Prioritising renewables and abolishing fossil fuels should not be at the expense of people’s lives and networks
Having experienced the impacts of the mass closure of car factories in the UK 40 years ago on families, the local economy and communities, Theresa Griffin, Member of the European Parliament, underlines the imperative for law makers and businesses to put in place today the funding and policies needed to ensure a clean energy transition where no-one is left behind
The just transition is gaining momentum. Long discussed by the trade union movement, the issue is now gaining traction as an increasing number of policy makers ask what will, and should, happen to workers who have spent their lives in the coal mining industry or other sectors that will change beyond all recognition in the transition to a renewable energy economy. The European Parliament is no exception.
My father was made redundant in the mass car factory closures in the UK during the late 1970s and early 1980s. I am therefore well aware of the social and economic impacts our goal to reduce fossil fuels and use more renewable energy will have on whole communities if we do not act now to put in place the right policies and investment to ensure a just transition.
Compulsory redundancy, without giving those who have lost their jobs the skills to be employable in new industries, destroys families, effects mental health and self-esteem, and causes whole communities to implode. We cannot let this happen again.
This is why Members of the European Parliament from across the political spectrum and the new European Commission, led by president-elect Ursula Von der Leyen, have committed themselves to securing a just transition for all Europeans.
In practice, this means upskilling and reskilling workers in declining industries and investing in local communities and infrastructure before current industries transition. This means charting the growth of the industrial sectors of the future and equipping our citizens to access these jobs.
As law makers we must ensure that when we push for an end to fossil fuels, the subsequent changes will not have a negative impact on communities. As Friends of Europe, a Brussels-based think tank, has stated: “The real choice is not jobs or environment. It is both or neither.”
Not all regions or EU member states will be affected to the same extent by our decarbonisation strategies. We need to pay attention to the most vulnerable, in particular coal-dependent societies. We are already behind schedule, but we must now make it a priority to support the Just Transition Fund, to be created as part of the new Commission’s top priorities, the European Green Deal, and see that it benefits these communities directly. In this way, we can prioritise renewables and abolish fossil fuels without the clean energy transition being at the expense of people’s lives and networks and without creating two tier economics.
During the next five years of our political mandate, we will work to ensure that the Just Transition Fund supports the transformation of local economies effectively. We will invest in our societies before they have transitioned.
Staying ahead of the curve also brings the responsibility of needing to invest in forward looking skills and education, to upskill and reskill today’s workers and also to equip our children with the education and skills they will need for the emerging jobs of the future. We need to start investing in the education of our three-year-olds today informed by the careers we know will shape the coming decades.
There is a global climate emergency and people are crying out for change. To deliver the change that is needed and bring about a clean and just energy transition, civil society, legislators, NGOs and industry must work together and make sure that no one is left behind.
The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
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