the climate and environmental crises, despite contributing the least to them.

 

Moreover, as highlighted by the IPCC report from February 20221, unfit and ill-advised responses to climate change can perpetuate or exacerbate existing socioeconomic inequalities and create lock-ins of vulnerability, exposure and risks that are difficult to change. 

Putting people and socioeconomic fairness at the heart of climate action is central to the success of our fight against climate change and environmental degradation. Climate action must be an instrument to reduce social injustice, generate opportunities for the most disadvantaged, and improve people’s well-being, quality of life and access to rights across sectors and regions of the world. As a result, SOLIDAR defines a socially “Just Transition” to climate neutrality as the guarantee that the rights and needs of workers and affected communities are taken into consideration in the design and implementation of the green transition. This can only be achieved through the meaningful and institutionalized involvement of trade unions and civil society organizations in all phases of the transition, from planning to monitoring and evaluation. 

Social justice and climate action go hand in hand and must advance in the framework of a profound transformation aimed at making our societies and economies peaceful, equitable, climate-neutral and respectful of the environment. This requires moving towards a well-being economy for both people and the planet, profoundly re-organizing our production capacity, reversing the process of neoliberal privatisations, ensuring decent work for all, reinforcing social protection systems, effective taxation of wealth, recognising the role of education in the green transition and much more.

   As the richest 1% are responsible for more than double the emissions of the poorest half of humanity2, it is fundamental to tackle the structural socioeconomic inequalities and injustices in which climate change is rooted and that drive its causes.

 

Hélène: Looking specifically at our legislative framework, how can these priorities be implemented through the ongoing legislative review that is taking place within the Fit for 55 package? Specifically, how can we be sure that the EPBD and the EED are in line with and promote a socially just transition? Or should we also consider putting in place legislation at EU and/or national level which better takes into consideration the specific needs of certain parts of the population? If so, how can we do that? 

Andrea: To be just, the green transition must have a strong social dimension, and social and environmental goals must be recognised as equal and mutually reinforcing. This is currently not the case with the Fit for 55 package, nor of other initiatives under the European Green Deal. According to the European Commission, the EGD addresses the Just Transition from 7 main angles, including income differences and the varying capacity of households to finance the green transition (mainly through the Social Climate Fund). Even so, the EGD fails to adequately or at all address the structural inequalities and injustices that contribute to both causing and worsening the climate and environmental emergency, such as inequalities based on wealth, gender and ethnicity. 

SOLIDAR considers that a strong integration of social policies and climate action is capital to advance a Just Transition. At European level, this translates into better policy coherence between the EGD and the European Pillar of Social Rights, which, according to the  Commission’s Communication on the EGD from 2019, is supposed to act as a “beacon” and “guide action in ensuring that no one is left behind3. Each policy and measure under the EGD should help advance one or several of the 20 rights of the Pillar and support the implementation of its Action Plan, and vice versa. The Council Recommendation on a fair transition to climate neutrality4, adopted by the EPSCO Council on 16 June 2022, is a step in the right direction, as it turns the spotlight on the importance of advancing social goals hand in hand with climate action. However, in view of the challenges at stake, issuing recommendations to Member States is not sufficient, and climate policies should be accompanied by concrete legislative proposals on social and employment aspects. Europe needs a new social contract, where social and environmental sustainability go hand in hand and that is characterised by social cohesion, enhanced access to rights, reinforced social protection and equality. To achieve these objectives, we must adopt progressive social and economic policies and strengthen the European social model as an integral part of the green transition. 

Just Transition strategies, plans, policies and programmes must be developed and adopted at all levels and in all countries. Just Transition should be seen as integral to the success of climate policy, mainstreamed across all policy areas and implemented through a broad range of initiatives by multiple actors and across different sectors. Strategies should be designed and implemented in a meaningful and actionable way, underpinned by clear objectives and timelines (such as phase out dates for fossil fuels) and accompanied by social targets. People in vulnerable situations and those who are systematically disadvantaged, including women, the unemployed and those with low incomes, single parents, the homeless, Roma people, rural and racialised communities, people with disabilities and people experiencing poverty, must be placed at the centre of the green transition. Just Transition strategies and plans, at all levels, must be inclusive and collaborative, embracing diverse thinking and opinions, and must ensure bottom-up governance, cross-sectoral cooperation and meaningful stakeholder participation through social and civil dialogue. 

Hélène: The Social Climate Fund (SCF), which the European Commission proposed as part of its Fit for 55 package in July 2021, has the potential to be one of the leading instruments to deliver a socially fair and Just Transition to climate neutrality. However, many actors are not convinced that in its current design, it is ambitious enough to ensure that the most vulnerable citizens have adequate support to participate and thrive in the energy transition. What is your view on the SCF, and how could its design be improved? 

