Social partners look at impact of climate change on employment

In the run-up to the climate conference, which was due to take place in Copenhagen in December 2009, the social partners at EU level have been considering the relationship between climate change and employment policies. In particular, they are calling for climate change initiatives to take account of the need to sustain employment, not only creating new jobs but also ensuring that workers possess the skills to work in new, greener jobs.

Trade union position on climate change policies

On 20 and 21 October 2009, the Executive Committee of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) adopted a ‘Resolution on climate change’. The resolution was developed in the context of a major document debated at a meeting earlier that month and in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate conference due to take place in December. The document – entitled Climate change, new industrial policies and ways out of the crisis – provides a detailed account of the trade union position on climate change policies. It affirms that the trade unions at EU level support policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions and at developing greener jobs. However, it also argues that these objectives can only be achieved in the context of social partner involvement, with ‘the information/consultation/negotiation procedures and processes at both company and sector level in need[ing] to be as rich as possible’, while recognising the need to enable workers to adapt to new jobs.

Employers’ perspective

From the employers’ perspective, climate change poses major challenges as well as opportunities. The main employer organisation at EU level, BusinessEurope, is concerned about finding global solutions to climate change issues while also identifying ways ‘to avoid moving manufacturing out of the EU’. Its position, as indicated by its Director-General, Philippe De Buck, is not to move further than the current EU commitment of a 20% carbon reduction ‘while other countries outside the EU remain reluctant to even go that far’ (see speech (94Kb PDF), 29 October 2009).

The organisation representing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (Union Européenne de l’artisanat et des petites et moyennes enterprises, UEAPME), holds a similar position, accepting that Europe must be a leader when it comes to climate change policies. However, it adds that ‘unilateral reductions in CO2 emissions are inadequate and cannot lead to sustainable climate policies’. UEAPME is in favour of an agreement at Copenhagen which sets adequate obligations on all countries, both emerging and developed nations (see Press release (316Kb PDF), 29 October 2009).

The public sector employer organisation the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) has indicated that it supports the decision of the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, to set up the position of Commissioner for Climate Action. CEEP has also confirmed its commitment to pursuing the fight against climate change. In pursuit of its objectives to encourage sustainable development, the organisation has recently awarded a CEEP-Corporate Social Responsibility (CEEP-CSR) label to one German regional energy company for its work in delivering green energy (see address (86Kb PDF) by CEEP President, Carl Cederschiöld, 29 October 2009).

Priority issues in climate debate

The ETUC document recognises that tensions exist between the policy imperative of tackling climate change and workers’ concerns that their jobs are being put at risk. ETUC Confederal Secretary, Joël Decaillon, noted that this was necessary as the only way to ensure that ‘anxieties and threats be transformed into opportunities to create sustainable, quality jobs and curb social inequalities’ (see Press release, 2 October 2009). For this reason, the ETUC document argues that low carbon strategies must be based on the notion of ‘just transition’ principles that take account of dialogue on the economic and industrial changes involved, green and decent jobs, investment and new green skills. The document also acknowledges that unless ways can be found to ensure equal playing fields, there are risks that some countries may refuse to implement climate change policies in a bid to undercut the costs of production. The document states that:

Climate change legislation must contain strong provisions dealing with international competitiveness to avoid ‘carbon leakage’ in order to ensure that nations that lack a strong emissions programme do not receive an unfair advantage.

Importance of social dialogue

To achieve this aim, ETUC is campaigning for tripartite social dialogue at national and EU level. The organisation is seeking dialogue around issues concerning investment in low carbon production technologies and skills, with free quota allocations to energy intensive industries exposed to international competition. The resolution is also calling for measures to ensure genuine carbon traceability for such products and the sharing of scientific knowledge between countries. At the same time, it is lobbying for the public regulation of carbon transport and storage facilities, along with public investment in sustainable development.

Establishment of a European agency

In addition, ETUC is calling for the establishment of a European agency charged with the setting of benchmarks and the generalised carbon traceability of all products. The confederation would also like to see the putting in place of fixed, clear rules for the carbon market to avoid speculation on rates. Moreover, the ETUC position supports negotiations at international level to secure a binding and comprehensive international agreement to limit the global rise in temperature, reducing it by at least 25%–40% below the 1990 levels in developed countries.

Sonia McKay, Working Lives Research Institute

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