Andrea: The European Commission’s proposal for a Social Climate Fund and the agreement reached in the ENVI Council on 28 June are definitely unfit to to cushion the social costs of the transition towards clean energy and “leave no one behind”. Nevertheless, SOLIDAR welcomes the idea of creating a SCF and views this initiative as a major step forward in ensuring a Just Transition in Europe, as, with it, the European Green Deal introduces an important role for climate and environmental action in tackling issues of income inequality and poverty. And while the Frugal Four oppose to the idea of creating the Fund, SOLIDAR would much rather work with what’s currently on the table and cooperate with decision-makers to improve the SCF during trialogues, especially considering the long-term social and economic costs of inaction. 

Rather than merely aiming at mitigating the social impact of extending emissions trading to road transport and buildings or other similar climate policies, the Fund’s primary objective should be to drive a socially just decarbonization in the long term and increase people’s resilience in times of crises and rapid transformations.

Providing temporary and direct income support to vulnerable consumers is important, but measures such as social tariffs, energy cost subsidies and energy vouchers only respond to the cost of energy and do not tackle the structural causes of energy poverty. Moreover, they remunerate the providers of the current (largely fossil fuel based) energy mix. Instead, the Fund should usher in bold and transformative action for systemic change.

   The majority of the financial envelope from the Social Climate Fund should be used for measures such as deep house renovation projects, sustainable mobility infrastructures, setting up renewable installations or other structural energy efficiency and sufficiency improvements.

 

And neither the Fund, nor other EU resources, should be used to finance fossil fuels projects, including investments that contribute to technological and infrastructural lock-in of fossil fuel use, such as extensions of pipelines. 

Designed right, the SCF can help to tackle socioeconomic inequalities and remove barriers that exclude vulnerable groups from broad investment measures and investment-related decision making. Funding should primarily reach those who are most impacted by the costs of the transition, such as people who are unemployed, with low incomes, in energy and mobility poverty, people with disabilities or living in rural and remote areas. Moreover, the drawing up of national Social Climate Plans and the eventual implementation and monitoring of the Fund should ensure strong social and civil dialogue, as well as bottom-up governance. Participation of civil society, trade unions and local communities must be meaningful, and trade unions and representative civil society organisations should be involved in determining how funds from the SCF are spent. 

Lastly, for the SCF to drive a socially fair decarbonization in the long term, it is fundamental to allocate sufficient financial resources for it. Assessments of the annual needs for public and overall investment needs in housing and transport suggest that the proposed budget of €72.2 billion for 8 years falls critically short of making a significant contribution to the social and climate objectives of the EGD.5 Moreover, funding under the SCF should come from sustainable sources of revenue, regardless of whether ETS 2/ ETS-BRT will see the light of day or not. These could include, for instance, the remaining resources from the NextGenerationEU recovery fund, reallocating ETS revenues, or proposing a new EU solidarity instrument. 

Hélène: SOLIDAR is the initiator of the European Alliance for a Just Transition. Why did you create it? And what does it do? 

Andrea: SOLIDAR strongly believes that it is only through broad alliances and coalitions that we can enact the profound transformations of our economies and societies that are necessary to meet climate and environmental objectives. Against this background, last year, SOLIDAR created the European Alliance for a Just Transition6, a multistakeholder coalition aimed at promoting and ensuring a socially just and fair transition to climate neutrality in Europe. Building such an alliance is important for several reasons: to remedy the limited communication and coordination among the different agendas and initiatives for a Just Transition among social and environmental/climate NGOs; to tackle the lack of vision for a Just Transition in EU and national policies by developing a common agenda for a Just Transition among a broad range of actors; to promote meaningful participation of civil society and trade unions in decision-making and challenge the ‘system of silos’ that hinders the involvement of social movements in decisions on climate action and prevents climate and environmental movements from taking part in discussions on social issues, and to support those organisations working for social rights and democracy that have limited capacity to work on the climate and environmental crisis. 

Today, the Alliance gathers over 30 European organisations from the social, environmental, climate and party-political sectors, and pursues two main objectives: 1) to provide a space for its members to gather, exchange views and learn from each other; 2) work closely together to ensure a socially Just Transition to climate neutrality in Europe. At the moment, three working groups are active: one is developing a tool to assess the social impact of policies and action under the European Green Deal, another focuses on the Social Climate Fund and the most recent one analyses the Just Transition elements in the REPowerEU plan. 

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